On Wednesday, the UN envoy for Somalia insisted that the country was making progress, remarks that come just a day after the government stated that elections cannot be held as promised next year.
Nicholas Kay, the top UN diplomat in Somalia, stated that “the road to democracy is there, but 2016 will be a stepping stone short of full democracy.” Kay further indicated that the announcement, which was greeted with dismay in Somalia, was “no surprise,” adding, “it’s a reality we’ve been staring at for quite a while.” Kay spoke on the sidelines of the so-called High-Level Partnership Forum, a meeting of Somali and foreign delegates, which was held in the capital on Wednesday and Thursday. Kay described this week’s meeting as “the largest international meeting in Mogadishu in modern times” with discussions of what will happen in 2016, when the current government’s four-year mandate expires, at the top of the agenda. Kay also indicated that the process of state-building, after decades of civil war and anarchy, and the creation of a federal rather than a centralized administration “is going well but has taken longer than expected.” The last forum was hosted in Copenhagen.
On Tuesday, the Somali government admitted that insecurity and a lack of political progress meant that there cannot be “one man, one vote” elections in 2016 as were envisaged by the UN, foreign diplomats and the government itself. In a statement, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud disclosed that national elections are impossible amidst rampant violence that has been planned and carried out by al-Shabaab. The president denied the opposition’s allegations, stating that his government intends to focus on a review of the Constitution as well as building a strong national army. Mohamud’s term is due to expire in August. Elected in 2012, Mohamud’s government has struggled to assert its control across the country. While al-Shabaab militants have been driven out of the major strongholds over the years, they still control some parts of rural Somalia, particularly in the southern region of the country, and continue to carry out hit-and-run attacks in Mogadishu. What the electoral process may look like will be decided by the end of the year, with the Somali government due to hold public consultations before presenting proposals to the international community in early 2016.
Meanwhile late on Wednesday, the UN Security Council passed a resolution, which effectively authorizes until May 2016 the deployment of the 22,000-strong African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which is fighting al-Shabaab and protecting the government. The same resolution also extended the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), which is headed by UN envoy for Somalia Nicholas Kay, until March 2016.
At least six United Nations workers killed in Somalia in an attack launched by al-Shabaab, just one day after the militant group killed three African Union (AU) troops.
Police officials have confirmed that at least six UN workers were killed in Somalia on Monday when a huge bomb placed by al-Shabaab militants destroyed a bus in the northeastern town of Garowe, the capital of the semi-autonomous Puntland region.
Somali police official Abdullahi Mohamed disclosed Monday “we have confirmed the death of six UN staff, including a foreign national,” adding “the bomb is believed to have been attached to the minibus and was detonated near the UN office.” While officials are currently carrying out an investigation into the attack, witnesses and security officials have suggested that the explosion may have come from a roadside bomb that was detonated as the minibus, which is used to transport staff from a guesthouse to the UN compound, was passing. Mr Mohamed has indicated, “investigations are still ongoing to establish how it happened but I can confirm you that the UN compound was not affected.”
The head of the UN in Somalia, Nick Kay, has condemned the attack, stating that he was “shocked and appalled by (the) loss of life.” Shortly after the attack, al-Shabaab insurgents claimed responsibility, stating that the UN is a “colonization force in Somalia.” The militant group has in the past targeted the UN. In December 2014, four people were killed when a suicide bomber rammed a car packed with explosives into a UN convoy in the capital Mogadishu.
Monday’s attack comes a day after al-Shabaab militants killed three AU soldiers in southern Somalia.
African Union officials confirmed Monday that al-Shabaab militants killed three AU soldiers in Somalia on Sunday. AU envoy to Somalia Maman Sidikou condemned “the cowardly ambush” on a convoy of troops. The incident occurred Sunday as the convoy was travelling in the southern Lower Shabelle district, between the settlements of Lego and Balidogle.
Al-Shabaab spokesman Abdulaziz Abu Musab confirmed that the militant group was responsible for the attack, adding that five AU soldiers had been killed and that several vehicles were destroyed. While he indicated that the soldiers were from Burundi, AU force officials have not released any details pertaining to the nationalities of the victims.
The latest attacks come as al-Shabaab militants on Saturday shot dead a lawmaker in the capital Mogadishu in what is the latest in a string of assassinations of politicians in the Horn of Africa nation. According to an al-Shabaab spokesman, Adan Haji Hussein, an MP in the semi-autonomous northern region of Puntland, was killed in Mogadishu during a visit to the capital city. Abdulaziz Abu Musab confirmed “our commandos shot and killed Adan for being a member of the apostate administration,” warning “all MPs, whether they are regional or so-called national MPs, we will kill them.” Omar Dalha, a fellow MP, confirmed the death and has called on the government to investigate the murder.
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.
On Thursday, al-Shabaab gunmen stormed a university in Kenya, killing at least 147 people in what is now the worst attack to occur on Kenyan soil since the 1998 bombing of the United States Embassy in Nairobi.
