MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — A former journalist who joined the Islamic extremist group al-Shabab was executed Monday by firing squad in Somalia’s capital for the killings of five Somali journalists.
Hassan Hanafi Haji, who was extradited from Kenya last year on the request of the Somali government, was executed at a police academy in Mogadishu. Firing squad is the only execution method in Somalia.
He was led out of a police van in chains before a crowd of journalists, many of whom remembered Haji with a degree of fear when he was media liaison to al-Shabab and was known to threaten journalists.
Haji was bound to a pole and closed his eyes in apparent fear as the firing squad marched in. He was then blindfolded.
Once the order was given, shots rang out randomly and Haji’s bloody body dropped to the ground.
“Justice served — it was his turn to taste the pain of death,” said a Somali journalist who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal. Medical workers then checked the body and prepared it for burial.
Haji often urged journalists to report according to al-Shabab’s media rules, which included avoiding stories related to the group’s military setbacks, and under his pressure many media outlets practiced self-censorship for security reasons.
Haji later led al-Shabab’s media unit, inviting journalists to press conferences and giving them tours of battlefields.
Haji was one of the few suspects prosecuted by the Somali government despite years of criticism by rights groups who urged authorities to do more to end the killings of journalists.
Somalia is one of the most dangerous countries for media workers. At least 18 Somali journalists were killed last year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
It’s not entirely clear who has been killing journalists. Al-Shabab rebels, warlords, criminals, and even government agents all could have reasons.