A new disarmament campaign, launched by the Somali government earlier this week, has already netted some 500 guns and has caused heaving fighting to break out in the capital city. On Friday, heavy fighting broke out in Mogadishu as Somali government troops and African Union (AU) forces launched a pre-dawn raid on a house belonging to a former warlord. According to police officer Capt. Mohammed Hussein, seven people were killed in the violence, including four civilians, two militia members and one soldier. Eight people were also wounded.
During the early morning hours on Friday, government troops, backed by the AU mission in Somalia (AMISOM) attempted to seize weapons from militia leader Ahmed Dai before the fighting erupted. A statement released by AMISOM indicated that the mission’s troops took part in a pre-dawn raid on Mr. Dai’s home in a “search operation…following a tip-off that there was an arms cache,” adding that the “militia was overpowered and 20 were arrested.” Mr. Dai, who was not arrested, confirmed that AMISOM forces had carried out a raid on his house noting however that if AMISOM is “…claiming the operation is aimed for disarmament, then I have got not weapons, except a few for self-defense purposes.” Mr. Dai’s home is based in the capital’s Madina district, a neighborhood located close to the heavily defended airport zone, which is also the headquarters of the 22,000-strong AU force.
Government security official Mohamed Yusuf confirmed the fighting, disclosing that militiamen confronted government forces and African troops as they were carrying out security operations in the capital city this morning. Eyewitnesses reported bursts of gunfire and heavy explosions before dawn, with some reports indicating that both sides fired rocket-propelled grenades. The fighting calmed by mid-morning.
Earlier this week, the Somali government launched a disarmament campaign aimed at attempting to reduce the number of weapons and bringing greater security to the capital city, which has seen a number of deadly attacks in recent months. After more than two decades of conflict, Somalia has become awash with guns, resulting in several politicians and local leaders commanding what are effectively private armies. While such forces are not connected to al-Shabaab, who is fighting to topple the internationally backed government, they nevertheless pose a significant threat to Somalia’s fragile security situation. Furthermore, while government officials fear that these weapons may fall into the hands of al-Qaeda-linked fighters, some Somalis believe that the latest campaign is aimed at disarming rivals of the country’s leadership as the country prepares itself for the proposed 2016 national elections.
Government officials disclosed Friday that during the first four days of security operations, some 500 guns were recovered.
Despite his main rivals boycotting the elections, which they called a sham, preliminary results indicated late Sunday that Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz has been re-elected after gaining an overwhelming 81.89 per cent of the vote.
The results, which were released by Mauritania’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on Sunday, indicated that Abdel Aziz was firmly ahead of anti-slavery candidate Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid, who obtained 8.67 per cent. Taking third place was Ibrahima Moctar Sarr, with 4.44 per cent of the vote, while the only female candidate, Lalla Mariem Mint Moulaye Idriss, took only 0.49 per cent.
In the weeks leading up to the elections, which were held Saturday, the former general, who seized power in an August 2008 coup, campaigned strongly, highlighting his successes in fighting armed groups linked to al-Qaeda militants both at home and in neighbouring countries in the Sahel region.
When Abdel Aziz came to power in 2008, kidnappings and attacks carried out by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) occurred frequently. In 2010 and 2011, Mauritanian troops carried out a number of successful “preventative” raids on AQIM basis in neighbouring Mali. However since then, the President has boasted that he has transformed the nation into a regional haven of peace, mainly thanks to his reorganization of the military and security forces.
While many Western leaders see Mauritania, which is located between the west coast of Africa and the Sahara desert, as a strong fighter against al-Qaeda-linked groups that operate in the region, the country’s opposition has long criticized the president, and has argued that this price of peace has been the result of authoritarian rule. In the weeks leading up to the elections, the opposition called on the country to boycott the vote. However tensions between the president and the opposition are not new as the main opposition parties have never accepted Abdel Aziz’s 2009 presidential victory, with many stating that that election was marred by massive fraud.
