MOGADISHU, Somalia - The two accused spies died amid a fusillade of bullets from a firing squad organized by a hardline Islamist militia. The pair were only girls, aged 15 and 18, and their grieving relatives say they were uneducated, usually stayed at home and could not have spied for anyone.
Horrified residents of the town of Belet Weyne, in western Somalia, were forced to watch the execution by al-Shabab on Wednesday. A woman fainted as the girls were gunned down by 10 masked executioners.
"Those who watched the event could not bear the painful experience," said Dahir Casowe, a local elder.
Al-Shabab is linked to al-Qaida and has carried out whippings, amputations and executions to enforce its own strict interpretation of Islam. But this was the first public execution of girls in Belet Weyne, which al-Shabab took over a year ago.
Only shortly before the executions, Sheik Mohamed Ibrahim sentenced the girls to death for spying for government soldiers fighting al-Shabab. The only qualifications Ibrahim needed to be appointed a judge by al-Shabab were that he be male and know the Quran.
Abdiwali Aden, a witness, told The Associated Press by phone that al-Shabab militiamen had walked through Belet Weyne's streets, using microphones and handheld speakers to order residents to attend the pending executions.
Later, Ayan Mohamed Jama, 18, and Huriyo Ibrahim, 15, wearing veils and blindfolds, were brought before the hundreds of gathered residents. As they were mowed down with assault rifles, the girls shouted "There is no God but Allah," said a witness who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals.
Ayan's father, Mohamed Jama, said she had gone missing for two days. Then a week ago relatives informed him that she was in the custody of al-Shabab.
Sheik Yusuf Ali Ugas, the governor of the Hiran region who was appointed by al-Shabab, told the crowd the girls were captured during fighting and that they admitted to spying. But Sadia Osman, who witnessed the execution, said one of the girls proclaimed her innocence.
Human Rights Watch said in an April report that al-Shabab imposes "unrelenting repression and brutality."