Ahmed, a 35-year-old pastoralist, was watching over a herd of cows on the outskirts of Hagar town in Somalia’s southern Juba valley when militiamen from Al-Shabab, the Islamist insurgent group that controls the area, demanded a “zaka”, or tithe. His refusal led to a violent confrontation that left him crippled for life. Ahmed, now in a refugee camp in Kenya, recounted his ordeal by telephone, as his sister, who described him as depressed and traumatized, held the handset:
“It was in the morning and I was herding my cattle when a group of armed Al-Shabab men asked me to pay Zaka. I told them I only owned half the cattle and the rest belonged to orphans. What was mine [about 20] was not enough to pay Zaka. They did not listen and took 20 cows, leaving me with only 10.
“I went after them hoping to reason with whoever was their leader. When I caught up with them, we argued for a while before they got hold of me and beat me up. They then tied me to a tree by my hands and left me hanging. I was in so much pain, I started yelling and asking for help but no one came. I was there for more than a day. By the time they [the militiamen] cut me down I had no feeling in my hands.
“My relatives took me to a hospital but there was no doctor there and not much medicine; they could not save my hands.
“One day I am a man taking care of my family and the next I am an invalid being helped to put on clothes. I will never forget that day and what they did to me.
“There is no religion that allows them to treat people like that. I honestly don’t believe they are Muslims. They are criminals hiding behind religion. Normal thieves and robbers are better. At least when they take your things they either leave you alone or may even kill you but they don’t mutilate you.
“I am used to people being killed but I have never seen or heard anything like what they did to me.
“I suffered a lot because of them; I will never forgive them.
“A couple of months later, my relatives heard that they were coming to kill me because they did not want anyone to know what they had done to me. So I was taken from Hagar and brought here [Dadaab refugee camp] at the end of 2009.
“I feel safe here but I worry about my two children. Their mother is dead and I can’t take care of them. They are with relatives in Somalia.”