Al-Shabaab burned homes and abducted civilians displacing over 15,000 in May-HRW

Al-Shabab fighters abducted civilians, stole livestock, and committed arson in attacks that caused more than 15,000 people to flee their homes.

Satellite image showing homes burned down by Al-Shabaab in Lower Shabelle region in May 2017. Credit: Human Rights Watch

The militant group Al-Shabaab burned down several homes and raided villages in the Lower Shabelle region displacing more than 15,000 people in May, the human rights watchdog Human Rights Watch has said in a report.

The watchdog said Al-Shabaab raided villages in Marka and Afgooye located about 40 kilometres south west of Mogadishu starting on May 21 this year setting homes ablaze and abducting civilians after several months of calling on their residents to leave their homes.

“Starting on May 21, Al-Shabab forces raided villages in the Marka and Afgooye districts of Lower Shabelle. Al-Shabab fighters abducted civilians, stole livestock, and committed arson in attacks that caused more than 15,000 people to flee their homes,” said Human Rights Watch (HRW).

HRW senior African researcher Laetitia Bader said the militants were in no way justified in subjecting civilians to such suffering but noted the government must also move to address clan conflicts in the region.

“There is no justification for Al-Shabab abducting civilians and burning down their homes. Al-Shabaab is responsible for causing mass flight, but the government needs to address communal tensions and hold those most responsible for abuses to account,” Laetitia said.

Based on satellite images, the rights body documented widespread destruction of 18 villages in Marka district between May 8 and July 12, 2017. “Damage in all cases was consistent with arson attacks that resulted in the probable destruction of several hundred residential and community buildings,” the report said.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR reported the displacement of 15,240 people from their homes in Marka and Afgooye in May following intense fighting between South West state forces and Al-Shabaab. Awdheegle and Qoryoley districts were also affected.

Human Rights Watch has called for prosecution of the perpetrators of the crimes. “Those who commit war crimes in Somalia should eventually be brought to justice,” Bader said. “However, the government and its backers need to immediately assist the people who escaped the violence.”

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