Bodies of eight aid workers were on Thursday discovered in some thickets at Galoley village north of terror-prone Bal’ad town, authorities confirmed, in an incident which has attracted condemnation from all top agencies working in war-torn Somalia.
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Also killed in the brutal execution was a civilian, whose body was found just next to the aid workers. Preliminary investigations indicate that the victims of gruesome execution may have died several hours before their bodies were discovered in the thickets.
Multiple sources told Garowe Online that seven of the victims worked for a local health NGO that had been providing medical assistance to the residents. They were abducted by unknown gunmen before being shot in cold blood, witnesses said.
The name of the NGO is yet to be made public but the seven are said to be health professionals who toiled to ensure locals were treated whenever there was a need for medical attention. All the eight were kidnapped under unclear circumstances, reports indicate.
Although no group is yet to take responsibility, the region has however been facing clashes between Al-Shabaab militants and Somali National Army [SNA], which has been carrying out operations targeting the militants in the past few months across the country.
But some local officials who spoke in confidence blamed the SNA troops for the unprecedented executions, which could define Somalia’s relationship with international partners. The troops, they said, arrested the victims before shooting them at close range.
Despite the allegations, the federal government of Somalia is yet to respond. Al-Shabaab militants, who are at times linked to such murders, usually take responsibility within hours, but to date, the group is yet to acknowledge the gruesome killings.
Adam Abdelmoula, the UN deputy special representative to Somalia termed the massacre “coward” act, adding that “it will not deter humanitarian actors from their mission”. “These heroes sacrificed their lives delivering MCH to mothers and children. Deep condolences to the grieving families,” he added.
Similar sentiments were echoed by the European Union envoy to Somalia Nicolas Berlanga, who demanded for speedy investigations to the heinous murders, which came at the time Somalia is struggling with Coronavirus pandemic.
“The EU joins its sorrow to those in pain by the brutal killing of 7 health personnel and 1 civilian in Gololey and request a complete investigation. Societies cannot be built on tragedy and indifference to the losses of those that serve them,” he said.
Mohamed Abdi Waare, the regional president of HirShabelle also condemned the incident, adding that “perpetrators should be brought to book immediately”. FGS through Ismail Mukhtaar, the spokesperson, said “investigations will be done immediately, the sponsors will be punished”.
Galoley village is found in Middle Shebelle, a region that is synonymous with Al-Shabaab attacks. SNA troops have been camping in the region for several months now with an aim of flushing out the militants as part of the Somalia Transition Plan.
Terming the incident as a massacre, former President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed added that the brutal murder should be taken seriously, saying, “I request for an immediate investigation so that perpetrators stand before the justice.”
Attacks targeting aid workers are synonymous in Somalia, buts it’s rare for Al-Shabaab militants to unleash on them. UNICEF has also condemned the incident, in a statement released on Saturday evening.
“Attacks on health workers is a violation of international law and must not be tolerated. Health workers in Somalia often risk their lives every day working tirelessly to help mothers and babies stay healthy – heroes working on the frontlines,” read the statement in part.
Early this month, a plane carrying medical supplies was shot down in Southwest, leaving six people dead. It has since been established that it was targeted by non-AMISOM Ethiopian troops, who claimed that “it was a mistaken identity”.
Last week, there was also another attempt to shoot down a Kenyan aircraft within the same state, but nobody was injured. Local officials blamed Al-Shabaab militants for the incident but investigations are yet to be concluded.
Somalia is increasingly becoming hostile for aid workers, despite a desperate call by UN chief Antonio Guterres, who asked all armed militants to embrace ceasefire for the sake of fighting Coronavirus. SNA troops have also in the past linked to such atrocities.