By Worthy News Africa Service
MOGADISHU, SOMALIA (Worthy News)– Islamic militants have killed the leader of an underground church in Somalia's capital Mogadishu, a well-informed Christian rights group said Monday, November 16.
U.S.-based International Christian Concern (ICC) said it has learned that two "masked members" of the militant al-Shabab group shot Pastor Ali Hussein Weheliye on October 10, while he was returning home from a worship service.
"The Islamists left the pastor for dead. He was later taken to Darful Shifa Hospital where he died of bullet wounds on October 20," ICC added in a statement to Worthy News and its partner agency BosNewsLife. He was the 13th known Christian to have been assassinated in Somalia this year, the group said.
The pastor reportedly converted from Islam to Christianity in 1999 while working in Somalia’s capital as a linguist. In 2002, he started pastoring an underground house church, ICC said.
He is survived by his wife and a daughter "who are now in hiding fearing for their lives," the group explained.
The attack came after Somalia's al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab militants declared Somalia "an Islamic state" vowing to eradicate Christians and impose Sharia, or Muslim, law in several areas, according to rights activists.
"This year alone, the group has killed a dozen Somali Christians. Several Christians have also left the country due to the intense persecution," ICC said. Additionally, thieves have had their legs and hands amputated, while women accused of adultery were flogged and stoned.
Al-Shabab militants have also reportedly forced citizens, including children, to watch the gruesome punishments being meted out. "The underground church in Somalia is enduring untold suffering. Al-Shabab and other Islamic extremist groups are hunting down and killing Christians," said ICC's Regional Manager for Africa and South East Asia, Jonathan Racho.
"By killing Christians, the Islamic extremists have repeatedly demonstrated utter disregard to human life and freedom of religion," Racho added. ICC said it has asked Christians to "pray for God to comfort and strengthen Pastor Ali’s wife and daughter" and "for courage and wisdom to underground churches in Somalia."
Observers believe until a more powerful group emerges to bring law and order to the country, ordinary Somalis are not likely to challenge al-Shabab.
After the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Somalia and the election of an Islamist leader as president of Somalia's transitional federal government earlier this year, al-Shabab apparently formed alliances with various clans and Islamist groups opposed to the government to maintain the group's grip on power.
Somalia has been without effective central leadership since President Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991. Years of fighting between rival warlords and an inability to deal with famine and disease have led to the deaths of up to one million people, according to international estimates. (With reporting by Worthy News' Stefan J. Bos).