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Somali fans pour into government-controlled capital to watch World Cup

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • World Cup fans pour into government-controlled Mogadishu to watch match
  • Islamist groups have banned watching or playing football
  • 2 reported killed last month for watching World Cup

(CNN) -- Thousands of World Cup fans poured into the government-controlled Somali capital of Mogadishu on Sunday to watch the final match in defiance of a ban on football imposed in other parts of the country by hardline Islamist groups.

One fan said he traveled about 100 kilometers (62 miles) to Mogadishu from his home in the coastal down of Merca to watch the match between the Netherlands and Spain.

"Thanks to God if we can still get somewhere we can sneak into and watch the World Cup," said Asad Muse. "In Merca you risk your life if caught watching the football game."

Many fans have traveled from the same area, the lower Shabelle Region, he said.

"Watching a game is not a crime, but who dares to say this to these people banning it? They don't even send you to jail, their only jail which is available is death," Muse said.

Last month, gunmen believed to be from radical Islamist groups shot two people dead and detained 10 others when raiding a house where people were watching a World Cup match, according to eyewitnesses.

The Somali government condemned the killings. "The Somali people, like everyone else in Africa, should be able to watch the tournament without fear of loss of life," the Somali Ministry of Information said. "The recent killings by al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam highlight yet again their barbarism, brutality and intolerance of Somali culture and values."

There was no claim of responsibility for the incident from either Islamist group. Such claims are rare, as Somali Islamists instead issue warnings over such issues and then carry out punishments for those seen as defying them.

Al-Shabaab reportedly has banned playing or watching football in Somalia.

"Football is an inheritance from the primitive infidels, and we can never accept people to watch it and we are directing a final warning to those who want to watch it," said Sheikh Mohamed Abdi Aros, a spokesman for Hizbul Islam, last month.

Hizbul Islam last month reportedly detained at least 30 World Cup fans in Afgoye, a town about 30 kilometers (18 miles) south of Mogadishu. Residents said the militants raided houses in Afgoye where people were watching the matches.

-- Journalist Mohamed Amiin Adow contributed to this report for CNN.