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Somalis’ Choice: Join Islamists or Flee

U.S.-Backed Invasion Failed to Thwart Takeover

ICC Note

Islamist extremists are on the verge of taking over Somalia . The goals of Islamists include establishing Islamic state in Somalia where Sharia law becomes the law of the land. Under such rule, Muslims that convert to Christianity will be killed.

By Stephanie McCrummen

12/22/2008 Kenya (The Washington Post)-By the time Mohamed Abdi Ibrahim decided to leave Somalia , life in the southern city of Kismaayo had become, as he put it with consummate understatement, “complicated.”

Young men there had long shouldered AK-47 assault rifles and joined clan militias. But as an Islamist militia known as al-Shabab took control this year, it had become a place where boys were paid $50 to throw bombs, soccer fields served as militia training camps, and Islamist leaders walked into classrooms to take names of potential recruits.

Ibrahim and two friends fled several months ago, just after the Shabab began beating people not attending Friday prayers and just before the group publicly stoned to death a 13-year-old girl it had convicted of adultery.

The options for young men like them, it seemed, had narrowed to two: sign up or run.

At the time, Ethiopian forces ousted a relatively diverse Islamic movement that had briefly gained control of the capital, Mogadishu . In its place, they installed a transitional government headed by a warlord who allowed the United States to launch counterterrorism operations in the moderate Muslim nation.

But the policy backfired, inspiring a relentless insurgency of clan militias and Islamist fighters that has left Somalia ‘s first central government since 1991 near collapse. On Sunday night, advisers and supporters of President Abdullahi Yusuf — who has been accused of obstructing a possible political compromise to help end the insurgency — said that he would resign Monday, although as with everything in Somalia , the situation remained fluid.

The United States and the United Nations are now supporting a political settlement that shifts power from Yusuf and his circle to an opposition coalition that includes some of the Islamist leaders cast as extremists two years ago, as well as clan leaders who had been excluded by Yusuf’s government. Backers of the Djibouti agreement hope that the Ethiopian withdrawal, along with the political deal, will rob the Shabab of its cause.

“Young people, our age mates, were joining [the Shabab] every day,” Ibrahim said. “They would tell them to fight for your religion, fight for your land, and they’d also give them money — they were difficult to resist.”

“We have feared for our life there,” said Mohamed, 26. “There is no freedom for young men there because of the Shabab. Even prayer is not optional. They make you cut your hair, and you can’t wear tennis shoes. I used to have a very interesting haircut, but they made me change it. Most young people, they hate the Shabab.”

More recently, Mohamed’s best friend, Abdugadir, was shot in front of him. His crime: “He greeted a government soldier, and when the government soldiers departed, the Shabab came and shot him in the head,” Mohamed said.

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