Both the Taliban and al-Shabab win some sympathy by positioning themselves as defenders against invading infidels. Foreign forces — African Union troops in Somalia, U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan — feed into that narrative when they kill civilians during raids, Ms.Tayler said.
“Even many Somalis who don’t like the Shabab’s ideology are immensely thankful for the drop in crime in many areas under the group’s control. Their daughters are not raped. Their crops are not stolen en route to market,” she said.
But Human Rights Watch said in an April report that the stability was achieved by “unrelenting repression and brutality.”
Several women told Human Rights Watch that they had been flogged or jailed for selling tea to support their families because the work brought them into contact with men.
Somalia has had no functioning government since 1991, and militants with guns have been filling the void ever since. Al-Shabab, which the U.S. branded a terror group in 2008, is believed to have several thousand members.
Hundreds of its fighters have died in battle, forcing al-Shabab to increase recruiting among young men and boys, said Ali Mohammed, a retired Somali colonel.
They are “losing the hearts and minds of the ordinary people,” he said.
In turn, families in militant-controlled areas of Somalia send their sons away, several parents told the AP.
“I have lost one of my sons in a battle he was forced to join in central Somalia three months ago. He was only 15,” said Asha Mohamed Amin, who lives in a rebel-controlled area of Mogadishu, the capital. “Again they say contribute the other [son] to a senseless death. Is that acceptable?”
A 26-year-old woman named Ubah felt al-Shabab’s brutality firsthand.
She was visiting a moneychanger in the southern town of Kismayo with a male cousin when two young militants accused them of engaging in an illicit relationship after they couldn’t show proof they were related. Hours later the militants whipped Ubah and her cousin — 80 lashes for the man and 50 for Ubah.
“I was crying and I thought they would never release me,” Ubah told AP, asking that her last name not be used for fear of militant reprisals. “I couldn’t move because there were men with guns.”
She said the militants warned that if the two were seen together again they would be stoned to death.
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