NAIROBI: An Islamist-backed radio station in Somalia has awarded assault rifles and hand grenades to the winners of a children's recital competition of the holy Quran.

Andalus radio, which is run by al-Shabaab militia, said on Monday that the first prize was an AK-47 and GBP450. The runner-up received an AK-47 and GBP320, while the child who came third received two F1 hand grenades and GBP250. The three children also received religious books.

Pictures of the senior Islamist leader and spokesman Sheikh Mukhtar Robow presenting the awards in Elasha Biyaha, about 20kms from Mogadishu, were posted on a rebel-affiliated website.

Al-Shabaab controls much of southern Somalia and is trying to overthrow the transitional government in Mogadishu. In certain areas the group has banned musical ring tones, films, football broadcasts, dancing at weddings and even shop signs written in English or Somali, rather than Arabic. Punishments include double amputations and stonings. The rebels have also systematically recruited children under 15 to fight for them, according to Amnesty International.

The Quran recital contest has been running for three years and takes place after Ramazan. The two previous award ceremonies have occurred in Kismayo, an al-Shabaab stronghold on the far southern coast. In 2009, prizes included hand grenades, anti-tank mines and an AK-47. The winners of that contest were between 17 and 20 years old.

The age of the winners of this year's competition, who represented the towns of Elasha Biyaha, Kismayo and Mogadishu, are not known.

Radio Andalus takes it name from Andalusia in southern Spain, part of successive Muslim caliphates between the eighth and 15th centuries.—Dawn/Guardian News Service

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