On Monday, 15 February, officials reported that Islamist militant group al-Shabaab killed Somalia’s former defense minister with a car bomb in the capital city Mogadishu. The latest death of a Somali official comes just days after the militant group claimed responsibility for the 2 February bombing of a plane that had departed the airport in Mogadishu for neighboring Djibouti. It also comes as insecurity in the capital city and across the country has intensified in recent months, with the militant group launching a number of deadly attacks, particularly targeting troops with the AMISOM contingent.
Hours after Monday’s attack, al-Shabaab claimed responsibility, stating that it planted the car bomb that killed Muhayadin Mohamed, who was also an adviser to the speaker of Somalia’s parliament. Pictures taken by a photographer from the scene depicted the passenger seat took the brunt of the damage, with the passenger-side doors blown out. A police official confirmed that Mohamed was killed, adding that a second person in the car survived the blast without any serious injuries.
Mohamed was briefly defense minister in 2008, during Somalia’s transitional federal government, which was backed by the United Nations and had fought alongside African Union (AU) peacekeepers to push al-Shabaab out of Mogadishu and other major cities.
Meanwhile on Saturday, al-Shabaab insurgents claimed responsibility for a bomb attack, which ripped a hole in a passenger plane shortly after takeoff from the capital Mogadishu earlier this month. In a statement issued by the group, al-Shabaab stated on 2 February, Shebaab “mujahideen carried out an operation targeted dozens of Western intelligence officials and Turkish NATO forces aboard an airplane bound for Djibouti.” Al-Shabaab added that the bomb attack was “retribution for the crimes committed by the coalition of Western crusaders and their intelligence agencies against Muslims of Somalia.”
The blast left a metre-wide (three-foot)hole in the fuselage of the Daallo Airlines plane shortly after it took off from Somalia’s main airport, killing the suspected bomber and forcing an emergency landing. Two of the 74 passengers aboard were slightly injured. Investigators later reported that a passenger believed to be the bomber, identified as Abdulahi Abdisalam, was killed, probably after being propelled out of the aircraft in the explosion. The man had initially intended to board a Turkish Airlines flight however the Turkish plane did not turn up and Daallo Airlines agreed to fly the passengers onwards to Djibouti. Somali intelligence officials have released surveillance footage appearing to show a passenger being given a laptop in which the bomb was concealed.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that dozens of British troops will be deployed to Somalia in a bid to help the ongoing peacekeeping efforts to counter Islamist militants operating in the Horn of Africa nation.
Sources have disclosed that up to seventy personnel will join the United Nations contingent, which is supporting African Union (AU) troops who are fighting al-Shabaab. British forces deployed to Somalia will provide combat training as well as medical, logistical and engineering support.
Furthermore, up to 300 personnel could also be deployed in South Sudan over time. The role of those being deployed to South Sudan will include combat training as well as engineer work in order to strengthen vital infrastructure.
The PM, who is due to pledge the support at the upcoming UN General Assembly summit, has disclosed that the approach could help curb migrants coming to Europe. According to Mr Cameron, it is important to “step up” existing British contribution,” adding, “obviously we will want to see all the right force protection arrangements in place but we should be playing a part in this.” The British PM further disclosed that “the outcome in Somalia, if it’s a good outcome, that’s good for Britain…It means less terrorism, les migration, less piracy. Ditto in South Sudan: if we can, as peacekeepers, help to maintain order and peace and see stable development in that country then that is going to be, again, less poverty, less migration, less issues that affect us back at home. Mr Cameron however noted that British troop swill not be involved in combat roles, stating, “its not committing troops to conflict, its committing troops to a UN blue-hatted peacekeeping role – as we’ve done many times in the past, as we will do in the future…And one of the reasons we’re doing it is obviously the expertise that British troops have in training, engineering, and mentoring and we’re raising the standard for peacekeeping troops, which has had some issues and problems in the recent past.”
During the upcoming UN General Assembly summit, Prime Minister Cameron will hold face-to-face talks with Somali President Hassan Sheikh Muhamoud, along with several other world leaders.
Al-Shabaab militants have overrun an African Union (AU) military base in southern Somalia, with officials reporting that they inflicted heavy casualties.
According to sources, at least 50 AU soldiers are believed to have been killed and another 50 have been reported missing after al-Shabaab militants overran a military camp in southern Somalia on Tuesday 1 September. A statement issued late Tuesday, more than 12 hours after the assault, indicated “given the complex nature of the attack, AMISOM is currently verifying the number of casualties and the extent of the damage.” The attack, which saw the militants target the camp in Janale, located 80 kilometres (50 miles) southwest of Mogadishu in the Lower Shabelle region and manned by Ugandan troops, now ranks as one of the deadliest yet against AMISOM troops.
