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Living in the Shadow of Death: Inside Somalia’s Football Pitch that Doubles as an Execution Ground

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Mogadishu, Somalia (TAE)-In the heart of Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, lies a picturesque scene straight out of a holiday brochure: six imposing concrete posts stand sentinel on a pristine beach, the azure waves of the Indian Ocean gently caressing the shore. Yet, this idyllic landscape is marred by a chilling reality. These posts are not markers of leisure but instruments of death, where the Somali security forces carry out executions.

The Grim Spectacle of Justice

Now and then, this serene beach becomes a stage for a grim ritual. Men are brought here, bound to the posts with plastic ropes, their identities concealed under black hoods. A specially trained firing squad, their faces also hidden, then executes them. The condemned men’s heads may sag, but their bodies remain upright, tethered to the poles, their clothing fluttering in the ocean breeze. Some of these men have been convicted of affiliating with the notorious Islamist group al-Shabab, known for spreading terror across Somalia for two decades. Others might be soldiers condemned for the murder of civilians or peers, and occasionally, the executions extend to common criminals deemed to have committed particularly heinous acts.

Last year, the beach witnessed the execution of at least 25 individuals. Among them was Said Ali Moalim Daud, sentenced to death for a heinous crime against his wife, reflecting the diverse reasons that led individuals to this tragic end.

A Community in the Shadow of Death

Adjacent to this execution site is a humble settlement in the Hamar Jajab district, where about 50 families live amidst the remnants of what once was a police academy. Fartun Mohammed Ismail, a resident, describes how her children, oblivious to the site’s dark purpose, play football using the execution posts as goalposts. The innocence of childhood games contrasts starkly with the brutality of the executions, leaving a lasting impact on the community’s psyche.

Residents express concern over their children’s exposure to such violence, not only because of the physical remnants of executions but because it normalizes a culture of violence and death. Executions, typically held early in the morning, attract not just journalists but local onlookers, including children, despite the inherent risks and the traumatic experiences they might endure.

The Legacy of Violence

The choice of the beach as an execution ground dates back to 1975, under President Siad Barre’s regime, intended as a public spectacle. Today, while the crowds are no longer actively encouraged, the impact on the local community remains profound. Residents live in a state of constant anxiety, with the sounds of gunfire serving as a grim reminder of their proximity to death.

The sentiment towards the death penalty in Somalia is complex. While many support it as a measure against terrorists, especially members of al-Shabab, there are voices like Faduma Abdullahi Qasim, who, despite personal loss from a terrorist attack, stand against the practice on humanitarian grounds.

A Place of Contradiction

Despite its grim function, the beach remains a popular spot for Mogadishu’s youth, drawn by its beauty and centrality. They come to swim, play, and take photos, often overlooking the site’s darker narrative. This juxtaposition underscores a broader theme of resilience and the quest for normalcy in a city marred by decades of conflict.

The beach in Mogadishu serves as a stark reminder of the complexities of justice, memory, and daily life in a city that continues to grapple with its violent past and present. It reflects a community’s struggle to find a balance between the desire for justice and the need for healing, all while the waves of the Indian Ocean break gently on the shore, witnessing both the joy of innocent play and the final moments of the condemned.

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