JAMES ALI KHAMIS REMEMBERS THE THREE MEN CLEARLY. They wore masks and head-to-toe olive-green uniforms. When their headlamps shined in his eyes, he couldn’t make out their faces. One man spoke what sounded like English, another spoke only Somali, and the third translated. All were armed.
They broke down the door to Khamis’ house in the village of Shanta Baraako, in the Lower Shabelle region of Somalia, in the middle of the night with an explosive to the first door and two kicks to the second. Then they took Khamis, hooded and handcuffed, to his brother-in-law’s house. Twelve people were in a lineup there.
The men pointed their lights down the row, bringing each face out from the darkness. The Somali speaker asked Khamis if any of them were who they were looking for, Abdikadir Sufi. Sufi, allegedly a Kenyan-Somali tax collector for al-Shabab—the Somali militant fundamentalist group loosely aligned with Al Qaeda—had been hiding out in this house for the past four months.
Halfway through the questioning, the interrogation was interrupted by noise and footsteps from some of the other dozens of soldiers who had driven to the village that night.
Khamis heard the Somali words “Stop! Stop!” Then a voice in English. Then the Somali word for “shoot” and then, not so much the pop of a gun, but a millisecond sharp blast of heavy wind.
Two of the three left the house, seemingly to see what happened. They came back minutes later to hastily finish the questioning. Sufi was not there. Then they added Khamis to the lineup and brought in two more men to question.
When it was over, Khamis rejoined his family. His wife had vomited from anxiety and his 7-year-old son had passed out from fear. Khamis, a village leader, spent some minutes checking to make sure everyone in the community of about 10 total households was safe. His sister Marxuumad Waliyo Cali Qaasim was missing.
A search party found her less than 10 minutes later, lying by the side of the road.
“It looked like she was sleeping,” Khamis says. He rushed to her. Her body was already cold. She had been shot to death. The gun apparently had a silencer, muting the crack of the shot into that whisper of wind.
According to Khamis, the only eyewitness to the shooting is a teenage boy. The boy's father would not let his son be interviewed by In These Times, but Khamis spoke with the boy and his father about what he remembered from that night; he says he saw Waliyo run out of her house, yelling, seemingly panicked, then hit the ground following the shot.
Waliyo was not the village’s only death that night. Abdikadir Ali, a watchman in his mid-thirties, was shot and killed while patrolling a farm.