Heavy fighting erupted in central Somalia Dec. 27, with two religious militias seeking control of the town of Guri El in Galgadud region, Radio Garowe reports. At least 10 people were killed and 12 others wounded during the battle, in which the town’s hospital was hit by a mortar shell. Gunmen loyal to a Sufi group—Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jamee’a—reportedly took control of strategic locations inside Guri El, ousting al-Shabaab guerillas who had seized the town earlier this month.
Sheikh Abdirahman Abu-Qadi, a spokesman for the Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jamee’ a sect, told reporters that al-Shabaab was responsible for destroying the graves of revered sheikhs. “The bones of Sheikh Nur Hussein have been sold to Italians and Jews and we do not know why,” Abu-Qadi said. Al-Shabaab fighters last week reportedly destroyed graves in Jilib and Kismayo districts, in the Middle Jubba and Lower Jubba regions respectively.
The day before the fighting, Sheikh Abdulkadir Somow, spokesman for the Sufi group, held a press conference in Mogadishu to protest the desecration of the graves by al-Shabaab fighters. “It is prohibited to bother a Muslim person, living or dead, in Islam,” Sheikh Somow said, adding that the graves of Sheikh Nur and his two sons were destroyed. He urged restraint on the part of Sufi followers, while appealing to al-Shabaab to “stop destroying graves and mosques.” He also asserted that foreign fighters were involved in the desecrations.
Radio Garowe quoted an unidentified Shabaab fighter who confirmed the report, adding: “We believe people were worshipping the dead…and so we destroyed the graves.” The veneration of the graves of saints is centuries-old local tradition, but is rejected as heresy by the fundamentalist al-Shabaab. (Radio Garowe, Dec. 27; Radio Garowe, Dec. 26)
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