Africa

Islamists seize Somali radio stations

Al-Shabab fighters conduct military exercises in northern Mogadishu
Image caption Radio stations seized by al-Shabab have been used to broadcast Islamist propaganda

Islamist insurgents in Somalia have seized control of two radio stations in the capital Mogadishu.

The stations, Horn Afrik and GBC, were raided on Saturday by militants from the groups al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam.

The groups, who are trying to topple the transitional government, have targeted media by killing journalists and banning music from the airwaves.

Other stations captured by the militants have been used to broadcast their propaganda.

'Blindfolded and beaten'

The first attack was on Horn Afrik, one of the country's best known independent broadcasters.

Late on Saturday night, gunmen from the militant group al-Shabab raided the network's headquarters in Mogadishu.

One eyewitness said the station's security guards were blindfolded and beaten by the gunmen, who then moved through the building seizing radio equipment.

The second station, GBC, was stormed by fighters from Hizbul Islam.

Workers there had apparently earlier refused to hand over the radio station to the insurgents, so gunmen forced their way into the building, chasing away the staff.

Image caption Mogadishu residents rely on radio stations to alert them to violence

Radio stations provide a vital source of information for residents of Mogadishu who, because of the ongoing violence, need to be constantly updated on which areas are unsafe.

But in the face of ongoing attacks, it is virtually impossible for them to carry out their work.

In May, gunmen shot dead a journalist from the state-run Radio Mogadishu as he was heading home - al-Shabab said it was behind the attack.

In August, the manager of Radio Hurma was killed by a stray bullet.

Last year nine journalists were killed in Somalia - the highest total in any one year since 1991, when armed conflict broke out following the collapse of the government of the former President Siad Barre.

Al-Shabab is fighting to overthrow the government and install its own radical interpretation of Islamic law.

The group, which has links to al-Qaeda, controls much of southern and central Somalia, while the government - backed by the 6,000-strong African Union peace force - is confined to a few pockets of the capital.

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