The two most dangerous radical Islamist groups in Somalia have agreed to “share” the two French hostages kidnapped earlier this week, an Islamist leader said on Thursday.
“We decided to share the hostages in order to save the blood of Islamists,” said the leader, a senior member of the Hizbul Islam insurgent group.
The insurgent leader, who asked not be identified for his own safety, said that Somalia’s most powerful Islamist group, the Shabab, wanted to be in charge of the hostages and had threatened to start an intra-insurgent war over the Frenchmen.
“After a little dispute, one French guy was transferred to the Shabab,” the senior member said. “Now we have one, they have one.”
The Shabab has stoned adulterers and outlawed soccer and is aligned with al-Qaeda, the US military said. Hizbul Islam is considered more moderate, but just slightly.
Many questions remain about the two French advisers taken from their hotel on Tuesday in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, by a renegade militia that had been fighting for the government.
The French Foreign Ministry said the men were on a mission to train the fledgling security forces of Somalia’s transitional government, but workers at the hotel where the men were staying said that the men had identified themselves as journalists, a prospect that some journalism advocates say could further endanger reporters.
Some Mogadishu residents said on Thursday that the renegade soldiers who took the men had previously been working with the insurgents. Several Westerners have been kidnapped in Somalia in the past year or so, usually for money.
Though Hizbul Islam and the Shabab are ostensibly fighting to overthrow the government, they are widely believed not to trust each other.