Journalist Mohamed Isse Hassan Koonaa was working in Mogadishu, writing a script for a video report on a speech by President Hassan Mohamud, when an explosion occurred at about 2:10 p.m. local time Saturday.
The building housing Koonaa’s media organization shook and glass windows crashed to the floor. The reporter told friends he thought the explosion went off nearby and wanted to see it firsthand.
He headed towards Zobe junction, approximately 300 meters away. About eight minutes later, a second even bigger explosion went off.
Koonaa’s friend, video journalist Osman Mohamud Osman, says he was concerned about Koonaa’s well-being and called his number, but the call did not go through right away because of difficulties in network connectivity.
After several attempts, someone answered the call.
“Are you Osman?” a voice asked. “May Allah bless his soul,” the voice added, marking the death of the owner of the phone. That voice was of a soldier who picked up the call.
Osman could not believe what he had just heard. He called again to double check.
The same voice told him. “This young man is dead; he is lying on the road.”
Osman and other colleague ran to the scene to retrieve Koonaa’s body, but security forces blocked them from getting closer to the scene for fear of further explosions.
“We stood next to a well; we could see his body on the side of the road,” Osman said.
After 20 minutes, an ambulance collected the body. Osman and his colleagues were told to go to Medina hospital where bodies were being stored in the morgue.
Friends say Koonaa, 31, was a multi-talented journalist. He studied multimedia journalism at the University of Garden City in Khartoum, Sudan, and returned to Somalia in 2017 to pursue his career.
That day, in addition to writing the script about Mohamud’s speech, he was scheduled to prepare the evening news bulletin for M24 television.
But his passion was reporting on human rights affairs about poor people. His friends said he used to report on stories impacting poor communities. He reported about a school for people with special needs, a person suffering from terminal illness, a woman who lost her home to fire, and the plight of the internally displaced people.
“He loved humanitarian reports,” Osman said. “He used to say, ‘If I do a video report about a poor person and that report leads to the person getting helped, that is more important to me than covering a politician.'”
He used to say a journalist must serve the community.
Koonaa had a traumatic upbringing, affected by the country’s 1990s civil war. He lost family members to violence in Mogadishu and South Africa.
“He told me his parents died when he was very young, and were killed by an unjust hand,” said Abdikamil Mohamed Yusuf Mohamed, a Khartoum, Sudan, friend who was studying at a different university.
A relative who did not want to be identified said Koonaa’s father was hit by mortar when Koonaa was about four years old. His mother died after she was hit by a stray bullet. Koonaa and his only brother were reared by his grandmother.
On July 12, 2021, Koonaa posted a message on Facebook, titled, “A dark day.” He reported that near Durban, South Africa, gangs killed his brother Mahad Isse Hassan “Mahad Kumando.”
“He loved to see a child of mine, that he can call nephew, but it didn’t happen; may Allah grant you paradise,” he wrote about his brother.
In the same Facebook post, he also spoke of the tragic loss of his parents to violence when he was a child.
Koonaa is survived by his wife and their six-month-old son.