updated 9/9/2009 10:36:53 AM ET 2009-09-09T14:36:53

A Somali Islamic court has amputated the hands of two men accused of theft and lashed another accused of rape, an official said Wednesday.

Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage, a spokesman for the al-Shabab militia, said the men had admitted the charges against them.

An eyewitness said that kitchen knives were used to amputate a hand off each of the screaming men on a large table. He declined to be named for fear of reprisals.

Wednesday's punishment by courts connected to a powerful insurgent group shows the shaky U.N.-backed government's inability to control even Somalia's capital city of Mogadishu.

Such strict punishments are historically unusual in Somalia and analysts say they are partly a reaction to the chaos of the civil war.

More on: Somalia | al-Shabab

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