The National Forum for Democracy and Unity, an opposition coalition formed of eleven parties, including a moderate Islamist movement, called out to voters ahead of Saturday’s elections to denounce what they call Abdel Aziz’s “dictatorial power.” While the opposition’s hopes of attaining a high abstention rate were not achieved, the boycott did have some affect on the overall turnout. On Sunday, officials from the electoral commission indicated that voter turnout reached 56.46 per cent, below that of the 2009 elections, when participation stood at 64 per cent.
Despite a decrease in voter turnout, African Union (AU) observers indicated Monday that they were satisfied with the vote. The head of the AU mission, Beji Caid Essebsi, who is also Tunisia’s former prime minister, indicated “overall, this election took place peacefully and in a spirit of political tolerance…I welcome the civic sense among the Mauritanians.” He however also noted the boycott and urged that both political sides to seek dialogue in a bid to prevent any post-election violence.
As the FIFA World Cup football tournament kicks off in Brazil, security warnings have been issued for a number of African countries, including Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda. UK officials have also issued warnings for Djibouti, stating that they have credible intelligence that al-Shabaab insurgents may be planning to carry out further terrorist attacks against targets that include “Western interests.”
East African nations are currently on high alert over fears that Somalia’s al-Shabaab may launch attacks on World Cup screenings over the next month. Previous attacks throughout the region have targeted places where football matches are being viewed. Crowded areas, including hotels, restaurants and bars and transport hubs are possible targets.
There is currently a high threat from terrorism throughout Ethiopia. Attacks could be indiscriminate and can occur at any moment, including in places that are frequented by foreigners. Previous terrorist attacks in the region have targeted places where football matches are being viewed.
There is a high threat from terrorism in Kenya, mainly from al-Shabaab. The militant group has issued public threats against Kenya, due to the country’s military intervention in Somalia, and has recently stated that they are shifting the war and will now focus on Kenya. There have been a number of small-scale grenade, bomb and armed attacks in Nairobi, especially in the Eastleigh district, Mombasa and Northern Eastern Province. Methods of attacks have included shootings and bombings, including car bombings, as well as the use of grenades.
Kenyan police chief David Kimaiyo has promised “sufficient security measures” to ensure the safety of fans, however he has noted that bar owners must take their own precautions, stating, “owners of such social places must ensure that every person is thoroughly screened before entering their premises.” Attacks could be indiscriminate and will likely occur in places that are frequented by foreigners, including bars, sports bars, restaurants, hotels, nightclubs, sporting events, supermarkets, shopping centres, beaches, buses, trains and transport hubs.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, whose country is a key contributor to African Union (AU) forces fighting al-Shabaab in Somalia, has cautioned fans “to be alert as they enjoy football, bearing in mind that the country is threatened.” A statement issued by Ugandan security forces has urged that people are screened prior to viewing soccer tournaments. The move is being enforced in a bid to avoid a repeat of attacks that occurred four years ago during the World Cup final, when al-Shabaab militants bombed two restaurants in the Ugandan capital, killing at least seventy-six people.
Officials in Britain warned earlier this week that al-Shabaab insurgents are planning further attacks in Djibouti, after last month’s suicide bomb attack on a crowded restaurant. According to a statement released by the UK Foreign Office, “there are credible reports that al-Shabaab plan, and have the capability, to attack targets in Djibouti, including western interests,” adding “there is a high threat from terrorism” in the port city. The statement further notes “Djibouti and Western interests within Djibouti may be seen as a legitimate target by al-Shabaab because of its support to the Somali government and its participation in the African Union peacekeeping mission.”
Djibouti has troops deployed in Somalia, as part of the African Union force that is battling the militant group, however the Horn of Africa nation’s port also serves as a key base for ships taking part in international anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia. Last month, at least one person was killed and several others wounded when two suicide bombers blew themselves up in a restaurant, the first attack in Djibouti to be claimed by al-Shabaab since the country joined the AU force in 2011. Days after the attack, al-Shabaab claimed responsibility and indicated that the attack was carried out in retaliation for Djibouti’s hosting of the United States’ largest military base in Africa, which is used for operations across the region, including drone strikes against Islamists in Somalia. France also has a base in Djibouti.
