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“Halt execution spree of children in Puntland” Amnesty International

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The authorities in Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region must immediately halt plans to execute two boys sentenced to death by a military tribunal in February for their alleged role in the armed group Al-Shabaab’s killing of three senior administration officials, said Amnesty International.

The organization has learnt that Muhamed Yasin Abdi, 17, and Daud Saied Sahal, 15, could be put to death at any moment after five other boys -– all aged between 14 and 17 – were executed on 8 April for the killings.

“These five boys were executed following a fundamentally flawed process during which they were tortured to confess, denied access to a lawyer and additional protections accorded to juveniles, and tried in a military tribunal. The lives of the remaining two boys must be spared” said Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.

“The Puntland authorities must not allow more blood on their hands. They should halt the executions and retry the boys in fair proceedings in a juvenile civilian court without recourse to the death penalty.  Those responsible for killing the three administration officials need to be identified and brought to justice – torturing juveniles to confess, subjecting them to an unfair trial and then executing them does not ensure this.”

Family members told Amnesty International that the boys, who they deny were members of the Al-Shabaab militant group, were subjected to electric shock, burnt with cigarettes on their genitals, beaten and raped into confessing to the murders.

“These horrific allegations of torture must be fully and independently investigated and those found responsible held to account. Puntland must also stop the practice of trying civilians in military courts,” said Michelle Kagari.

Amnesty International believes the death penalty is cruel, inhuman and degrading, and opposes it at all times – regardless of who is accused, the crime, guilt or innocence or method of execution.

Briefing Room

Islamic State thriving in Somalia: UN report

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An Islamic State faction in Somalia has grown significantly over the past year, carrying out attacks in Puntland and receiving some funding from Syria and Iraq, a report by UN sanctions monitors said Friday.

The faction loyal to Sheikh Abdulqader Mumin was targeted by US drone strikes last week in the first US operation targeting IS in the Horn of Africa, US Africa Command said.

In the report, the UN monitoring group for Somalia said the IS faction, which was estimated in 2016 “to number not more than a few dozen, has grown significantly in strength” and may “consist of as many as 200 fighters.”

Phone records from Mumin showed he was in contact with an IS operative in Yemen who acts as an intermediary with senior IS leaders in Iraq and Syria “though the exact nature of this contact is unclear,” said the report.

Former members of the faction who defected in December said the Mumin group received orders as well as financing from Iraq and Syria, the report said.

The group captured the town of Qandala in Puntland’s Bari region in October 2016, declaring it the seat of the Islamic Caliphate in Somalia before being pushed out two months later by Puntland forces backed by US military advisers.

In February, IS gunmen stormed a hotel in Bosaso, the economic capital of Puntland, and in May the faction carried out its first suicide attack at a police checkpoint near Bosaso, killing five people.

“The group showed signs of increasing tactical capabilities during its first attack target a hotel,” said the UN monitors.

– Haven for foreign fighters –

The UN report raised concerns that the Bari region could become a potential haven for foreign IS fighters as the extremists are driven out of their strongholds in Syria and Iraq.

The IS group in Somalia “presents more natural appeal to foreign terrorist fighters than Al-Shabaab,” whose aim is to establish a state government by Islamic law, it added.

Al-Shabaab, another Islamist militant group, is affiliated with IS’s global rival Al-Qaeda.

The Bari region has attracted a limited number of foreign fighters including Sudanese national Abu Faris who is on the US terror list for recruiting foreign fighters for Al-Shabaab.

While the faction is expanding, its fighters appear to be poorly paid or not paid at all.

Unmarried fighters receive no salary, while married militants receive $50 per month plus $10-$20 per child, depending on the age.

The report estimated that the salary payments were between $3,000 and $9,000 per month, allowing IS leaders “to fund its insurgency on a limited budget”.

UN monitors said the faction will likely face frequent defections from poorly paid fighters, a problem that also affects Al-Shabaab.

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Puntland

Somali Pro-IS Group Chief Survives US Strike, Says Regional Leader

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The leader of the Pro-Islamic State group in Somalia has survived U.S. airstrikes which targeted caves in a remote mountainous area in Puntland, the region’s president told VOA Somali.

Abdiweli Mohamed Ali said the leader of the group, Sheikh Abdulkadir Mumin, was the target of Friday’s U.S. strike.

“They [US] were targeting those troublemakers and their biggest leader Abdulkadir Mumin, they were looking for them,” he said. “Based on the information I’m getting he is still alive and is not dead.”

Ali said the U.S. did not share intelligence with his region but assessment is based on information from his region’s intelligence agencies.

On Friday, the United States Africa Command confirmed carrying out two strikes against IS militants in Somalia. The first attack occurred at around midnight and the second attack took place the following morning at 11:00am.

