Two Britons die in rebel attack

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Islamic militants killed two Kenyan and two British teachers during a raid on a strategic town in central Somalia early yesterday, shooting all four in the head in the latest guerrilla attack designed to topple the country's Western-backed government.

"Our fighters did not intentionally kill the teachers, but what we know is that their guards targeted fire at our forces and they returned fire, therefore maybe they were caught in the crossfire," al-Shabab militia leader Sheik Muqtar Robow said by telephone.

The seizure of the central Somali town of Belet Weyne was the latest in a series of attacks intended to intimidate the poorly paid and equipped Somali forces, and avoid drawn-out fights with their more robust Ethiopian allies. Al-Shabab translates as "the youth" and is the armed wing of the Council of Islamic Courts movement.

Ethiopian troops supporting government forces drove the Islamists from the capital in December 2006, prompting them to launch an Iraq-style insurgency. The militia is designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department, a categorization it says it welcomes.

Police chief Abdi Aden Adow said security forces had fled the desert town of Belet Weyne when they heard the insurgents were coming. Following a typical pattern, the fighters freed prisoners, attacked government property and then withdrew after a few hours. In many attacks, they also capture government vehicles or weapons.

In Belet Weyne, the dead included a 32-year-old woman and a 70-year-old man of Somali origin who held British passports, and two Kenyans, Adow said. They were shot in the head, said Mohamed Adde, a gate guard at the Hakab Private English School. Bandits and warlords roaming Somalia mean that even schools and aid agencies are forced to employ fleets of gunmen.

Colleagues and the parents of their pupils paid tribute to the four.