NAIROBI, Kenya – Two well-known journalists were killed in Somalia on Saturday in separate but related strikes, the latest in a string of attacks targeting independent media outlets in the Horn of Africa country.
Mahad Ahmed Elmi, a popular talk-show host on Capital Voice, an FM station owned by HornAfrik Media, was shot in the head three times by masked gunmen as he walked to work, witnesses said.
Just hours later, as colleagues drove home from Elmi’s funeral, a roadside bomb targeted the procession. HornAfrik’s co-owner, Ali Iman Shamarke, who had just eulogized the assassinated reporter, was killed in the blast.
Elmi, 30, was known for his coverage of the plight of street children and mounting civilian casualties from Somalia’s 16-year civil war. He contributed to several U.S. news outlets, including the Los Angeles Times and McClatchy newspapers.
“This is the collapse of freedom of speech,” said Said Tahlil Ahmed, editor of HornAfrik, which also broadcasts Voice of America programming in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. He said the radio station voluntarily went off the air Saturday.
The motive behind the attacks was unclear. The radio station is known for its critical reporting on the government and insurgents, who have been battling in the capital since January.
HornAfrik recently began broadcasting reports about the ongoing reconciliation conference in Mogadishu. Islamic hard-liners, who are boycotting the conference, had warned that anyone participating would be targeted.
Somalia’s transitional government, which is being backed by Ethiopian troops, seized control of Mogadishu in December, but it has been unable to defeat a budding Iraq-style insurgency of Islamic extremists. Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi condemned the attacks in a Saturday radio address.
But the government itself has been cracking down aggressively in recent months on local media outlets, arresting and threatening journalists. In June, three radio stations, including HornAfrik, were shut down temporarily by the government, prompting protests from the U.S.
On Friday, eight journalists from Shabelle Media Network, one of Mogadishu’s largest media companies, were detained over government allegations that they misreported facts regarding battles between government troops and insurgents. All but one have been released.
At least four other journalists have been killed this year in Somalia.