In a demonstration attended by hundreds of heavily armed militiamen and surrounded by “battlewagons” – machine gun-mounted pick-ups – more than 5,000 protestors denounced Monday’s detention of Colonel Abdi Hassan Awlae Qeybdid.
“I don’t know who assigned Sweden to be the judge in the Somali conflict,” said Mohamed Qanyare Afrah, the minister of national security in Somalia’s deeply split transitional government.
“They have the right to reject someone from visiting their territory but no legitimate right to arrest someone for crimes allegedly committed in another country,” he told the huge crowd.
Commerce Minister Musa Sudi Yalahow demanded that Sweden release Qeybdid immediately, apologize to him and pay him compensation for the “unlawful arrest.”
“Sweden has no jurisdiction over what happened in Somalia and they should immediately free Qeybdid,” he said. “The Swedish are wrong.”
Musa, Qanyare and other speakers, all members of a faction opposed to the transitional President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, blamed Qeybdid’s arrest on Yusuf, claiming he wanted to foment trouble in their camp to strengthen his own hand.
“It is a misfortune to see a Somali president masterminding the arrest of a Somali official in Sweden,” said Mogadishu warlord Osman Ali Atto, referring to Yusuf as a powerless and deceitful “old man”.
“You old man, do what you want and we will do all that we can,” he told the rowdy assembly. “Then, let us see who the winner is.”
Police in Sweden arrested the 57-year-old Qeybdid early Monday in the southern Swedish city of Lund, where he had attended an international conference, after getting a tip from a Somali refugee who accused him of committing war crimes.
The accusations, which revolve around incidents that occurred in the southern Somali port town of Kismayo in 1991, are now being reviewed by prosecutors to see if Qeybdid can be tried under Sweden’s “universal jurisdiction” law that allows Swedish courts to try suspects for genocide committed abroad, they said.