The siege ended nearly fifteen hours after the Somali-based group’s gunmen shot their way into Garissa University campus in the pre-dawn attack. According to police chief Joseph Boinet, the attackers “shot indiscriminately” when they entered the university compound. Police later surrounded the campus and exchanged gunfire with the attackers however they were repeatedly repelled. According to Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery, four gunmen strapped with explosives were behind the attack – the same number of gunmen that killed 67 people during the 2013 attack on the Westgate Shopping Centre in Nairobi. On the ground sources have disclosed that the militants spared the lives of Muslim students and took many Christian hostages. Officials have indicated that the death toll stands at 147 however they have warned that this toll is likely to increase in the coming days as officers search the campus. At least 79 people were injured, with many airlifted to hospitals in Nairobi. More than 500 students managed to escape. Troops continued to search the campus for any possible insurgents until the siege was declared over late on Thursday, with the national disaster operations centre disclosing that the raid had “ended with all four terrorists killed.” Officials have offered a US $215,000 bounty for the capture of alleged al-Shabaab commander Mohamed Mohamud, a former Kenyan teacher believed to now be in Somalia. He is said to be the mastermind of the Garissa attacks.
Hours into the raid, al-Shabaab spokesman claimed responsibility for the attack on the campus in Garissa, a town located 200 kilometres (120 miles) from the Somali border. The attack comes days after the Australian government warned that it had intelligence that the militant group was planning to carry out attacks in crowded places in the capital city Nairobi.
The latest attack in Kenya has prompted officials from that country, and neighbouring Somalia, to call for closer cooperation. On Friday, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud stated that Somalia and Kenya must boost security cooperation between them.
A video, purported to be by Somalia’s al-Qaeda-linked militant group al-Shabaab, is urging Muslims to attack shopping malls in the United States, Canada, Britain as well as other Western countries. The video comes just days after the militant group carried out a major attack in central Mogadishu, which targeted ministers of the internationally-backed government.
The threat, urging attacks on Western shopping malls, came in the final minutes of a more than hour-long video in which the extremist group also warned neighbouring Kenya of more attacks, similar to the September 2013 assault that targeted the Westgate Shopping Centre in Nairobi, in which 67 people were killed. The newly released video depicted footage from major news organizations showing the assault on the mall and said that it was in reprisal for alleged abuses by Kenyan troops against Muslims in Somalia.
The masked narrator concluded the video by calling on Muslims to attack shopping malls, specifically the Mall of America in Minnesota, as well as the West Edmonton Mall in Canada and the Westfield Mall in Stratford, England. The narrator, who had his face wrapped in a black-and-white scarf and was wearing a camouflage jacket, spoke with a British accent and appeared to be of Somali origin. Speaking in the video, the man stated, “what if such an attack were to occur in the Mall of American in Minnesota? Or the West Edmonton Mall in Canada? Or in London’s Oxford Street?” He then called for Britain’s Westfield shopping centre to be targeted.
In response to the video, US Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has urged people to remain vigilant, adding that he took the threat serious. Speaking on morning talks show in the US on Sunday, Mr Johnson called the video “the new phase” of the global terrorist threat, stating “these groups are relying more and more on independent actors to become inspired, drawn to the cause and they’ll attack on their own,” adding “I am very concerned about serious potential threats of independent actors here in the United States. We’ve seen this now in Europe, we’ve seen this in Canada.” When asked about the specific threat against the Mall of America, Mr Johnson stated, “any time a terrorist organization calls for an attack on a specific place we’ve got to take that seriously. What we’re telling the public is you’ve got to be vigilant…. There will be enhanced security there that will be apparent, but public vigilance, public awareness and public caution in situations like this is particularly important. It’s the environment we’re in.”
A statement released by the Mall of America, which is located in Bloomington, Minnesota and which is one of the nation’s largest shopping centre’s, indicated that officials are “aware of a threatening video which includes a mention and images of the mall,” adding that additional security have been put in place. On the ground sources have reported that shoppers seemed undeterred Sunday by threat.
In Kenya, the government has dismissed the new video. Interior Ministry spokesman Mwenda Njoka stated Sunday that al-Shabaab is “…using propaganda to legitimize what cannot be legitimized. When you lead a group to go and attack a shopping mall and kill innocent shoppers that cannot be legitimized, those were not soldiers…. Muslims also died in the Westgate attack. It’s in our interest to ensure Somalia is stabilized because the instability affects us. The video is cheap propaganda trying to re-write history and to get more support from those (who) support them.”
Although al-Shabaab has carried out attacks in neighbouring Kenya, Uganda and Djibouti, which all have troops that are fighting the extremist group as part of the multinational African Union (AU) force, al-Shabaab, which is affiliated with al-Qaeda, has never operated outside East Africa and the Horn of Africa. Minnesota, which is home to the largest Somali population in the United States, has been the target of terror recruiters in the past. Since 2007, more than 22 young Somali men from Minnesota have travelled to Somalia in a bid to join al-Shabaab. Authorities have reported that within the last year a handful of Minnesota residents have also travelled to Syria to fight with militant groups operating in the region. At least one Minnesotan has died while fighting for the Islamic State group.
On Thursday, a 19-year-old Minneapolis man, who was stopped at a New York City airport in November 2014 as he ant three others were allegedly attempting to travel to Syria, was indicted on charges associated with supporting the Islamic State group.