NAIROBI, Kenya – It's a gruesome display seen many times over the years in Mogadishu: The bodies of dead soldiers dragged through the streets. Somalis angry over 20 years of violence say they do it in hopes of driving out African Union forces.
The latest incident happened Thursday, when the body of a fighter who appeared to be a member of the AU's peacekeeping mission was pulled through the streets by a rope. The spokesman for the country's most dangerous militant group, al-Shabab, also displayed a body alongside documents that identified the man as a Ugandan soldier.
"Today we are celebrating the death and blood of your sons," Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage said at a news conference Thursday.
The most infamous occurrence happened in 1993, when fighters dragged a U.S. soldier through the streets after a disastrous U.S. military assault into the Somali capital described in the book and movie "Black Hawk Down." The deaths and grisly scene were widely used by media outlets who had to weigh the images' news value against their violent nature. The incident hastened the U.S. withdrawal from the East African nation.
In 2007, Somalis dragged the bodies of Ethiopian soldiers through the streets. Ethiopia withdrew after two years of war.
The spokesman for the AU mission, which has 9,000 troops in Somalia, said militants or residents dragging bodies through the street wouldn't result in a withdrawal.
"We condemn the act of the insurgents in the strongest terms possible because its inhuman and un-African," said Paddy Ankunda, whose force has lost hundreds of soldiers since its deployment four years ago.
Some Mogadishu residents angry at the AU for past shellings into residential neighborhoods say they vent their frustrations by dragging bodies.
"The people drag the corpses to force these so-called peacekeepers to leave the country," said Abdisalam Abdullahi, a 19-year-old high school student in Mogadishu. He said several of his friends have been killed by shelling from AU forces.
Another resident, Ahmed Hassan Nur, 21, said he has dragged six foreign bodies since 2007, including Ethiopians, Ugandans and Burundians.
"The Africans killed my brother with their ruthless shelling," said Nur, referring to the AU forces.
Asked if he felt any shame after dragging bodies, he said: "No. Absolutely not. I'm happy with what I did."
Ali Muse, the head of Mogadishu's ambulance service, said he condemns the dragging of bodies.
"But I understand why the people decided to drag the corpses of AU peacekeepers," he said.
Muse has said that African Union troops bear a large portion of responsibility for civilians killed in fighting. The AU says it tries to minimize such deaths.
In February, Islamist insurgents brought the bodies of nine AU peacekeepers to an area that has now become the preferred site for displaying bodies, Bar Ubah, which lies near the city's busy Bakara market.
Islamists then tied ropes to the legs of the corpses and asked a mob to drag them, but with one caveat.
"Don't touch them because you don't know if they have diseases," said Abdihakim Yahye, who participated in that day's dragging, quoting the militants.
Yahye said that as the mob moved through the city, its numbers grew as idle residents joined in.
"They were falling over themselves to drag the corpses. You can't imagine how happy the people were. You would think it was a holiday," said Yahye. "My mind told me to drag them and humiliate them. I was happy to do that. I dragged them because I harbor strong animosity and grudge against them."