A radio station run by Somalia’s al-Shabab Islamist group has awarded AK-47 assault rifles to children as young as 10 who won a Koran-reciting and general knowledge contest.
Andulus radio, based near the Somali capital of Mogadishu, gave students who won top honors in the Ramadan competition their own rifles and the equivalent of $700 in Somali cash, according to Jeffrey Gettleman in the New York Times.
The contest featured questions that al-Shabab seemed to think every child should know, “like which war was Sheik Timajilic (a famous al-Shabab warrior) killed in?” reported Gettleman:
Without a functioning central government, Somalia has some of the lowest schooling rates in the world, and many Somali children are more familiar with rifles than rulers. Contestants in the Shabab quiz included children from all across Shabab-controlled areas of Somalia, most of the southern third of the country. The children competed live on air from the many radio stations nationwide that the Shabab control.
On Sunday, the awards were handed out at a ceremony held at the Andalus radio station in Elasha Biyaha, a small town near Mogadishu, the capital. (Andalus was the part of Spain seized by the Arabs in the Middle Ages.)
Second prize-winners also received an AK-47 and $500. Third prize was two hand grenades and $400, according to the BBC:
Al-Shabab, linked to al-Qaeda, controls much of southern and central Somalia.
Four children, aged 10-17, were chosen to represent each district in the competition held during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ended in August.
“Youths should use one hand for education and the other for a gun to defend Islam,” senior al-Shabab official Mukhtar Robow told the prize-giving ceremony in Elasha, 12 miles from Mogadishu.
“Al-Shabab and other militant Islamist groups in Somalia have become famous for their zeal in enforcing their strict interpretation of Islamic purity,” reported the Times. ”Last year, al-Shabab outlawed school bells in a southern Somalia town after deciding that they sounded too much like church bells. Al-Shabab has also banned bras, gold teeth, dancing and soccer, deeming them un-Islamic, and barred many Western aid groups, even though Somalia is suffering from a famine and tens of thousands of people have already starved to death.
“Another militant Somali group, Hizbul Islam, ordered radio stations to stop playing music, which forced broadcasters to eliminate even the faintest suggestion of harmonious sounds from their daily programming,” reported Gettleman:
Some stations substituted the musical introductions to news broadcasts with the sounds of gunshots, engine roars, car horns and animal grunts.
Somalia has subsisted without a functioning central government for two decades. The country is now fragmented into various zones of loose control, with Islamist groups, clan militias, regional administrations and a very weak, internationally supported central government battling one another.