Two top Somali journalists slain in Mogadishu

Sat Aug 11, 2007 12:29pm EDT

(Adds journalist injured)

By Guled Mohamed

MOGADISHU, Aug 11 (Reuters) - Two respected Somali journalists were killed in Mogadishu on Saturday, the first shot dead outside his office and the other in a blast as he drove back from his slain colleague's funeral.

Somali associates of the two HornAfrik journalists expressed outrage, saying both deaths were part of a deliberate campaign against the media.

"This wave of killing and injuring media people is an intentionally organised mission to silence journalistic voices in Somalia," the National Union of Somali Journalists said.

"We are entirely appalled by these acts."

In the first attack, popular talk show host Mahad Ahmed Elmi was shot four times in the head at close range as he neared the door of his office at 7:15 am (0415 GMT), colleagues said.

"We were outside when four gunmen jumped out," said one colleague, too terrified to reveal his name.

"They fired four shots against Mahad's head ... then they just fled," he said at the hospital where Elmi's body lay.

Later, the founder and co-owner of HornAfrik -- Ali Iman Sharmarke -- died when his four-wheel drive hit an explosive device in the road on his way back from Elmi's funeral.

Reuters journalist Sahal Abdulle, next to Sharmarke at the time of the blast, was lightly injured in the head and face.

"We heard a huge, huge explosion. There was smoke everywhere. Ali was in the front, I was sitting right behind him," Abdulle said of Sharmarke, who had just brought his wife and children from Canada to Kenya to be nearer to him.

"Ali was a good friend. I have known him a long time. He was committed to getting the truth out. He came back from Canada to promote democracy and give Somalis a voice. Today, he paid the ultimate price," Abdulle added.



"SILENCE OUR VOICES"

The journalists' union said the vehicle was targeted.

"The National Union of Somali Journalists is outraged by today's assassination of ... Ali Iman Sharmarke, after a vehicle he was riding in was blown up by a remote-controlled mine by unknown assailants," it said in a statement.

Neither the union, nor any other Somali sources, pointed a specific finger of blame at either side in the war.

Another journalist, Abdihakin Omar Jimale of Radio Mogadishu, was wounded in a gun attack on Friday, the union said, adding the bullet had struck him in the shoulder.

Rights group Reporters Without Borders called on the government to urgently protect journalists. "Somalia is already this year the most deadly country in Africa for the media," it said in a statement on Saturday's deaths.

The union said six local journalists had been killed in 2007.

Mogadishu, one of the world's most violent cities along with Baghdad, is wracked by an Islamist-led insurgency against the Somali government and its Ethiopian military backers.

One of the biggest private media houses in Somalia, HornAfrik was criticised both by the Islamists during their six-month rule of Mogadishu last year, and then by the government since taking over the city at the New Year.

In a nation where only a few foreign journalists dare enter, and local reporters run daily risks of violence and harassment, HornAfrik is one of the main voices on Somalia to the world.

It was shelled heavily in April, apparently from Ethiopian troop positions, prompting Sharmarke at the time to make a formal complaint to the government.

Just hours before his death, Sharmarke had expressed sadness and anger at the murder of his employee Elmi.

"It demonstrates the conditions that Somali reporters are working under," the media businessman told Reuters just before the funeral. "The perpetrators want to silence our voices in order to commit their crimes."