Somalia's al-Shabab says it has killed British spy

image sourceAFP
image captionAl-Shabab operates freely in many rural parts of southern Somalia

Somali militant group al-Shabab says it has killed five men it accuses of spying - one of them for the UK.

According to a jihadi website, he had admitted giving information to British intelligence services about al-Shabab supporters living in the UK.

The five men, aged between 22 and 36, were shot dead in a public execution on Tuesday in an area under the control of the Islamist group.

Another was said to be working for the Somali government.

That individual is alleged to have attached a device to a vehicle in an al-Shabab convoy which had then helped American drones to carry out an air strike.

Al-Shabab told Reuters news agency that three of the men were US spies who had helped guide drones to carry out strikes in Somalia.

The UK, US and Somali governments have not yet commented on the reports.

The identity of the alleged British spy has not yet been confirmed, despite earlier reports that he was a British national.

Separately, local police say suspected al-Shabab militants shot dead two non-Muslim teachers at a school compound on Tuesday night in northern Kenya, close to the Somali border.

BBC correspondents say it is possible they were targeted for reasons of their religion, since the militant group has singled out Christians during previous attacks in Kenya.

How big a threat is al-Shabab?

Al-Shabab, which is part of al-Qaeda, was forced out of the capital, Mogadishu, in 2011 by a combination of Somali government forces and African Union troops but it still operates freely in many rural parts of southern Somalia, where it often enforces Islamic law, or Sharia.

This is not the first time it has killed people it accused of spying.

In December 2017, al-Shabab killed five men, among them a teenage boy, whom it accused of working for US and Kenyan intelligence.

As well as battling for control of Somalia, al-Shabab has staged terror attacks in some neighbouring countries.

The group was also behind Somalia's deadliest bombing, in which at least 500 people were killed by a truck laden with explosives in Mogadishu last year.

What are the UK and US doing in Somalia?

There are 500 US troops in Somalia supporting the UN-backed government against the militants. A smaller number of British soldiers are also deployed there.

In recent years the US has carried out regular air strikes on targets in Somalia. These have been led by Africom, a body established in 2007 to run all of the US's military operations in Africa.

It is unclear how many active missions Africom currently has, but US media reported that it had carried out a total of 674 operations across the continent in 2014.

A British Army team with medical, logistical and engineering roles is also in Somalia supporting the United Nations mission against the Islamist militants.

image sourceMoD
image captionBritain has long been a large financial contributor to UN peacekeeping missions

The biggest number of troops by far - 22,000 - has been supplied by the African Union's Mission in Somalia (Amisom).

Plans by the AU to withdraw more than 1,000 of its troops have been put on hold until 2019 after the UN security council intervened.

This followed a cut in funding by the European Union, amid allegations of corruption within the AU force, made up of personnel from Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti.

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