According to Somali police, late on Thursday, at least twenty people were killed in the Somali capital Mogadishu when five Islamist gunmen set off bombs and stormed a popular beach-front restaurant.
Police officer Osman Nur disclosed Friday that “the operation ended at 3 AM last night and at least 20 civilians were killed.” Somalia’s security minister, Abdirizak Omar Mohamed, reported that four of the gunmen were killed, adding that one was captured alive. Al-Shabaab has since claimed responsibility for the attack, stating that its fighters set off two car bombs at the Beach View Café on Mogadishu’s popular Lido beach, and engaged in a gun battle for hours with government troops trying to flush them out. Police officials have disclosed that al-Shabaab fighters set off the first car bomb at dusk, with witnesses reporting that a huge second blast, which echoed around the city centre, struck about an hour later as government soldiers laid siege to the restaurant. The country’s prime minister urged the public to remain calm and called the attack on a civilian target was a desperate move by a group facing annihilation.
The attack comes a week after al-Shabaab overran an African Union (AU) base near the Kenyan border, saying that they had killed more than 100 Kenyan soldiers and captured a number of them. Kenya has not commented on the toll.
Kenya has said that a search and rescue operation is underway in neighbouring Somalia as al-Shabaab militants claimed to have killed more than 100 Kenyan soldiers in Friday’s attack on an African Union (AU) base.
The base in southwestern Somalia was attacked by al-Shabaab fighters early Friday morning. On Sunday, military chief Samson Mwathethe told reporters in the capital Nairobi that “we embarked on a search, rescue and recovery operation as a priority,” adding, “our troops are engaging the terrorists.” While Kenyan officials have so far declined to say how many of its soldiers were killed, injured or missing in the attack, on Sunday, al-Shabaab indicated in a statement that more than 100 Kenyan soldiers were killed and others captured. In the statement, it said, “Mujahideen fighters…stormed the Kenyan base in the early hours of Friday morning, killing more than 100 Kenyan invaders, seizing their weapons and military vehicles and even capturing Kenyan soldiers alive.” Jihadist websites in Somalia are claiming that 12 Kenyan soldiers were captured. At the time of the attack, a company of around 150 Kenyan soldiers was stationed at the El-Adde base. On Sunday, four injured soldiers were returned to Nairobi.
The pre-dawn attack on the Kenyan base in Somalia’s Gedo region was at least the third major assault on isolated AU bases in the last year. In September, al-Shabaab fighters stormed a Ugandan AMISOM base in Janale district, which is located 80 kilometres (50 miles) southwest of Mogadishu in the Lower Shabelle region. In June, al-Shabaab militants killed dozens of Burundian soldiers when they overran an AMISOM outpost northwest of Mogadishu.
Al-Shabaab insurgents have warned that they will “cut the throat” of members who shift allegiance from al-Qaeda to the so-called Islamic State (IS). The news emerges amidst reports that some factions have already been punished for doing so.
On Monday, in a radio broadcast, top al-Shabaab official Abu Abdalla stated that, “if anyone says he belongs to another Islamic movement, kill him on the spot,” adding, “we will cut the throat of any one…if they undermine unity.” Al-Shabaab, which has been a long-time branch of al-Qaeda in East Africa, is fighting to overthrow the internationally-backed government in Mogadishu. While the insurgents have lost much ground in recent years, they continue to be a threat in both Somalia and neighboring Kenya, where they have carried out a series of deadly attacks.
Reports of divisions within al-Shabaab come at a time when IS in Iraq and Syria has become what many see as being the jihadist franchise of choice. It has attracted fighters from abroad as well as the allegiance of other militant groups, such as Boko Haram, which operates in northeastern Nigeria. However recently, al-Qaeda expanded its territory in Yemen, which is located just across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia, and has proven that the group continues to have the capabilities to carry out deadly attacks despite, to a certain degree, being overshadowed by IS. Sources have reported that while a handful of al-Shabaab factions have switched allegiance from al-Qaeda to IS, the shift has failed to gain momentum. Furthermore, pro-IS groups have been attacked and their leaders assassinated as al-Shabaab emir and al-Qaeda loyalist Ahmed Diriye seeks to shore up his control. Last month, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud disclosed that “the now-public dispute” within al-Shabaab demonstrated that the group had “lost its way.” On Monday however, top al-Shabaab official Abdalla maintained that the insurgent group remained united, stating, “the world wanted us to be divided…This is a collective decision and anybody who wants to join another Islamic group must leave the country to meet them where they are,” adding, “I swear by the name of God we will not tolerate the acts of saboteurs.”
