September 06, 2012
Al-Shabaab is kidnapping children and forcing them to take up arms as part of its efforts to defend Jowhar from the approaching Somali and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces, residents told Sabahi.
Human rights and child advocacy activist Mandeq Mohamed Hassan said al-Shabaab is relying on young people to fill its ranks.
"I cannot give you an exact figure as to the number of innocent children recruited by al-Qaeda in Somalia because it is a highly difficult and dangerous matter," she told Sabahi. "What I can say, is that no less than 90% of the group's overall recruits are children under the age of 18 who come from poverty-stricken families and minority clans who are politically misrepresented."
She said al-Shabaab is a failed takfiri and terrorist group taken over by foreign fighters that has no concern for the welfare of children dying in armed conflict.
Al-Shabaab's conscription of child soldiers is nothing new. The group has been increasingly recruiting Somali children and subjecting them to abuse, Human Rights Watch said in a report released in February.
"The leaders of the al-Qaeda-affiliated group have gathered 200 children during this week alone from the small villages surrounding the town of Mahadaay, such as Biya Aade, Miir Taqwa, Adalle and Eel Baraf, in an attempt to defend Jowhar from an expected attack by the AMISOM-backed Somali army," said Nuur Haayow Qelshe, 44, from Eel Baraf.
Qelshe told Sabahi that al-Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage and al-Shabaab leader for Middle Shabelle Sheikh Yusuf Isse, as well as other field commanders, arrived in the area on Sunday.
"Hundreds of families are fleeing the towns and villages, leaving behind ghost towns," Qelshe said. "We are afraid the rebels will start fighting from Jowhar, Adalle, War-Shekh, Mahadaay and the farming villages on the banks of the Shabelle River."
Muse Mohamud Jimale, a Qur'an teacher at a boys' school in El Bur, said al-Shabaab forces teachers and parents to pull boys out of class so they can carry arms and join the militias fighting Somali and AMISOM forces.
Jimale said al-Shabaab's forced conscription of children has caused parents to suffer from depression, adding that many young boys have gone mad and suffered mental breakdowns after artillery shells destroyed their hideouts and trenches.
"I do not know what will become of my students who had to carry weapons in the face of destructive forces," he told Sabahi. "I am extremely concerned with al-Shabaab forcing children to be involved in violence. I consider this to be nothing short of an act of criminal hatred designed to exterminate the younger generation and turn them into fuel for war."
Ahmed Abdulle, 14, said he was abducted by al-Shabaab near El Bur and recruited as a child soldier. He fought against Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa in July in the village of Wabho, where he was captured by the Somali government-allied militia and returned to his relatives in Dhusamareb.
"I was a student studying the holy Qur'an in the village of Eel Lahelay and I was abducted by al-Shabaab, along with 30 other students from the same school," Abdulle told Sabahi. "We were forced to carry Kalashnikovs and we had to fight and eliminate what they called 'the Ethiopian infidels and the grave-worshipping Sufis'."
Mariam Abdullahi Hashi, a 57-year old resident of Buuloburde in Hiran, said extremists and members of al-Qaeda have kidnapped and recruited children without a sense of responsibility.
"The rebel group has used children who have not had a taste of peace and prosperity to take part in its suicide operations throughout the country," she told Sabahi. "They have also used jihadist volunteers from abroad who have been wounded or suffer from rare, terminal diseases who offer themselves up for death and eternal damnation."
After re-taking control of the port town of El Maan on Tuesday (September 4th), Somali and AMISOM forces re-iterated their intention to move on to Jowhar, 90 kilometres north of Mogadishu.
Allied forces previously took over El Maan in June, but al-Shabaab militants later re-appeared in the city.
"African Union and Somali troops are here now, and al-Shabaab fighters abandoned the town," said local administration spokesman Daud Hajji Iro, according to Somalia's Shabelle Media Network.
Jowhar is next on allied forces' itinerary, Iro said. "I call upon the local residents in Jowhar to work closely with the coalition forces, to drive the militants out of the entire region," he said.
The Somali army stationed in the village of Qlimo, 30 kilometres north of Jowhar, have not yet taken control of Jowhar, but AMISOM leadership said they are poised for a large-scale military movement.
AMISOM spokesman Colonel Ali Adam Hamud said his forces are ready to launch a large attack against Jowhar.
"We have tightened the noose around members of al-Qaeda and we have cleansed several locations they had occupied," he told Sabahi, adding that Somali and AMISOM forces are co-operating with local tribes to detect remaining al-Shabaab hiding places.
"Arrival at Jowhar is imminent and we have prepared our troops for deployment," he said. "As soon as we receive orders, we will announce the official date and time."
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