Gunmen have assassinated a well-known comedian and musician who poked fun at al-Shabab fighters in the Somali capital, police and colleagues have said, 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 armed men in Mogadishu, the capital, 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 journalists.
“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.
Ali Mohamed Hussein, a senior al-Shabab official, said denied the group were responsible for the death, 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 al-Shabab for this is a politically motivated issue.”
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.
Especially popular with young people, 61-year old Awale’s programmes mocked the al-Shabab leadership, pointing out their misuse of the form of 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 al-Shabab-controlled areas, as well as the challenges in trying to escape from their orders.
“Given the nature of al-Shabab, he knew he was at risk of dying,” said his nephew Mohamed Abdiweli.
The UN 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-Shabab and other elements,” Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, told journalists 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
“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.
Media 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 al-Shabab fighters, 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 al-Shabab left its frontline positions in the capital last year, but the fighters have instead switched to isolated acts of sabotage.
While the al-Shabab fighters 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 UN-backed process – are struggling to rebuild stability after more than two decades of anarchy and war.