British headteacher shot dead in Somalia in raid on school by Islamist militia

A British headteacher who was shot dead in Somalia by Islamist insurgents may have been targeted because he was a Christian convert, his wife said yesterday.

Daud Hassan Ali, 64, was killed outside the Hiran community education project English school in Beledweyne in central Somalia late on Sunday night, along with Rehana Ahmed, 33, a fellow British Somali teacher. She was reported to have been shot in the head.

Militiamen from the Shabab rebel group also killed two Kenyan teachers after forcing them out of their houses at the school, 190 miles north-west of the capital Mogadishu. A senior commander with the Shabab yesterday claimed the teachers had died in crossfire.

Ali, the school’s headmaster and founder, moved to Britain in 1967, and worked as a teacher and later as an educational psychologist for Birmingham city council. He made regular trips back to Somalia and in 2004 returned to Beledweyne, where he was born, to establish the school for 110 pupils.

From her home in Birmingham yesterday, his wife, Margaret, 64, said that her husband might have been targeted because he had converted to Christianity. She said: “The school he established is run in a house which is also where he lives – there are various disgruntled factions running around and because he is a convert to Christianity from Islam then he is a target. They raided the house in the middle of the night and murdered all four people there.”

She said establishing the school had been Ali’s lifelong dream. “He always wanted to go back to Somalia and do something for his own people.” She added: “He was a great optimist and saw good things in everything – I will continue to pray for the people of Somalia and eventually some good may come out of this.”

Yesterday, one of Ali’s two sons, Robleh Tinning, 32, said: “He wasn’t trying to convert anyone, he was just trying to teach English. He always had a grand project on the go. If something needs doing, someone has to stand up and say they are going to do it and that is what he did. He was a doer, not a moaner.”

Ali kept a blog for supporters on developments at the school. His last post, on March 30, expressed concern about night-time raids by militant fighters.

The Shabab have launched an insurgency against the Ethiopian forces occupying Somalia and in recent weeks have been flexing their muscles with hit-and-run attacks on towns throughout south and central Somalia.

A local reporter in Beledweyne, who asked to remain anonymous, said Ethiopian soldiers who had normally been based in the town had moved out on Sunday to reinforce troops elsewhere, and that within hours the Shabab militia had taken over the town.

After burning the governor’s house, and freeing prisoners from jail, the militiamen headed for the school compound, where they overpowered the three security guards and forced the foreign teachers outside, the reporter said.

Mukhtar Ali Robow, of the Shabab, told Reuters his men had attacked Beledweyne, but he claimed: “Their guards shot at us and we shot back.”

Dualeh Nur, director of the Somali Business Association in Birmingham, said Ali was a good man dedicated to helping Somalis, both in Birmingham and in Somalia. “He was very, very active in the local community. He used to act as an interpreter and as an advocate for Somalians trying to claim asylum, and with housing and health problems,” he said.

Tony Howell, the council’s strategic director for children, young people and families, said: “I was extremely sorry to hear of the sad loss of Daud, who was a most valued and respected educational psychologist in Birmingham from 1988 to 2004, and my sincerest condolences go to his family.”

Ali’s nephew, Abdi Abubakar Hassan, 37, told the Guardian by telephone from Beledweyne yesterday: “This action has shocked everyone. Nobody can understand why it happened.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday April 15, 2008.
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