MOGADISHU, May 9 (Reuters) - Somali security forces are seizing and even burning Muslim women's veils to stop Islamist insurgents from disguising themselves for attacks, authorities and witnesses said on Wednesday.
The crackdown on veils is a highly symbolic turnaround for Mogadishu after Islamist leaders, who controlled the city in the second half of 2006, had instructed women to wear them.
"Every policeman and government soldier has orders to confiscate veils from veiled women," senior police officer Ali Nur told Reuters in Mogadishu, saying various recent attacks had been carried out by people in disguise.
"Some of the remnants of the Islamic Courts have been caught wearing veils. During the war, these remnants, pretending to be women, killed so many government troops."
Somalis are generally moderate Muslims, and most women traditionally cover their heads but not faces. Officials say some suicide attacks have been carried out by men disguised under full face-veils.
Backed by Ethiopia's military, Somali government forces kicked the Islamists out of Mogadishu over the New Year. They have been facing an insurgency since then that has killed at least 1,300 people since February.
Just days ago, the government declared it had beaten most of the insurgents, but it is still wary of guerrilla-style attacks.
Mogadishu residents said government troops and police had been forcibly removing veils and publicly destroying them.
"Yesterday, so many veils were burnt by the police," said taxi-driver Abdullahi Mohamed.
A Reuters witness saw some veiled women running away from police on Wednesday.
One girl, 17-year-old Iftin Hussein, said she had left her veil at home to avoid encounters with the police.
"Government troops are unveiling women. Yesterday, I was forced to run away to escape from being unveiled. This is wrong, but we cannot do anything, we are powerless," she said.
By Guled Mohamed
Why can Somalia do what is so incredibly obvious and we can't? Somalis are unveiling women not for anti-Muslim reasons, not because of any male perversion, but for security. Security. Veils have nothing to do with Islam and everything to do with security. ID'ing the bad guys is important enough for Somalia to burn veils, it should be important enough for us to dispense with political correctness to prevent any potential threat here.
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