After a regional summit on the on going political crisis in Burundi was held in neighbouring Tanzania on Sunday, East African leaders declared that the upcoming elections in Burundi should be delayed by at least a month and a half and that the on going violence must end. The leaders, however, stopped short of calling for Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza to abandon his controversial bid for a third consecutive term in office, which has effectively sparked weeks of civil unrest, a coup attempt and a major refugee crisis that is now affecting the region.
In a statement read out the East African Community’s (EAC) secretary general Richard Sezibera, which was released shortly after a meeting of regional leaders was held in neighbouring Tanzania, the East African leaders stated “the summit, concerned at the impasse in Burundi, strongly calls for a long postponement of the elections not less than a month and a half.” The statement further called “on all parties to stop violence,” for the “disarmament of all armed youth groups,” which is a clear reference to the ruling party’s supporters who have been accused of attacking the party’s opponents, and for “the creation of conditions for the return of refugees” who have fled the crisis. The EAC summit was attended by leaders from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who is a key regional player and Burundi’s neighbour, sent a minister to represent him. South African President Jacob Zuma was also present at the talks. The summit had been seen as a critical opportunity to resolve the crisis, with talks between the president’s camp and the main opposition currently at a deadlock.
President Nkurunziza was not present during Sunday’s summit, with his spokesman indicating that the president would instead be pushing ahead with his re-election campaign. However it is widely believed that the president’s absence is linked to the 13 May failed coup attempt, which occurred when President Nkurunziza attended the first crisis meeting in Tanzania’s economic capital. In an attempt to benefit from the president being out of the country, a top general launched an unsuccessful bid to oust him.
The political crisis in Burundi erupted after the ruling party designated President Nkurunziza, who has been in power for ten years, as its candidate for the upcoming elections. The opposition and rights groups however have indicated that this move effectively violates the constitution as well as a 2006 peace agreement, which ended the country’s 13-year civil war. That war killed hundreds of thousands of civilians and there are now growing fears that the current political crisis may push the country back into conflict. Despite the civil unrest leaving at least 30 people dead, the Burundian government has maintained that parliamentary elections will take place on 5 June, with presidential elections scheduled for 26 June.
Reports have surfaced that Somali-based al-Shabaab is heavily recruiting in northeastern Kenya. The news comes just days after the militant group targeted Somalia’s higher education ministry in the capital city, Mogadishu.
On the ground sources have reported that in the town of Isiolo in northeastern Kenya, twenty-six young men have disappeared, with officials suspecting that they have joined the militant group. Sources have indicated that here are similar concerns in other parts of the country. Al-Shabaab’s recruitment in Kenya marks a change of tactic for the group and highlights fears voiced by Kenyan intelligence services and MP’s that the Somali-based militant group is increasingly threatening Kenya and the wider Horn of Africa region. In the wake of a recent string of deadly attacks in northeastern Kenya, al-Shabaab has warned Kenyan officials that this is just the beginning, and that they will carry out further deadly attacks in the coming months. With al-Shabaab militants increasingly being force out of key areas in central and southern Somalia, increasing recruitments of militants in Kenya is likely to be seen as a way for them to not only replenish the group’s numbers, but for them to more power to stage deadly attacks.
On Tuesday, al-Shabaab militants attacked the higher education ministry in Mogadishu, Somalia. They used a car bomb before storming the building, killing at least fifteen people and wounding twenty others.
Police officer Mohamed Dahir disclosed that troops backed by African Union (AU) forces regained control of the building after around an hour-long attack, which began when “a car loaded with explosives rammed the gate.” Police and eyewitnesses reported that the car bomb caused a huge explosion that effectively allowed the gunmen to force their way into the fortified building. According to Mohamed Yusuf Osman, the internal security ministry spokesman, six al-Shabaab gunmen were killed in the attack, “the security forces and AU peacekeepers shot and killed four of the attackers, while the other two blew themselves up.”
Al-Shabaab spokesman Abdulaziz Abu Musab claimed responsibility for the attack, indicating that al-Shabaab gunmen had been “fully in control” of the ministry and that they were also able to enter a neighbouring building that houses the oil ministry. Both buildings are located in the capital’s K5 district, which has been targeted by a string of similar attacks in recent months, with a car bombing to force entry into fortified buildings followed by an armed raid becoming the militant group’s trademark tactic. Last month, al-Shabaab gunmen stormed the fortified Maka al Mukurama hotel in Mogadishu. While earlier this month, the militant group carried out its deadliest attack yet, when al-Shabaab gunmen killed 148 people in a day-long siege at a university in neighbouring Kenya’s northeastern town of Garissa.