Nigerian officials have taken additional steps in order to prevent any World Cup related terrorist attacks from occurring. Soldiers in the capital of Yola, Adamawa state, have shut down all venues preparing to screen live World Cup matches in the hopes to stave off attacks. The Nigerian government has also advised resident of the capital city, Abuja, to avoid public viewing centres. Minister Bela Mohamed has issued a directive for Abuja, ordering high vigilance in places such as motor parks, restaurants, markets, supermarkets, shopping malls, banks, churches, mosques, hotels, viewing centres and hospital.
While over the past five years, the states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa have seen a number of deadly terrorist attacks, in recent months, Boko Haram militants have carried out an increasingly bold series of assaults, which has included the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls in April. Since then, the militants have carried out a number of attacks on villages, including a recent car bomb that was set of at a centre in the settlement of Gavan, in the north-eastern state of Adamawa. O June 1, at least eighteen people watching a game on television were killed. A week before that incident, a suicide bomber set out for an open-air screening of a match in Nigeria’s central city of Jos. His car blew upon the way, killing three people. Such assaults on television viewing centres across Africa have raised fears that militant groups will target supporters gathering to cheer on the global football contest.
One of al-Shabaab’s top commanders vowed Thursday to redirect the militant group’s war to neighboring Kenya, urging fighters to launch attacks.
In a radio broadcast, Fuad Mohamed Khalaf, one of al-Shabaab’s most senior commanders stated “the war will be shifting to Kenya, if they kill a Somali girl we kill a Kenyan girl,” adding “we are urging all Muslims in Kenya…to fight the government of Kenya inside the country, because Kenyans killed your people including children.” Khalaf, who is viewed as second in command after chief Ahmed Abdi Godane, also noted “when their soldiers and war planes kill your people, God permits you to retaliate accordingly, we will fight the Kenyans.” This remark is likely linked to the recent air strikes that have targeted al-Shabaab bases in southern Somalia. The speech comes just days after fighters jets, believed to be from Kenya, struck al-Shabaab strongholds in southern Somalia earlier this week. The air strikes are part of the latest push by African Union (AU) forces against the militant group.
The United States has offered a US $5 million bounty for Khalaf, who holds both Somali and Swedish nationality. Khalaf, who the US says is both an al-Shabaab military commander and key fundraiser, reportedly spent over a decade in the Swedish capital Stockholm.
In the past few months, Kenya has seen a sharp rise in attacks on its soil, many of which have been linked to Islamist extremists. This rise demonstrates al-Shabaab’s shift in tactics, moving its focus partially from Somalia and more onto Kenya in the hopes that the Kenyan government will withdraw its troops from the Somali mission. This increase in attacks has prompted countries such as France, Britain, Australia and the United States to issue travel warnings. They have advised their nationals to avoid the coastal city of Mombasa and the capital, Nairobi. Last week, a double bomb attack in a Nairobi market left ten people dead and scores wounded, with more similar attacks likely to occur in the coming months.
On Tuesday, the AU force in Somalia confirmed that it had conducted new air strikes against a rebel base in the southern region of Somalia, the second air strike to be carried out in the past three days.
A statement issued by AMISOM indicates that its planes were after “senior leadership and foreign al-Shabaab fighters, at a base located near the town of Jilib, in Somalia’s Middle Jubba region. The statement also claimed that fifty insurgents were killed in the attack, which “further debilitated al-Shabaab’s capacity to wreak havoc and terrorize innocent Somali civilians.” A spokesman for al-Shabaab however has stated that only farmland was hit and that five civilians were wounded, adding “the claim of AMISOM is baseless and pure propaganda.” Witnesses in the area have reported that there were several civilians hurt, however they had not information on any al-Shabaab casualties. One local resident, Moalim Hassan, stated “we heard very big explosions as military jets flew over the town. Two of the bombs landed near Faragurow village leaving four civilians wounded but we don’t know about other casualties they may have caused.” The airstrikes on the town of Jilib are understood to be part of the offensive by the 22,000-strong UN-backed African Union force, who in March launched a fresh bid to gain control of the remaining towns under al-Shabaab’s control. The impoverished town is a key al-Shabaab hub in southern Somalia’s Middle Jubba region, and is located some 320 kilometers (200 miles) southwest of Mogadishu. It remains unclear where the jets are from, however Kenya, which is part of the AU force, has used its jets to strike al-Shabaab bases before.