Sources have reported that the attack began with the destruction of two bridges, which cut the camp off. A suicide car bomber rammed the base and was followed by an estimated 200 al-Shabaab fighters who overran the camp. AMISOM has indicated that its troops “undertook a tactical withdrawal” as the attack began. A briefing note disclosed that they soldiers did not have any air support as “low cloud and landing restrictions prevented air support by UN contracted support helicopters.” The note further disclosed that Kenyan and Ethiopian jets as well as US drones “were unavailable at the time of the attack” while AMISOM tanks and artillery located in Janale had been redeployed elsewhere.
Al-Shabaab, which has recently lost a string of key bases in the face of an AMISOM offensive, indicated that the attack was revenge for the killing of seven civilians by Ugandan troops at a wedding in the town of Merka in July.
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.
Just one day after a car bombing targeted a popular café in central Mogadishu another bomb tore through a senior policeman’s car on Monday, wounding at least two.
According to police major Ahmed Kassim, Monday’s attack occurred after a bomb was planted in the car of the police chief of the city’s Blacksea area, located near the busy Bakara market, with the car exploding “…as two mechanics started the engines…” to test it. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, which wounded the two mechanics that were working on the car. The attack however is the third to occur in the capital city in the past twenty-four hours.
On Sunday, at least thirteen people were killed and eight others injured after a car bomb exploded outside a popular café in the capital city. According to a senior police official, the incident occurred near the Aroma café, located on Maka Al Mukaram road, with the bomb believed to have been detonated by remote control. Most of those killed in the attack were sitting outside the café. Somali government soldiers were deployed to the area shortly after the incident.
Just hours after the bombing at the café, suspected Islamist militants launched five shells at an area where the president was due to speak. The attack occurred in the Huriwa district, where President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was due to attend celebrations marking the anniversary of Somali receiving its flag. Officials have not reported any casualties in that incident, and the President was able to attend the celebrations once security forces cleared the area.
While no group has claimed responsibility for these attacks, al-Shabaab is likely behind them, as the militant group has vowed to avenge the death of its leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, who was killed in September in a US airstrike. The militant group has launched a string of bomb and gun attacks in Mogadishu, and in other city centres across the country, keeping up with its promise to step up action after African Union (AIMSOM) and Somali troops pushed them out of their remaining coastal stronghold a week ago. The loss of Barawe port on 5 October also means that al-Shabaab has lost a key economic source.
While the loss of Barawe coupled with US military air strikes that killed its leader last month, have dealt a severe blow to the militant group, which has been seeking to topple the internationally-backed government and to drive out African Union peacekeepers, it remains too soon to declare a victory over the group, which is skilled at guerrilla warfare.
The latest attacks to target Mogadishu also come as United Nations investigators warn in new report that Somalia’s new government remains corrupt and that al-Shabaab militants are as deadly as ever.
The new 482-page report, put forth by the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, disclosed, “underlying corruption as a system of governance has not yet fundamentally changed and, in some cases, arguably has worsened.” UN experts have indicated that financially, they have “consistently found patterns of misappropriation with diversion rates of between 70 and 80 percent,” adding “the indications are that diverted funds are used for partisan agendas that constitute threats to peace and security.” According to the report, a third of revenues from the capital’s busy seaport, which is a key source of income that totals millions of dollars for the internationally funded government, cannot be accounted for.
While the UN Security Council in 2013 allowed for a partial lifting of an arms embargo on Somalia, the new report discloses, “some of the weapons and ammunition have been diverted to arms markets in Mogadishu.” According to UN experts, weapons initially sent to the national army to defend the country’s internationally backed government, have instead been seen on open sale in at least one market where al-Shabaab militants are known to have purchased arms. This is particularly worrisome as al-Shabaab has begun to shift its tactics as the militant group faces sustained military assaults by the AU force and repeated air strikes, such as those that killed its chief last month.
The report warns that in the long term, air and drone strikes will achieve minimal damage to the militant group, noting, “strategic airstrikes have in general resulted in short terms gains but significantly failed to diminish al-Shabaab’s operation capacity…there is no current evidence that they have the potential to ‘degrade and destroy’ al-Shabaab.” This was particularly evidenced over this past weekend, as despite being pushed out of a key stronghold earlier this month, al-Shabaab militants were able to stage three attacks in the capital city, demonstrating that the militant group remains active in key areas across the country. Furthermore, while the loss of the port town of Barawe, including the loss of funding through the multi-million dollar trade of charcoal, will likely have some financial impact on the militant group, the trade continues unabated and militants will continue to profit as they continue to control production sites and truck checkpoints. According to UN experts, al-Shabaab have also increased their use of bombs, including the “noticeable” introduction of magnetic vehicle bombs, a tactic that was previously commonly used in Afghanistan and Iraq. The use of such car bombs in Somalia likely represents “…a transfer of battlefield knowledge to Somalia.”
Outside of Somalia, the militant group continues to pose a regional threat, as the military operations in southern and central Somalia have effectively forced al-Shabaab fighters to “become more operationally audacious by placing greater emphasis on exporting its violence beyond the borders of Somalia” and across the Horn of Africa.