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.
On Thursday, a car bomb exploded near a café in Somalia’s capital city Mogadishu. The explosion occurred in an area close to the intelligence headquarters, with police officials indicating that at least seven people were killed. Sources have indicated that the café, which is located near the city’s Lido beach, was reportedly popular with security officials.
Police official Ahmed Mumin confirmed the explosion, stating “we have counted twelve civilians killed in the car bomb, but the toll could be higher as many people were also wounded.” Eight other people were wounded. Eyewitnesses have reported that the bomber targeted a security vehicle, with three members of the security forces amongst the dead. Al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for this latest attack in Mogadishu. The militant group’s military operations spokesman, Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, stated shortly after the blast that “today’s blast was part of our operations in Mogadishu and we shall continue.”
Thursday’s blast comes just a week after al-Shabaab militants carried out a major attack against the heavily fortified presidential palace, killing officials and guards in a fierce gun battle. It is also comes after a string of attacks that have been carried out in the capital city in what appears to be an apparent upsurge of al-Shabaab bombings in and around Mogadishu, with night-time mortar rounds fired into the vast, heavily guarded airport complex which also houses the 22,000-strong African Union force as well as foreign diplomats and aid workers.
On Monday, amidst continuing violence despite the resignation of Seleka rebel leader Michel Djotodia, the Central African Republic’s (CAR) interim parliament elected a new president.
Bangui mayor Catherine Samba-Panza has been elected the interim president of the CAR, effectively making her the first woman to hold the post. During a second round of voting by the interim parliament, she defeated her rival, Desire Kolingba, winning seventy-five votes against fifty-three. The election went to a second round after Ms Samba-Panza failed to secure an outright majority in the first round.
Ms Samba-Panza, a Christian, will succeed the CAR’s first Muslim leader, Michel Djotodia, who resigned on 10 January 2014 as a result of mounting pressure from regional leaders and former colonial power France over his failure to curb the on going violence.
In all, eight candidates were in the running during Monday’s elections. Amongst them were two sons of former presidents, Sylvain Patasse and Desire Kolingba, respectively the sons of former president Ange-Felix Patasse (in power from 1993 – 2003) and Andre Kolingba (in power from 1981 – 1993). Another locally familiar name is that of Emile Gros Raymond Nakombo, a banker close to Kolingba who in 2011 ran for the presidency against incumbent Francois Bozize, who took power in a 2003 coup and was toppled by the 2013 Seleka coup. About 129 members of the National Transitional Council (CNT), which serves as acting parliament with 135 members in all, took part in today’s vote by secret ballot.
Prior to voting, each presidential candidate was given ten minutes in order to make a “statement of intent” to the CNT members who were then tasked with electing a new transitional leader by secret ballot in a single round. The newly elected president will be tasked with restoring peace in the CAR.
In March 2013, the CAR collapsed after Seleka rebels overthrew the government and installed Mr Djotodia to power. He however proved to be powerless in controlling his Seleka coalition, with many responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people, mainly from the CAR’s Christian majority. While some Christian communities responded by forming “anti-balaka” (anti-machete) self defence militias, which were charged with attacking the CAR’s Muslim population, both sides have now ben accused of major abuses, with officials at the United Nations warning of a potential inter-religious “genocide.”
EU Diplomats Vote to Deploy Troops
Meanwhile diplomatic sources have indicated that European Union (EU) foreign ministers agreed, during a meeting in Brussels on Monday, to deploy troops to the CAR in order to bolster African and French forces already on the ground. The EU “crisis management concept” is the first step towards sending a force. According to an official statement released shortly after the meeting, EU ministers indicated that the operation would provide “temporary support, for a period of up to six months, to establish a secure environment in the Bangui region, with a view to handling over to the African Union (AU).” The statement further noted that the plan is to turn the current AU deployment in the CAR into a UN peacekeeping operation, with the aim of stabilizing the situation so that urgently needed humanitarian aid can reach suffering civilians.
While the EU is expected to despatch 400 – 600 European soldiers to Bangui, correspondents have indicated that an EU force of up to 1,000 troops is likely. They will be tasked with backing the 1,600 French troops of Operation Sangaris, who have been deployed in the CAR since 5 December 2013 under a UN mandate, along with the 4,400 African troops from the African Union’s (AU) MISCA peacekeeping force. During this week, the EU will seek a mandate at the United Nations for such an operation, with EU experts later travelling to the CAR’s capital city in order to assess the cost. An EU diplomat has indicated that at the moment, “it is unclear what exactly will be needed,” adding that Greece has offered to host a mission headquarters while Estonia is prepared to send up to fifty-five troops. Several other countries, including Austria, Finland, Lithuania and Romania, are considering troop contributions.
The agreement for deployment comes as violence continues throughout the CAR despite the resignation of Michel Djotodia ten days ago. A month and a half into the French intervention, security in Bangui has gradually improved, however sporadic outbreaks of brutal violence still spread fear. Over this past weekend, the CAR’s capital city, Bangui, was the scene of continued violence as two Muslim men were killed and burnt on Sunday