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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Kellie Bright as Linda Carter and Danny Dyer as Mick Carter

EastEnders Christmas specials are known for their shouty, over-the-top soap drama but tonight the show has done itself proud thanks to Danny Dyer.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy
tvCall the Midwife Christmas Special
Sport
Laura Trott and Jason Kenny are preparing for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow
sport
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth with Tess Daly in the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special
tvLouis Smith wins with 'Jingle Bells' quickstep on Strictly Come Dancing's Christmas Special
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there