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.'

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