Somali families are refusing to bury the bodies of 10 loved ones, including three children, until the government takes responsibility for killing them in a U.S.-backed military raid, officials said on Sunday.
The ten were shot dead when Somalia’s army, supported by U.S. troops, carried out an operation in Bariire village, about 50 km (30 miles) from the capital on Friday.
Ali Nur, the deputy governor of the surrounding Lower Shabelle region, told Reuters the bodies would be stored until the government pays compensation – a particularly jarring action in a Muslim culture that buries its dead quickly.
“We refused to bury them because the government has denied and it still has not directly admitted it killed the civilians,” Nur told Reuters.
“The government should admit it killed the civilians and then compensate.”
Authorities had converted a refrigerated lobster truck into a mortuary to hold the bodies, he said.
The U.S. Africa Command said on Friday U.S. forces were involved in the Bariire operation in a supporting role and it was investigating reports of civilian casualties. It gave no immediate fresh comment on Sunday.
Somalia’s army initially said all the dead were members of the Islamist al Shabaab militia that it is fighting with help from U.S. and African Union forces – but later acknowledged some civilians had died.
Local elders told Reuters the U.S. troops had been unwittingly drawn into clan fighting in the area, particularly around Bariire village, the center of a feud between two powerful and well-armed groups.
Lawmaker Dahir Amin Jesow said those killed were farmers who had armed themselves to defend themselves against a rival group.
“How would you feel if your own government kills your brothers and labels them as militants?” asked Hassan Mohamed, a cousin of one of the deceased.
“We want them to admit, apologize and compensate. Otherwise there will be no peace,” he said.
Local elders and ambulance drivers who ferried the bodies confirmed that the dead were stored in the truck.
“The government wants the bodies buried prior to investigation but we will not. We shall have the bodies inside the truck even for a month,” elder Mohamed Hussein told Reuters. The government says it had formed a team to investigate the incident.
The Bariire operation is likely to provoke questions in Washington about the growing U.S. footprint in the Horn of Africa nation, which has been torn apart by civil war since 1991. A U.S. Navy Seal was killed in Somalia in May, the first U.S. combat death there since 1993.
The White House has granted the U.S. military broader authority to carry out strikes in Somalia against al Shabaab, which is linked to al Qaeda.