Gunmen assassinated a well-known comedian and musician who poked fun at Al-Qaeda linked Shebab insurgents in the Somali capital, police and colleagues said Tuesday, the latest in a string of attacks against media and cultural figures.
Warsame Shire Awale, a famous composer who had worked with Somalia’s national army band before joining Radio Kulmiye as a drama producer and comedian, was attacked by two gunmen late on Monday.
“Gunmen killed him… we are investigating the matter and the killers will be brought to justice,” police chief Ahmed Hassan Malin told reporters.
“Two men armed with pistols shot and wounded him near his house in Waberi district, he died shortly after in hospital,” said Abdi Mohamed Haji, a colleague at Radio Kulmiye.
The killing, the latest in a wave of attacks on media workers in Somalia, follows the murder of fellow comic Abdi Jeylani Malaq Marshale in August, who also worked at Kulmiye.
Popular especially with the youth, 61-year old Awale’s programs mocked the Shebab leadership, pointing out their misuse of the form of extreme Islamic law they imposed in the war-torn Horn of Africa country.
The veteran broadcaster would create drama shows in which he would examine the hardship of staying in Shebab-controlled areas, as well as the challenges in trying to escape from their orders.
“Given the nature of the Shebab, he knew he was at risk of dying,” said his nephew Mohamed Abdiweli.
But senior Shebab official Ali Mohamed Hussein said they were not responsible, blaming instead government forces whom he said “kill people for their telephones and their petty belongings.”
“This gentleman was an old man and we had no wish to kill him,” Hussein said. “Blaming the Shebab for this is a politically motivated issue.”
The U.N. human rights agency voiced deep concern at the attacks and urged the government to bring the killers to justice, saying the latest deaths brought to 18 the number of media workers killed in Somalia this year.
“We are extremely alarmed by the continuing assault on Somalia’s media workers and journalists by Al-Shebab and other elements,” Rupert Colville, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, told reporters in Geneva.
“That’s the second highest toll in the world after Syria,” he said, calling on Somalia’s government “to take urgent steps to protect journalists and other media workers and to end the complete impunity that has been enjoyed by their killers.”
“The role of the media is crucial as Somalia tries to get back on its feet, and the continued slaughter of the country’s journalists risks stifling the media’s ability to contribute to an improvement in law and order and good governance,” he added.
Press rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said that the toll this year meant that it is the “deadliest year” on record for Somalia.
“Warsame Shire Awale was an active and respected member of the entertainment world and his murder has again highlighted the scale of the tragedy unfolding in this country,” RSF said.
Several killings are blamed on the Shebab insurgents, but other murders are also believed to be linked to struggles within the multiple factions in power.
After years of war, Mogadishu has been coming back to life since Shebab fighters left frontline positions in the capital last year, but the insurgents have instead switched to guerrilla attacks.
While the hardline Shebab gunmen have now lost control of a string of towns in recent months, they still control large areas of rural southern and central Somalia.
At the same time, Somalia’s newly elected president and parliament — set up in September in a U.N.-backed process — are struggling to rebuild stability after more than two decades of anarchy and war.