Relatives and elders protesting the deaths of 10 Somali civilians allegedly killed in a raid by Somali and U.S. troops say the bodies of the victims will not be buried until the perpetrators apologize.
Holding a news conference after meeting in Mogadishu Saturday, more than 300 Somali community leaders and relatives of the dead accused Somali troops, accompanied by U.S. military advisors, of having killed the 10 civilians during a raid on a farm early Friday in Bariire, 55 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu.
“Until the government admits the victims were innocent civilians and its troops killed, we will not bury them,” said Ibrahim Qureysh, a relative of 60-year-old Ali Ibrahim, one of the civilians killed in the incident.
“We met with the prime minister [Hassan Ali Khayre] on Friday night and he told us that the government will respond to the massacre against the civilians within 24 hours and we are still awaiting that,” said Barlin Abdullaahi, a relative of one of the other slain civilians.
Somali officials initially said Friday that troops had killed eight al-Shabab militants during an overnight operation. Statements from the ministers of defense and information said the government troops had come under fire from jihadists while on patrol, insisting that no civilians had been killed.
Later, the Somali army said its forces, supported by U.S. troops, mistakenly shot dead 10 civilians, including three children.
Somali army chief General Ahmed Jimale Irfid, speaking to VOA from Mogadishu, confirmed the civilians were killed during the raid in Bariire.
“It was not a deliberate action. It was an accident and misunderstanding between the forces and local farmers in the area,” the general said. “It was early Friday morning while it was dark, our forces mistook the local farmers as al-Shabab members; some farmers were armed; there was a shoot-out, we don’t know who started the shooting and that is how the incident started.”
Conflicting accounts trigger anger
The government’s conflicting statements on the incident have triggered public anger and protests.
Hundreds of people demonstrated Saturday in Afgoye, 30 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu, demanding justice for those killed.
“My brother was killed. He had no connection to any group, he was a mere laborer in the farmlands,” said Mayow Nur, a resident of Afgoye.
“How can one describe children as terrorists and kill,” said Fadumo Ahmed, one of the protestors. “God will avenge our dead against the Americans and the government,” she said.
Also, civil society groups are calling for Somali lawmakers to review to introduce a bill that holds troops involved in civilian deaths accountable.
“The sides involving into the fight against al-Shabab killed more than 3000 civilians [since the war began]" said Dini Mohamed Dini, chairman of an association of Somali civil society groups. "The unconfirmed number of civilians killed indiscriminately could be around ten thousand."
The U.S. Africa Command confirmed in an email message to VOA Somali that American forces played a "supporting role" during the operation at the farm near Bariire.
"We are aware of the civilian casualty allegations near Bariire, Somalia. We take any allegations of civilian casualties seriously, and per standard, we are conducting an assessment into the situation to determine the facts on the ground," AFRICOM said in a statement issued on Friday night.
A reporter for VOA in Mogadishu says Prime Minister Khayre has called for an urgent meeting to discuss the incident.
Abdulaziz Osman and Hassan Qoyste contributed to this report.