Somali officer sentenced to death over minister's murder

A Somali military court sentenced a naval officer to death Monday for shooting dead the minister of public works in what the defense argued was an accident.

Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo (centre) prays over the body of Abbas Abdullahi Siraji, who was assassinated in May 2017
Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo (centre) prays over the body of Abbas Abdullahi Siraji, who was assassinated in May 2017 (AFP)

A Somali military court sentenced a naval officer to death Monday for shooting dead the minister of public works in what the defense argued was an accident.

A young minister seen as an inspiration to many in the conflict-torn nation, Abbas Abdullahi Siraji, 31, was killed last month when armed guards shot at his vehicle outside the presidential palace.

The naval officer, Ahmed Abdullahi Abdi, 29, a bodyguard to the auditor-general -- who was fired after the incident -- was arrested and charged with the minister's murder.

"After considering the evidence brought in front of the court, including the testimonies of the witnesses, pictures of the vehicles used, evaluations of the crime scene and the gun used for the murder, the court is convinced that the accused is guilty as charged," said Colonel Hassan Ali Nur Shute, head of the military court.

"The court sentenced him to the death penalty for the killing of Abas Abdullahi Siraji."

The verdict was handed down after only three court appearances, with government under pressure to bring a culprit to book.

The defense had argued that the accused opened fire when a vehicle carrying Siraji drove up behind that of the auditor-general, seeing it as suspicious in a country that faces regular such attacks by Shabaab Islamists.

Many government officials, wealthy individuals and foreigners drive around Mogadishu with squads of armed bodyguards who are frequently nervy and trigger-happy. Many civilians have been killed in similar shootings.

Shabaab militants linked to Al-Qaeda carry out regular bombings and assassinations targeting government officials, and it is rare for a government minister to drive himself, making mistaken identity a strong possibility.

Somalia still actively carries out the death penalty by squad shooting.