Security officials in Somalia confirmed Tuesday that a suicide bomber had struck a vehicle packed full of explosives into a hotel in a southern town, just days after it was recaptured by Government forces from al-Shabaab. According to security official Sulieman Adam, “there was a suicide attack involving terrorists at a hotel in Buulo Burde,” where African Union (AU) peacekeepers and Somali army commanders were staying. According to the official, the blast happened at 02:00 local time (23:00 GMT) with fighting continuing until about 07:00. About fourteen people, mainly fighters from both sides, were killed, with another twenty-four wounded and taken to hospital.
A spokesman for al-Shabaab has confirmed that the militant group was behind the attack, stating that thirty AU and army commanders had been killed. Authorities however have yet to comment on the attack. Reports have indicated that communications to the central Hiran region went down not long after the fighting and gunfire ended.
The attack on the hotel in the strategic central town comes after the militants lost control of Buulo Burde last week. It was captured as part of an on going AU and government offensive against al-Shabaab, which continues to control much of southern and central Somalia. On the ground sources have indicated that al-Shabaab had occupied Buulo Burde for more than five years. The town, which has a strategic bridge over the River Shabelle and is at a crossroads linking various regions of the country, was an important base for al-Shabaab.
The incident in Buulo Burde came as a convoy of African Union’s AMISOM force was targeted by a car bomb just outside the Somali capital on Monday. The attack took place near a checkpoint on the road linking Mogadishu and the town of Afgoye. A witness reported that “…a suicide bomber rammed his car into an AMISOM convoy,” adding that “there was a heavy explosion at the Alamada area…, we don’t know about the casualties but I saw military ambulances rushing to the scene.” A Somali military official, Omar Adan, confirmed the attack however declined to give the number of casualties. Mr. Adan blamed militants from al-Shabaab, stating “al-Qaeda linked militants, who have lost ground, are attempting desperate attacks.”
Although al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for the attack, stating that seven Burundian peacekeepers and five American nations travelling in the vehicles were killed on Monday afternoon, AMISOM spokesman Col. Ali Adan Humad has denied that there were any casualties. Monday’s attack came just days after a car bomb went off in central Mogadishu near a hotel popular with government officials and businessmen. Saturday’s attack injured at least one person, however so far no claims of responsibility for the attack have been made.
In February alone, major attacks in Mogadishu have included a car bomb at the gates of the airport, a major suicide attack on the presidential palace and a car bombing on a café located close to the intelligence headquarters.
Meanwhile, Kenyan police authorities indicated Monday that they had arrested two men who were driving a vehicle packed with explosives in the Indian Ocean resort city of Mombasa. According to Henry Ondiek of the Mombasa Criminal Investigation Department, “we have not established where the target was, but we have detained two terror suspects who were in the vehicle,” adding “we were tipped off that the two were headed for an attack on an unspecified place and we laid an ambush and got them.” One police source indicated that the two men were of Somali origin, signalling that they were likely members or supporters of Somalia’s al-Shabaab militant group. According to Kenyan police, two homemade bombs were found in the vehicle, along with a mobile phone, which could have been used as a detonator. The arrest of the two suspected terrorists comes after Kenya’s top security chiefs warned last month of “increased threats of radicalization” from home-grown Islamists, singling out Mombasa’s Musa mosque as a specific centre encouraging extremism, along with two others. Over the past several years, Kenya has suffered a string of attacks, which have all been blamed on al-Shabaab, including the September 2013 massacre in Nairobi’s Westgate mall in which at least sixty-seven people were killed.