- A regional court in Somaliland has found eight men guilty of "terrorism" after the 2003 killing of one Kenyan and two British aid workers. The court sentenced the eight to death, of which four were present in court. The assumed motives for the killings had been religious extremism.
The case started in the regional court of Hargeisa - the capital of the unrecognised republic of Somaliland - in July with maximum security precautions. The eight have been accused of religiously motivated terrorist acts against non-Muslim foreigners and trying to destabilise Somaliland.
Four of the accused are still at large, leaving four others to observe the Hargeisa court case. The judge however handed out death sentences to all the eight accused, concluding there had been enough evidence to find them guilty in three of the four murder cases they were accused of committing between 2002 and 2004.
Four murders on humanitarian aid workers have upset Somalilanders and the donor community. Italian aid worker Annalena Tonelli was shot to death on 2 October 2003. The married British couple Richard and Enid Eyeington were gunned down on 21 October 2003. Finally, Kenyan Flora Cheruiyot was shot on 19 March 2004.
The killings in 2004 led the UN, Western development agencies and humanitarian organisations to scale down their staff and work in Somaliland. The breakaway state until then had been known as a quiet oasis in an otherwise unstable and dangerous region. Somaliland authorities thus have given high priority to find and try the killers.
With the conviction of eight "terrorists", Somaliland holds that the murders of Ms Cheruiyot and the Eyeington couple have been solved. The judge however did not find it proven that the same men had stood behind the killing of Ms Tonelli, and he ordered Hargeisa police to conduct further investigations into the killing of the Italian aid worker.
The eight death sentences have already caused reactions in Britain, the former colonial power, which has followed the Eyeington trial closely. A London Foreign Office spokeswoman today said the British government was happy about the court case but unhappy about the sentences.
"The UK is opposed to the death penalty and we made our position clear," the spokeswoman said. A letter from the British Ambassador had already been delivered to Hargeisa authorities "outlining our opposition," she added.
Bashir Abdi Hussein, the lawyer of the four accused present in court, told Hargeisa media today that he would appeal the ruling.
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