By Patrick Mathangani in Dhobley, Somalia
Somalis on Saturday told horrific tales of life under Al Shabaab, a terror movement that has been tossed out of key towns liberated by Kenya’s military following a week of intense military campaign.
As the first accounts out of western Somalia filtered through, Kenya’s military conducted air strikes on Munarani area north of Oddo, hitting one of al Shabaab’s command centres. Kenyan and TFG forces also advanced beyond Oddo town, which was captured on Friday.
The Inter-Governmental Authority on Development also called on the international community to impose a blockade on the port of Kismayu to counter Al Shabaab and strangle their source of income.
Dobley hospital in Somali that had been destroyed by Al Shabaab group. Picture: Maxwell Agwanda
Residents of Dobley town narrated to this writer how women were being forced to marry Al Shabaab fighters, and were threatened with beheading if they did not comply. Members of the group, who said they were fighting for their religion, seized buildings and stocks in shops.
Dobley, which sits in the middle of an expansive, sun-scorched scrubland near the border town of Liboi, was liberated with the help of Kenyan troops.
They had beheaded men and cut off the limbs of people who were suspected of stealing, residents said.
"They’d force us to pray," Mohammed Abdi, 26, said on Saturday.
"We had no freedom. We are Muslim and know when to pray, but the militants were saying we must obey their orders."
Now, after the town was recently grabbed from the militia through the help of Kenyan forces, Abdi is free to do things his way.
"I pray four times a day; not because anyone is forcing me but because of my faith."
Al Shabaab, or youth in Arabic, had also banned the eating of somosas, a local delicacy. A resident said the militants told them that the three corners of somosas represent the cross — a Christian symbol.
The chewing of khat, a succulent herb loved by many Somalis was also forbidden. These days, it is common to see men munching away under the watchful eyes of the soldiers and members of Ras Kamboni Brigade, a militant group supporting the Transitional Federal Government.
A few metres from the local police station, Dobley hospital is in ruins. The roof caved in during intense fighting between the militia and Kenya’s military men.
The waiting room is in a shambles — the ceiling has caved in, gaping holes serve for windows, and bullet holes litter the walls.
When Al Shabaab learned the soldiers were moving in, they dug in inside the hospital compound. Others shot back from behind the walls of the hospital as staff and patients hastily evacuated.
Hospital in ruin
"I asked them to leave but they refused," said Dr Hiray Abdi, who heads the hospital.
"They put the lives of patients in danger."
The hospital was built by the community, which contributed whatever they could to provide a place where they could get medical care. Somalis in the Diaspora also contributed.
Now, the hospital is no more and years of hard labour have gone to naught.
"They force young girls to marry them. Some of the girls are also given away to foreign people who train the Al Shabaab," said a woman who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals.
Scores of foreign jihadists, mostly Pakistanis, train the militia who have links with Al Qaeda, the Afghanistan-based terror group.
The terrorist movement provides the trainers, which was responsible for the two terror attacks in Kenya in 1998 and 2001.
She added: "They tell young girls that if you are not married, your prayers will not be answered. If you resist, they torture or even kill you."
She showed scars on her hand, which were inflicted by the militia in Ganane area. They wanted to make a pathway near her house, and had brought men to demolish it.
"When I resisted, they tied me up, whipped me, and beat me with gun butts," she added. "Even today, I’m still feeling the pain."
The town is slowly waking from years of tyranny and oppression by the terror movement.
Business is brisk. Merchants and women in their long garbs trot along the dusty streets, which are being patrolled by gun-totting government soldiers.
TFG’s Major Mudu Mohammed said when Kenyan soldiers helped them to capture Qoqaani last week they were shocked to find nearly all shops had closed down. They learned that the Al Shabaab has over the years been forcefully seizing items from shopkeepers.
Many closed down because they could not make profits.
"They are stealing from civilians and telling them they need the items to fight a holy war," said Major Mohammed.
He said in many towns, they were also surprised to find there were no young men. Many had fled to avoid being forcefully enlisted into the terror movement.
"I’m very happy for what the Kenyan soldiers have done," said another woman, who also asked not to be named.
Another man, Abdi Haji, said he fled Mogadishu when the militias put a price on his head after he rented out his house to Ethiopian soldiers.
At one time, gunmen shot him twice on his hand and chest, and left him for dead.
"I was found by a man who took me to Medina Hospital," said Haji. Soon after, the militants wired his house with explosives and blew it up.