- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 23, 2011

MOGADISHU, Somalia — Thousands of Somalis attended a rally Tuesday to celebrate the withdrawal of Islamist rebels from bases in the Somali capital, even as the militants executed three men accused of spying in a de facto court.

Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali addressed the rally at Mogadishu’s Konis stadium, which was a training ground for the insurgency until the rebels pulled back from their bases earlier this month.

Mr. Ali said Somali troops had overcome many difficulties to drive al-Shabab rebels from the capital.

Much of the fighting also was done by a 9,000-strong African Union force supporting the U.N.-backed government, and Mr. Ali acknowledged them in his speech.

“Thanks to our army, AMISOM and our people,” he said, using the abbreviation for the African Union Mission in Somalia. “Our troops made those achievements despite difficulties they face, including lack of salary and camps. Within a short period, we shall get rid of [al-Shabab] from the country.”

Residents attending the rally said they were tired of being intimidated by the al Qaeda-linked al-Shabab.

“We are free and started a new comfortable life when [al-Shabab] left us,” said demonstrator Makay Aden.

“We pray they will not come back. They killed many of our people. Beheaded bodies were scattered on our streets when they were here.”

Elsewhere in Mogadishu, Islamist judge Sheik Omar Al-Qadi said two men and a 16-year-old boy were executed for spying.

He said they were killed by firing squad in the northern neighborhood of Deynile.

Witness Ali Abdulqadir Yusuf said the militia summoned residents with a megaphone to watch and masked men tied the three to poles before executing them.

Al-Shabab frequently carries out public executions or amputations.

Somalia has not had a functioning central government for more than 20 years.

Currently, al-Shabab holds much of southern and central Somalia.

It is refusing to allow many aid groups access to their territory although the U.N. says some areas are suffering from famine.