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UPDATE: McClatchy Freelancer Slain in Somalia, Arrests Made.

Two prominent radio journalists, including a McClatchy Newspapers freelance correspondent, were assassinated within hours of each other on Saturday in Somalia's bloody capital, Mogadishu, in what colleagues said was retaliation for broadcasts critical of Somalia's interim government.

The first targeted killings of journalists in Somalia in recent memory claimed two leading figures at HornAfrik, an independent media company whose radio stations often focus on the plight of civilians caught in an increasingly deadly conflict between Somali government forces and Islamist insurgents.

Mahad Ahmed Elmi, the 30-year-old co-host of a popular morning talk show -- and a freelance correspondent for McClatchy -- was shot three times in the head by an unknown assailant as he arrived for work around 7:30 a.m. The killing occurred just 200 yards from the entrance to the radio station.

Hours later, HornAfrik's co-founder, Ali Iman Sharmarke, was returning from Elmi's funeral when a land mine exploded under his car, killing him instantly.

[On Sunday the Associated Press reports that two suspects were arrested. Mayor Mohamed Dheere announced the arrests but did not identify the suspects. "These men are in the hands of police forces,'' Dheere said. "They are being investigated.'']

In a telephone interview shortly before his death, Sharmarke said that Elmi's interviews with civilian victims of the conflict had angered pro-government groups as well as Islamist supporters in recent months, and that several HornAfrik reporters had received death threats.

In words that would prove devastatingly prescient, Sharmarke said: "We are in the crossfire -- all of us journalists.

"Both sides didn't like Mahad advocating for the voiceless. We cannot pinpoint (the killer), but my suspicion is there are some people who wanted to silence him."

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the killings. Somali government officials condemned the attacks, according to local reports.

As a freelance reporter for McClatchy's bureau in Nairobi, Kenya, Elmi contributed to more than 20 stories since November 2006. He helped cover Ethiopia's invasion of Somalia, the arrival of a secular interim government and the ensuing Iraq-style insurgency that has plunged the Horn of Africa nation into its gravest crisis in more than a decade.

McClatchy foreign editor Roy Gutman said Elmi's dispatches helped ensure that his long-suffering homeland of Somalia, which hasn't had a functioning government in 16 years, didn't fade into obscurity.

"I have rarely encountered somebody as completely professional as he was in such an incredibly difficult situation, who just filed excellent reports consistently," Gutman said. "His passion for the story was undimmed. This is a real loss."

In his last report for McClatchy, on July 13, Elmi interviewed a Mogadishu resident who described government troops firing "indiscriminately" down the streets and alleys of Bakara marketplace, a crowded section of town where insurgents hide among civilians.

Human rights groups have criticized Somali government forces and their Ethiopian allies for a reckless counterinsurgency campaign that has killed hundreds. Earlier this month, U.N. officials reported that 23 civilians died and 50 were injured in one week of clashes in Mogadishu.

Tens of thousands of people have fled the capital since January, many huddling in desperate camps on the outskirts of the city. The violence has worsened over the past month even as a national summit aimed at political reconciliation meets in Mogadishu.

The government has repeatedly cracked down on independent media houses that air critical reports. In June, authorities briefly forced the closure of HornAfrik and two other radio stations that it accused of "supporting terrorism." On Friday, police stormed the Shabelle radio station and held several journalists for hours.

Mogadishu civic leaders said Saturday's killings would send a clear message to reporters already working in some of the world's most difficult conditions.

"No question, this is to silence the media," said Abdullahi Shirwa, a prominent civic activist. "Everyone will be afraid to report, or they will just leave Mogadishu."

Elmi is survived by two children by his former wife, from whom he was separated. He was planning to remarry on Aug. 20.

Trim, bespectacled and -- like so many professional Somali men -- sharply dressed, Elmi co-hosted "Mogadishu This Morning" for six years. With his nasal voice and meticulous delivery, Elmi became as much a fixture in the seaside capital as morning tea -- missing only two broadcasts in all that time, colleagues said.
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Author:Newspapers, McClatchy
Publication:Editor & Publisher
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 11, 2007
Words:712
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