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'Appalling Disregard for Civilians': Amnesty Investigation Details How US Military Killed Innocent Farmers in Somalia

"Three civilian men died agonizing deaths while their families are left questioning why the U.S. military targeted and killed them."

Wreckage from a U.S. airstrike that killed three farmers in Somalia.

Wreckage from a U.S. airstrike that killed three farmers in Somalia. (Photo: Amnesty International)

A new report from Amnesty International released Monday evening charges that the U.S. military killed three Somali farmers in a March 18, 2019 strike that the Pentagon claimed killed al-Shabaab militants. 

Amnesty also alleges that U.S. African Command (AFRICOM) knew that intelligence about at least one of the three farmers was questionable but did nothing to follow up and investigate with the man's family.

"This is just one of many cases of the U.S. military wantonly tarnishing large parts of the Somali population with the 'terrorist' label," said Amnesty Somalia researcher Abdullahi Hassan. "No thought is given to the civilian victims or the plight of their grieving families left behind."

According to Amnesty, the attack targeted a vehicle the men were driving in. Two of the men, 46-year-old Abdiqadir Nur Ibrahim and 30-year-old Ibrahim Mohamed Hirey were killed instantly. A third man, 46-year-old Mahad Nur Ibrahim, succumbed to burns and other wounds three weeks later.

"Three civilian men died agonizing deaths while their families are left questioning why the U.S. military targeted and killed them," said Amnesty's Security With Human Rights director Daphne Eviatar. "It is also potentially unlawful and raises questions about how seriously AFRICOM takes its obligations under international law."

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An investigation by Amnesty into the three men, including interviews, looking into media reports and other documents, and photographs, found none were members of al-Shabaab. Yet, the group said in a statement, AFRICOM remains uninterested in reviewing its actions. 

Amnesty International shared further information about the case with AFRICOM in August, but AFRICOM has refused to back down on its claim that the three men were "terrorists," stating: "This airstrike was conducted against lower level al-Shabaab members to decrease morale ahead of Somali Army operations… Specifically, information gathered before and after the strike indicated that all individuals injured or killed were members or affiliates of al-Shabaab." AFRICOM did not provide any evidence for its claim or indicate that it will be investigating further. It has not changed its position on any cases in Somalia that Amnesty International has brought to its attention to date.

In a statement to Stars and Stripes, AFRICOM disputed Amnesty's findings and said the strike was carried out after observations led to "reasonable certainty" the eventual victims were members of al-Shabaab.

"U.S. Africa Command minimizes the risk to civilians by following a thorough, reasonable methodology that accounts for weapons effects and mitigates risk to civilians," said AFRICOM spokesman John Manley. 

In comment to The Irish Times, however, Amnesty campaigner Ella Knight expressed doubt that AFRICOM is taking care in its attacks. 

"The U.S. is all too quick to label parts of the Somali population as terrorists or al-Shabaab members," said Knight. "They're not carrying out investigations on the ground."

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