Hundreds of Somalis marched through the war-torn capital Mogadishu on Wednesday in a rare open protest against Islamist Shebab insurgents and their al-Qaeda allies.
“Down with al-Qaeda! Down with al-Shebab!” the crowds chanted, as they marched through the streets near the presidential palace, passing areas recently hit by suicide and car bomb attacks set off by the hardline Shehab.
Demonstrators waving banners daubed with slogans against the Islamist al-Qaeda network said they wanted to defeat the extremist insurgency battling the weak Western-backed government.
“This country is for Somalis and not for foreign fighters like al-Qaeda -- we do not tolerate their violence any longer,” Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed told the crowd.
The demonstration followed rallies on Monday across Somalia by Shebab fighters, as they celebrated their group’s recognition by Osama bin Laden’s successor as a member of al-Qaeda.
“We have suffered enough and do not want more violence: Al-Qaeda should stop meddling with Somalia’s affairs and leave our country,” said Suleiman Mumin, one of the protestors.
“Al-Qaeda and al-Shebab have said, ‘no to life’ in Somalia, so everyone is ready to fight against them now,” Mumin added.
Although organized by Mogadishu’s mayor, such a march would have been impossible just months ago, when Shebab gunmen dominated the city.
Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri announced in a video message posted on jihadist forums last week that Shebab fighters had joined ranks with the Islamist network.
“The name Al-Shebab is over -- now we are facing al-Qaeda inside Somalia,” Sharif said. “We ask the international community to help us fight al-Qaeda.”
Shebab insurgents, fighting to overthrow the weak Western-backed government in the Horn of Africa country, proclaimed their allegiance to then al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in 2009.
“So many people have attended the rally to show their defiance against al-Qaeda and its Somali allies,” said Mohamed Abdulkadir, a Somali security official.
“No one will accept that the chaos in our country goes on forever, but that is what al-Qaeda wants.”