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Inside Al Shabab: How the Somalia militant group rules through fear

As the Somalia government fends off militant group Al Shabab, the Al Qaeda-linked insurgency shows its power through intimidation of a whistle-blower.

Fighters from the militant group Al Shabab, including child soldiers, patrol north of Mogadishu, Somalia. Violence appears likely to rise as Somali troops step up efforts to contain the hardline Islamist insurgency.

farah abdi warsameh/ap

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On Oct. 27, 2008, Ali Abdullahi Egal saw the Al Qaeda-linked militant group Al Shabab stone to death a 13-year-old girl, Aisha Duhulow, under the charge of adultery. The act was not only brutal, but also, in his view, un-Islamic.

The girl had apparently been raped, was not given the right to a legal advocate, and Al Shabab didn’t even bother to produce four eyewitnesses before declaring her guilty.

When Mr. Egal, a human rights activist, reported this event to local and international news organizations two days later, it produced an outcry, and helped set in stone Al Shabab’s image as a cruel and totalitarian regime in control of large portions of southern Somalia. Within a day, Egal received his first death threat, and then his second.

“They called me on the telephone and threatened me,” says Egal, now living in a variety of safe houses in neighboring Kenya. “They said, ‘You are working with the kaffir [unbelievers], you work for the CIA and Israeli intelligence.’ ”

Later, when he reached Kenya, he received a chilling e-mail:

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