Displaced Somali family
Members of Somalia’s jihadi group al-Shabaab are on a campaign to starve the country’s Christians by preventing food from being delivered to them, according to ministry groups working in the chaotic region.
While reports from a number of analysts say Mogadishu’s population is swelling daily with people coming to the city to escape the famine-ravaged countryside, Christian human rights groups offer additional details.
According to the Barnabas Fund, it is the al-Qaida-affiliated group al-Shabaab whose members are putting a chokehold on international food aid that is being dispatched to Somalia but is not reaching the people.
International Christian Concern analyst Jonathan Racho says no aid gets through without al-Shabaab’s consent.
“There are different kinds of people in al-Shabaab. There are those who came from other countries, Islamic citizens who joined al-Shabaab. There are also those Somalis who are in al-Shabaab,” Racho said.
“In general, the members of al-Shabaab who are from other countries don’t let aid food get into the other territories where they are in control. But, al-Shabaab members who are from Somalia, they feel something for their own country and they want the aid to come in,” Racho said.
“So there are divisions in al-Shabaab as to whether they should allow the food aid to come in,” he said.
The National Counterterrorism Center says al-Shabaab is a “clan-based insurgent and terrorist group” that “has continued its violent insurgency in southern and central Somalia.”
“The group has exerted temporary and, at times, sustained control over strategic locations in southern and central Somalia by recruiting, at times forcibly, regional sub-clans and their militias, using guerrilla asymmetrical warfare and terrorist tactics against the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia and its allies, African Union peacekeepers, and nongovernmental aid organizations,” the center report said.
Al-Shabaab is reported to exercise strict control over large parts of the country. Racho said that in areas controlled by al-Shabaab, terror group members simply decide who gets food.
“Al-Shabaab is the government in those areas. So when the food is distributed, they have a lot of influence over who should get the food aid. That’s how they discriminate against people that they suspect are members of the underground church in that country,” Racho said.
Racho said the group uses control of certain areas of the country to deliberately prevent aid from reaching Christians.
“For aid to get to an area, the aid workers have to get permission from al-Shabaab. So once they get permission, there are people in al-Shabaab who allow the aid to come in. There are those who do not allow the aid to come in,” Racho said.
Racho said the al-Shabaab militia groups that control certain areas ensure that the food goes only to Somali Muslims.
Listen to an interview witih Racho:
And he said the conditions for Christians are more severe than most of the world realizes.
“Thousands of people have died through starvation. We know that. We want to call on the international community to increase their help,” Racho said.
Al-Shabaab militia man
“However, we also want the international community to understand the dynamics in which the Christians find themselves. We want to highlight the persecution that the Christians have been suffering and how al-Shabaab is using the famine to exert further pressures on Christians in that country,” Racho said.
Racho said al-Shabaab’s tactics are well-documented, as are the numbers of people impacted, because the information is from a first-hand source.
“We have contacts in Somalia. We are getting our information from the church leaders in Somalia. In fact, we have a leader of an underground church. We interviewed him,” Racho said.
The network goes farther than the one church leader.
“We also have a national Christian leader who is a leader in a church in a neighboring country and he has a network inside Somalia,” Racho said.
Racho said 18 Christians recently have died as a result of al-Shabaab’s tactics.
“That number, 18, may not seem like many, but because there are so few Christians in Somalia, 18 people makes a bigger percentage than in many other countries,” Racho said.