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2 journalists slain in Somalia

Times Staff Writer

nairobi, kenya -- Two well-known journalists were killed Saturday in Somalia in separate but related strikes, the latest in a string of attacks targeting independent media outlets in the Horn of Africa country.

Mahad Ahmed Elmi, a popular talk show host on Capital Voice, an FM station owned by HornAfrik Media, was shot in the head three times by masked men as he walked to work, witnesses said.

Hours later, as colleagues drove home from Elmi’s funeral, a roadside bomb targeted the procession. HornAfrik’s co-owner, Ali Iman Sharmarke, who had just eulogized the assassinated reporter, was killed by the blast.

Elmi, 30, was known for his coverage of the plight of street children and mounting civilian casualties from Somalia’s 16-year civil war. He contributed to several U.S. news outlets, including the Los Angeles Times and McClatchy Newspapers.

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“This is the collapse of freedom of speech,” said Said Tahlil Ahmed, editor of HornAfrik, which also broadcasts Voice of America programming in Mogadishu, the nation’s capital. He said the radio station voluntarily went off the air Saturday.

The motive behind the attacks was unclear. The radio station is known for its critical reporting on both the government and insurgents, who have been battling in the capital since January.

HornAfrik recently began broadcasting reports about the reconciliation conference in Mogadishu. Islamic hard-liners, who are boycotting the conference, had warned that anyone who participated would be targeted.

Somalia’s transitional government, which is backed by Ethiopian troops, seized control of Mogadishu in December but has been unable to defeat a budding insurgency of Islamic extremists.

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Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Gedi condemned the attacks Saturday in a radio address. But the government has been cracking down aggressively on local media outlets, arresting and threatening journalists. In June, three radio stations, including HornAfrik, were temporarily shut down by the government, prompting protests from the United States.

On Friday, eight journalists with Shabelle Media Network, one of Mogadishu’s largest media companies, were detained over government allegations that they misreported facts regarding battles between government troops and insurgents. All but one have been released.

At least four other journalists have been killed this year in Somalia.

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edmund.sanders@latimes.com

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A special correspondent in Mogadishu contributed to this report.


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