Out of Somalia: Confused life of the 'death squad'

MOGADISHU - They may not be the most lethal crew in Somalia but the Independent's 'death squad' are likeable young men.

Abdi Yasin Dahir, 23, the translator and leader, is a pacifist, probably the only one in the whole country. Abdi does not smoke, chew khat, or drink alcohol, and will not carry a gun. His favourite phrase is 'no problem', which is not always true.

Nur Ahmed Farah has only one arm and carries a G3 rifle. Fortunately, I have never had to discover how he uses it. We always travel with another gunman. I objected to the first one because he looked about 12.

Abdi Mohamed Arole, 30, is the driver and by far the most dangerous of them all. He does not need a weapon as long as he can aim the 'technical' at whatever gets in his way. Technically, this open-backed Toyota Land Cruiser is not a 'technical', since it does not have a fixed machine- gun on the back. But it has seen active service and has a spectacular line of bullet holes across the windscreen and dashboard. It also plays Brahms's 'Lullaby' electronically when in reverse - the speed somehow adjusted to the accelerator. So, for dollars 120 ( pounds 78) a day, I have wheels, a translator and guide, and protection. Khat money - the usual tip - is extra, negotiable day by day.

Nur, the one-armed killer, has a secret. His parents were from clans which went to war with each other. He lost his arm when he was five. His father, a soldier in President Siad Barre's army, took him to the front in the Ogaden war in 1977 and he was hit by an Ethiopian bullet. Five years later, his father was driving a lorry in Mogadishu when he was stopped by soldiers. They killed him and stole the lorry.

'From that moment I wanted to take my revenge on Siad Barre's people,' Nur said. He joined the United Somali Congress (USC) in 1990 and fought to overthrow the Barre regime. 'And I got my revenge. I killed 10 of Siad Barre's soldiers and I am happy for it.'

But what of the brothers of those 10 soldiers that he killed? 'I am completely ready for them if they want to come and kill me but I am also ready for peace now if they come in peace,' he said. After the overthrow of Mr Barre, Nur separated from his brother fighters. They became involved in the battle for Mogadishu between the USC, which is mainly made up of the Habir Gedir sub- clan, and the Abgal sub-clan, led by Ali Mahdi Mohamed.

Nur's loyalties were divided because his father was Habir Gedir and his mother Abgal. He had cousins fighting on both sides. Nur took his gun home and did nothing, but he is unable to cross the 'green line' to visit his mother who lives on Mr Ali Mahdi's side of the city.

Perched up on the open back of the Land Cruiser, cradling his rifle on his arm stump, he deterred most molesters.

But once, we drove into the gun market - that part of Bakarah market where you seem to be able to buy any make of firearm from a bazooka to a handgun. I was trying to check out the conventional wisdom that the price of AK-47s was dropping dramatically, but the market folk were suspicious. They began to crowd around the car and shout.

'What's up Abdi?' I asked.

'They say you are spy but they are only joking. No problem,' he said.

Arole revved the engine and nosed into the crowd swearing at them. A piece of metal was thrown through the window. Arole went into reverse, causing more anger. Brahms 'Lullaby' tinkled frantically.

'Abdi, I think it's time to go.'

'No problem.'

'Abdi - get us out of here.' Even Arole got the message and we roared off. Abdi continued to smile and wave.

Another day he gave us a brilliant example of the clan system at work. We were trying to get into a new area but he didn't want us to go, even though we had the 'death squad' on board with their weapons. So what was the problem?

'These are not my people,' said Abdi.

'They are Habir Gedir like you,' I replied.

'Yes, but they are Habir Gedir Saad and I am Habir Gedir Sulieman,' he answered.

So there you have it - the Saad family of the Habir Gedir sub-clan of the Hawiye clan of the Somali nation of the human race. Or in the words of the nomad saying: 'My brother and I against my half-brother, my brothers and I against my father, my father's household against my uncle's household, our two households against the rest of the kin, the kin against the clan, my clan against other clans and my nation and I against the world.'

So how would it end, this madness, this 'suigenocide' based on blood revenge? Abdi replied: 'We Somalis, we don't know any more why we are fighting and what is good and what is bad. That's why we need the Americans to come.'

'What about the women?' I asked, 'do they like their men to fight?'

'Oh yes,' they all replied, 'they like it if you go and fight. They are proud of you.'

But Mariam Arole, their cousin said: 'No they don't. Women hate this fighting. I tell everyone, 'stop fighting' but they don't want to listen. But what can I do? My voice is very short.'

Suggested Topics
Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
Environment
People are buying increasing numbers of plants such as lavender to aid the insects
environmentGardeners rally round the endangered bumblebee
Sport
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
musicBest exclusives coming to an independent record shop near you this Record Store Day
News
Ida Beate Loken has been living at the foot of a mountain since May
newsNorwegian gives up home comforts for a cave
Extras
indybest10 best gardening gloves
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
Arts & Entertainment
Comedian Lenny Henry is calling for more regulation to support ethnic actors on TV
tvActor and comedian leads campaign against 'lack of diversity' in British television
News
Posted at the end of March, this tweeted photo was a week off the end of their Broadway shows
people
News
peopleStar to remain in hospital for up to 27 days to get over allergic reaction
Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit