, MOGADISHU, Jun 25 – Hooded Somali Islamist militiamen on Thursday chopped off the right hand and left foot of four thieves in front of a crowd of 200 people in Mogadishu.
An ad-hoc court set up by the hardline Islamist group Shebab had this week found the four young men guilty of stealing mobile phones and guns from residents in the Somali capital.
"The amputations have been carried out as scheduled," a Shebab official told AFP on condition of anonymity. "According to Islam, anybody who robs people will face a similar punishment."
Residents in the Sukahola neighbourhood gathered to watch the amputations, but no cameras nor mobile phones were allowed.
Two hooded men watched by masked Shebab gunmen carried out the amputations with a traditional Somali curved-blade knife known as a "torey" after applying tourniquets on the accused’s forearms and legs.
"Before the sentence was carried out, medics checked their health, we wanted to avoid anything that could put their lives at risk," the Shebab official said.
Witnesses told AFP of the robbers’ agony.
"The four were screaming when their limbs were hacked off," said Ali Mohamed Ibrahim, a local resident. "It did not take long, within three minutes I saw them without their right hand and left foot."
"Their faces were twisted in horror," he said.
"Some of the people in the crowd had to look away when the punishment was carried out. It looked really painful but I want this to put an end to robbery in the area," said Farah Mohamed, another witness.
While most of the political players in Somalia recognise Islam as the main source of legislation, the Shebab advocate a very strict interpretation of Sharia.
An alliance including the Shebab and other hardline Islamists already controls and administers large parts of southern Somalia, where courts impose tough sentences that have been condemned by rights groups.
On Monday, Amnesty International issued a statement urging the Shebab — who are engaged in a deadly military offensive against the fledgling administration of President Sheikh Sharif — not to carry out the sentences.
"We are appealing to Al-Shebab not to carry out these cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments," said Tawanda Hondora, the London-based watchdog’s Africa Deputy Director.
"These sentences were ordered by a sham Al-Shebab court with no due process or guarantees of fairness," it said.
Thursday’s public punishment, known as "cross-amputation", was the first such case in the capital in recent years.
In May, Amnesty condemned amputations and unlawful killings it said were being routinely carried out by the local authorities in and around the southern city of Kismayo.
In October, a 13-year-old girl was stoned to death in public by around 50 men on one of Kismayo’s main squares. She was accused of adultery by local hardline Islamists after reporting that she had been raped by three men.