MOGADISHU (Reuters) - A former media officer for the Somali Islamist group al Shabaab who arranged news conferences in the years when the militants controlled the capital Mogadishu was sentenced to death on Thursday for the murder of six local journalists.
The al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab was pushed out of Mogadishu by African Union peacekeeping forces in 2011 but has remained a potent antagonist in Somalia, launching frequent attacks in its bid to overthrow the Western-backed government.
Somalia was plunged into anarchy in the early 1990s following the toppling of military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, and has been struggling to rebuild.
Hasan Ali, chairman of the Somali military court, told reporters that Hassan Hanafi had admitted to killing one reporter and had been found guilty of killing five others.
“He will be put to death as soon as possible,” Ali said.
Hanafi, 30, has said he joined al Shabaab in 2008 when he was working as a journalist for a local Somali broadcaster. He was arrested in neighboring Kenya last year and then returned to Somalia for trial.
He had been promoted to commander in 2009. The following year, he was seriously injured in fighting.
“Al Shabaab killed many journalists but personally I killed only one,” Hanafi said after the sentence was announced. “But I am indifferent if you kill me. You will see if killings will stop even after my death.”
Al Shabaab, whose name means “The Youth,” seeks to impose its strict version of sharia law in Somalia, where it frequently unleashes attacks targeting security and government targets, as well as hotels and restaurants in the capital.
The group was also behind deadly attacks in Kenya and Uganda, which both contribute troops to an African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia.
Writing by Edith Honan; Editing by Alison Williams