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How a Journalist Helped Al-Shabab Kill Other Reporters

A Somali journalist turned militant was executed for helping al-Shabab murder fellow reporters.

Hassan Hanafi Haji, alleged senior commander of Somalia's Shebab Islamists, looks on as his sentence is read on March 3, 2016 at the courthouse in Mogadishu, in a case brought against him for the murder of journalists in the troubled capital. 
Hanafi, a former journalist, was handed the death sentence for his involvement in assisting the Somalia-based, al-Qaeda affiliated Islamist militant group Al-Shabaab by identifying possible targets amongst Somalia's journalists between 2007 and 2011. More than 25 journalists have been murdered in Somalia since 2007, the Committee to Protect Journalists says. / AFP / MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB        (Photo credit should read MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB/AFP/Getty Images)
Hassan Hanafi Haji, alleged senior commander of Somalia's Shebab Islamists, looks on as his sentence is read on March 3, 2016 at the courthouse in Mogadishu, in a case brought against him for the murder of journalists in the troubled capital. Hanafi, a former journalist, was handed the death sentence for his involvement in assisting the Somalia-based, al-Qaeda affiliated Islamist militant group Al-Shabaab by identifying possible targets amongst Somalia's journalists between 2007 and 2011. More than 25 journalists have been murdered in Somalia since 2007, the Committee to Protect Journalists says. / AFP / MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB (Photo credit should read MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB/AFP/Getty Images)

Since 2007, more than 25 journalists have been killed in Somalia, arguably one of the world’s most dangerous and failed states.

At least five of those murders were allegedly plotted single-handedly by Hassan Hanafi, a former radio broadcaster turned al-Shabab sympathizer who made it his mission to decimate Somalia’s journalist population between 2007 and 2011.

He was captured in neighboring Kenya in 2014, and confessed to the murders on Somali state television this year. Hasan Ali, chairman of the Somali military court, told reporters in March that Hanafi would “be put to death as soon as possible.”

On Monday, like multiple of his victims who were shot and killed at close range, the former journalist was executed by firing squad in Mogadishu.

A native of Somalia’s south-central Hiran region, Hanafi was the perfect liaison between the al-Shabab terrorist group and Mogadishu’s journalist community because he himself was once a respected reporter. He first reported for the capital’s Quran FM radio station in 2003 before moving to a mainstream Somali website in 2006.

His allegiance to al-Shabab went public after he continuously broke news about the group and eventually split off to join its propaganda station, Radio Andalus. There, he served as a mouthpiece for the extremist group that has spent years trying to overthrow the country’s central government and killing thousands of people along the way.

Hanafi kept track of journalists who insulted al-Shabab or published work he considered to be pro-government. He would then allegedly lure them into meetings and either execute them himself or order someone else to do it, according to Somali prosecutors. The journalists were either shot or blown up by explosives planted in their vehicle.

Somali authorities are eager to prosecute al-Shabab sympathizers, and Hanafi has admitted to killing only one journalist, although it is widely understood he helped fellow militants carry out other murders. After his sentence, Hanafi said the truth behind his sentence didn’t matter, as the terrorist network would find a way to continue their attacks with or without him.

Al Shabab killed many journalists but personally I killed only one,” he said. “But I am indifferent if you kill me. You will see if killings will stop even after my death.”

Hanafi, who was shot Monday morning, was right.  At noontime, al-Shabab militants detonated a vehicle outside of a busy restaurant near the Mogadishu mayor’s office, killing five civilians in what is now a common occurrence in the unstable capital.

Photo credit: MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB/AFP/Getty Images

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