Ethiopia must release mosque attack children

Ethiopian forces and forces of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia (TFG) have been accused of targeting civilians in an attack on a Mogadishu mosque on Saturday. Twenty-one people were killed in the attack, which Amnesty International has said may constitute a war crime.

Eleven of the twenty-one dead were killed inside the mosque, including the Iman Sheik Saiid Yahya, Sheik Abdullah Mohamud and a number of Tabliq Islamic scholars. At least ten other individuals were killed in the area around the mosque. Their bodies were later brought to the mosque by local residents.

Seven of the twenty-one were reported to have died after their throats were cut, a form of extra-judicial execution practised by Ethiopian forces in Somalia.

The mosque was raided during extensive conflict in the north eastern area of Mogadishu, in which a number of Ethiopian soldiers were reported to have been killed. According to eye-witnesses, the eleven killed inside the mosque were unarmed civilians taking no active part in hostilities. A spokesperson for the Ethiopian government has denied the involvement of Ethiopian troops in these killings.

Amnesty International is also concerned that approximately 41 children, estimated to range from 9 to 18 years of age, were taken by the Ethiopian military from the Al Hidya mosque where they were attending religious classes. The children are reported to be detained at the Ethiopian military base close to the pasta factory in Mogadishu. Other younger children present were not arrested.

Witnesses have told Amnesty International that Ethiopian forces said these children would be released “once they had been investigated” and “if they were not terrorists”.

The Ethiopian military and TFG forces have been fighting against armed groups opposed to them for two days. The Elman Human Rights Organisation has documented 81 deaths and more than one hundred injured in the fighting. It is not known how many of these were civilians.

The attack on the mosque followed increasing attacks by armed groups opposed to the TFG on towns in southern and central Somalia. Local residents of Beledweyne City have reported that members of the Al-Shabab militia killed four teachers in an attack on 13 April. An Al-Shabab leader has claimed that the teachers were shot in crossfire.

The targeting of civilians constitutes a war crime. Amnesty International has called for international action to end impunity for crimes such as these, which are being committed in many areas of Somalia. The organization has said that the Ethiopian Government and TFG must ensure an independent investigation into these killings.

“Any Ethiopian soldiers found to be responsible must be prosecuted in accordance with international fair trial standards without use of the death penalty,” said Amnesty International.

The organization is also calling on the United Nations Security Council to take action to end impunity throughout Somalia, through the establishment of an international Commission of Inquiry or similar mechanism to investigate serious human rights abuses and violations being committed in armed conflict in the country.