NAIROBI, Kenya – An Islamic court in Somalia that sentenced four men to have a hand and a leg cut off postponed the punishment Tuesday, saying the sweltering weather could cause them to bleed to death.
The court sentenced the men Monday in the capital, Mogadishu, after accusing them of stealing mobile phones and guns. The court is run by al-Shabab, a powerful insurgent group that is trying to topple the U.N.-backed government and install a strict form of Islam.
“The sentence will be carried out later,” an al-Shabab official said, requesting anonymity because he was not allowed to speak publicly. “It was postponed because of the hot weather and fears that the victims will bleed to death.”
No date was set for the punishments to be carried out.
Amnesty International has appealed to al-Shabab not to carry out the “cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments.”
The U.S. considers al-Shabab a terrorist group with links to al-Qaida, which al-Shabab denies. The group, which controls much of Somalia, is boosted by hundreds of foreign fighters.
Somalis traditionally observe Sufi Islam, a relatively moderate form of worship. But in recent years, insurgents have begun to follow austere Wahabi Islam – rooted in Saudi Arabia and practiced by Osama bin Laden and the Taliban.
Somalia has not had an effective government since 1991 when the overthrow of a dictatorship plunged the country into chaos. A surge in violence in recent weeks, which diplomats said is a major push by the insurgents to force the government out of its Mogadishu strongholds, has killed about 225 people.
Last week, the national security minister and Mogadishu’s police chief were among those killed.
The country’s lawlessness has spread security fears round the region and raised concerns that al-Qaida is trying to gain a foothold in the Horn of Africa.
Somali lawmakers pleaded this weekend for immediate international military intervention from countries including Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti to help quash the insurgency. But there was no indication reinforcements would be forthcoming.
Some 159,000 people have fled their homes since May 7, according to the U.N. refugee agency. The United Nations says an estimated 3.2 million Somalis – almost half the country’s population – need food and other humanitarian aid.
Two years ago, Ethiopia deployed troops to support Somalia’s fragile, Western-backed government, but they were widely unpopular and finally withdrawn in January.