MOGADISHU (AFP) — Gunmen shot dead one of Somalia's top media chiefs in the capital Mogadishu Friday, where journalists are increasingly targeted as the government battles insurgents, his colleagues said.
Bashir Nur Gedi, the head of Shabelle Media Network, the second biggest in the Horn of Africa nation, was killed in his home in southern Mogadishu.
"Men armed with pistols killed Bashir at his home. We do not know why he was killed and who the assailants are, but they shot him several times in the head," a Shabelle staff member told AFP, requesting anonymity.
A second staff member, who also requested anonymity, confirmed the killing.
Shabelle radio halted regular programmes and started broadcasting Koranic songs to show solidarity with their slain boss, they said.
The New-York based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemned the killing and urged authorities to bring the culprits to justice.
"We condemn the brutal killing of Bashiir Noor Gedi, and extend our deepest condolences to his family and colleagues," CPJ's Africa Programme Coordinator Tom Rhodes said in a statement.
"The Somali transitional government must conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into this murder and bring those responsible to justice."
Rights groups have called for protection for journalists in Somalia, where eight -- including Gedi -- have been killed this year alone. More than a dozen have been arrested and five others have been ambushed and robbed.
So far this year, Somalia ranks as the second deadliest country worldwide after Iraq for journalists, according to CPJ.
The Somali government has defied numerous international calls to relax its heavy-handed clampdown on press freedom, which has been limited in a country torn apart by nearly two decades of fighting.
Last month, Somali security forces besieged and opened fire at Shabelle radio, destroying equipment and forcing it to close for 15 days after they accused one of the station's reporters of hurling a grenade at a police patrol.
In the same month, Shabelle radio's acting manager Jafar "Kukay" Mohamed escaped death when an assailant fired at him twice but missed.
In August, Ali Iman Sharmarke, the head of the local private media group Horn Afrik, which has two radio stations and a television channel, and one of his staff, Mahad Ahmed Elmi, were killed in separate incidents.
Since Islamist militants were defeated early this year, their fighters have carried out a string of guerilla attacks in Mogadishu, targeting government officials, Ethiopian troops and African Union peacekeepers.
The violence comes against a tense political backdrop after a clan reconciliation conference in August failed to surmount bitter divisions in the nation of about 10 million.
The troubled country has had no consistent central authority since former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was toppled in 1991, touching off a deadly power struggle that has defied numerous internationally-backed peace initiatives.
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