Somali militant group al-Shabab recently said it does not intentionally target Muslims – but a new report indicates that whatever its intentions, the group has a lot of Muslim blood on its hands.
More than 4,000 civilians have been killed in al-Shabab attacks since 2010, according to records compiled by the independent group Armed Conflict, Location and Event Data Project, or ACLED. The majority of the deaths were in Somalia – where the population is almost entirely Muslim – with smaller numbers stemming from attacks in Kenya, Uganda and Djibouti. More than 3,000 of the deaths have occurred since 2015.
ACLED says the figure encompasses deaths from shooting attacks, abductions, suicide bombings, and other incidents in which civilians were “determined to be the direct, primary target.” It excludes deaths from battles with the military or other armed groups, and bombing attacks primarily targeting security forces, ACLED says.
ACLED also says the death toll is “the most conservative fatality estimate.”
The true number may be even higher, according to records from Somali doctors. Medina, the biggest hospital in Mogadishu, has recorded more than 54,000 injuries from gun- and bomb-based attacks since 2007, of which 75 percent are civilians.
Hospital director Dr. Mohamed Yusuf estimates there were 20- to 25 fatalities for every 100 injured people brought to the hospital. Based on that estimate, fatalities from attacks involving al-Shabab may be more than 10,000, most of them civilians.
Following a deadly truck bombing at the Ex-Control intersection on Dec. 28, which killed more than 80 people including dozens of students, al-Shabab maintained that their intended target was a Turkish convoy at the junction and not the “Muslim Somalis.”
Turkish and Somali officials confirmed that two Turkish road construction workers were killed, both of them civilians. Al-Shabab said they “regret” the loss of lives.
“The attack caused the loss of lives and materials of Muslims who were caught in the attack,” said group spokesman Ali Mohamud Rageh, better known as Ali Dhere. “We are very sorry for the loss of our Muslim Somalis and we send our condolences to all those Muslims who died, wounded and those who lost materials. It happened on God’s willing and no one could have stopped, and that the enemy held those vehicles carrying Muslims at the junction.”
Dhere said in his statement that the group is aware that shedding the blood of Muslims is “forbidden.” The spokesman, however, tried to justify it, saying, “Jihad comes before saving a life.”
Sheikh Bashir Ahmed Salad, the chairman of the Mogadishu-based Ulema Council of religious scholars, dismisses al-Shabab’s statement. “Jihad is not their job,” he said. “They are involved in a job that is not theirs; they are doing an unlawful job,” Salad told VOA Somali’s Investigative Dossier program.
“They are like a doctor who does not have a permit to perform operations; a doctor with a fake license that needs to be closed down and arrested.”
Al-Shabab has used gunmen and explosives on numerous occasions to attack areas that are not military targets, and are known to be populated by civilians.
In the deadliest examples, al-Shabab launched two complex attacks on Lido beach restaurants and hotels in February and August 2016, killing more than 30 people. In November of that year, the group detonated a truck bomb at a Mogadishu farmers’ market, killing 40 people.