Ashen, gaping faces. Limbs bent at strange angles. Clothes all twisted and askew, chilling evidence of these Islamic Courts soldiers’ final desperate seconds, tearing at themselves to find the wounds that were killing them.
Next, a band of Islamic Courts fighters hiding around a corner from a Transitional Federal Government patrol. The youngest fighter looks to be around 13 years old; the oldest might be in his early twenties. One carries a Russian light machine on his shoulder, ammo draped and dangling. One of the youngsters totes an RPG that’s longer than he is.
The oldest, the leader, peeks around the corner then urges the others on. They take turns darting out into the street, spraying a few rounds then ducking back, smiling sheepishly, looking to their elders for approval. Some glance at the camera, but only for a moment, just making sure their heroics got caught on tape.
The leader encourages the kid with the rocket. He runs out to shoot the thing but loses his nerve and comes scampering back. They cheer him on; he tries again: whoosh! The rocket disappears from the frame in a puff of smoke and now the rocketeer is all grins. Watching this video, it’s clear to me these guys have no formal training whatsoever. They’re just kids, playing a game with guns. And they’re in way over their heads. On the tape, an Ethiopian Hind gunship churns overhead, a reminder that adults play this game, too – and play harder.
I wonder about the cameraman. He’s sitting next to me as I watch his handiwork. He speaks maybe ten words of English. How did he get inside this fighter cell to shoot this tape in March? I know for certain he’s no friend of the Islamic Courts. Just yesterday he drove into downtown Bakara Market with two acquaintances, members of the TFG, to pick up a camera he’d left behind during the recent fighting. Some Courts guys spotted him with his TFG pals and shot up the car, killing one of the TFG and wounding the other.
This war is tough on Somali journalists. Eight have died this year, and dozens have been forced to flee their homes by a government that doesn’t want the world to know how bad it is here. The other day I polled around 20 photogs, writers and radio producers: every one of them had been arrested; most had received death threats; many were now unemployed. They asked for a few dollars apiece to cover the cost of coming to see me. And when I agreed, they were almost pathetically grateful.
The cost to me for the cameraman’s combat footage, for which he risked his life? Just $100. Plus, he asked me to send him a baseball cap from the States.