The U.S. Africa Command says several militants were killed in the strikes in Buqo Valley, 160 kilometers east of the city of Bosaso. The strikes were the first against the group by the United States.

On Sunday a senior Somali intelligence official told VOA Somali that they believe up to 20 militants were killed in the two strikes. He said some of the caves the militants were sheltering in collapsed on them as a result of the bombing.

The official who asked not to be named, told VOA Somali that it’s “likely” the leader of the group Sheikh Abdulkadir Mumin survived the attack.

“Either he was not in those caves or he was missed, it is likely that he is alive,” he said.

Al-Shabab splinter group

The official said he believes two foreign figures including a Sudanese militant were also in the targeted area.

Intelligence sources say at least four missiles hit the caves in Buqo Valley in the first of two rounds of strikes. The second round of strikes occurred after the militants gathered in a place believed to be a burial site for those killed in the overnight strike.

Pro-IS militants emerged in Somalia in October 2015 after splitting from al-Shabab. The group has since recruited members in the eastern parts of Puntland, where Mumin’s clan resides.

The group has claimed responsibility for four attacks in Bosaso this year including the last incident which occurred just ten days ago where a would-be bomber pushing explosives hidden in a wheelbarrow detonated the device killing himself and injuring six others.

A month before, the group claimed an attack on a police commander at a coffee shop in Bosaso. The officer survived with injuries.

In February this year two gunmen attacked the International Village Hotel in Bosaso and exchanged fire with security forces. Four soldiers and the two attackers were killed.

In May a suicide bomber blew himself up at a police checkpoint near the Jubba Hotel in Bosaso, killing five people and injuring 17 others.

The group scored its biggest attack in late October 2016 when its fighters seized the ancient town of Qandala from Puntland forces and kept control of it for 40 days.

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Briefing Room

US Targets Islamic State in North Eastern Somalia

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WASHINGTON / PENTAGON / LONDON — A U.S. airstrike has targeted Islamic State in northern Somalia, defense officials told VOA Friday.

The strike resulted in at least one casualty, a U.S. defense official said, without elaborating on the target of the attack.

The chairman of the town of Qandala, Jama Mohamed Qurshe, told VOA Somali that several missiles hit a base for IS militants at Buqa village, 60 kilometers south of his town in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

“According to the information we are getting from the ground, six missiles hit the militants’ base in the mountainous area. Local residents and pastorialists were shocked and fled from the area,” Qurshe said.

He said that prior to the strike, residents reporting hearing airplane sounds.

Details of the strike are still not clear due to the remoteness of the area, which locals said was only accessible to the militants; however, local officials and residents suspect the airstrike targeted the group’s senior leaders and perhaps even its top leader.

The pro-Islamic State faction in northeastern Somalia is led by Sheikh Abdulkadir Mumin, a former al-Shabab cleric who pledged his allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2015. In 2016, the U.S. State Department designated Mumin as a global terrorist.

Since the emergence of the IS faction in October 2015, the militants have claimed responsibility for at least four deadly attacks in Puntland.

In late October of last year, the militants briefly seized Qandala, before they were driven out by Puntland’s government.

No cutoff in funding

Meanwhile, the U.S. government has denied reports that it is planning to cut funding for the Somali government.

Somali media reports said the U.S. might reduce funding because unnamed Somali officials helped facilitate the October 14 truck bombing in Mogadishu that killed more than 350 people.

There were also reports that linked the alleged cut to an internal State Department finding that the department’s Africa Bureau is failing to ensure that U.S. funding is not diverted to al-Shabab militants.

In an email, a State Department official told VOA the reports were “incorrect.”

“Reports of funding being suspended to the Somali army due to alleged facilitation of the bombings by Somali officials are incorrect,” the official wrote. “The United States continues to provide extensive support to Somali security forces in their efforts to combat al-Shabab.”

On Wednesday, the Daily Nation, a leading newspaper in Kenya, quoted a report from the State Department’s Office of Inspector General. The report said the Africa Bureau had not established policy and procedures for identifying and mitigating terrorist financing risks for its programs in countries where militant organizations like al-Shabab and Boko Haram operate.

In his email, the State Department official said, “The United States prioritizes transparency and accountability in its partnership with Somalia, echoing one of the top priorities articulated by President Farmaajo upon his taking office earlier this year.”

“We have communicated conditions for U.S. security assistance to the federal government of Somalia, which includes enhanced measures to ensure proper oversight of our support,” he added.

Meanwhile, Somali leaders and the governors of Somali states are meeting for the fourth straight day in Mogadishu, in an effort to agree on implementation of a joint security plan.

The government is said to be preparing for a major offensive against al-Shabab.

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