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.
On Monday, Somali military commanders celebrated the capture of the last major port city held by al-Shabaab insurgents as security forces secured control of the town for the first time in over two decades.
On Sunday, local officials reported that Somali government troops, backed by African Union (AU) forces, had captured one of al-Shabaab’s remaining strategic strongholds in Somalia. Sources reported that the key port town of Barawe, located 200 kilometres (125 miles) south of Mogadishu, was now under the control of the Somali army and AU forces. The operation was launched Friday, with residents reporting that many of the al-Qaeda-linked militants had begun to withdraw from the key port town before troops began to arrive.
Speaking to hundreds of residents on Monday, Somali military commander Abdirisak Khalif Elmi confirmed that “al-Shabaab are no longer in Barawe,” and called on citizens to support the government. Tanks and armoured vehicles were seen patrolling the town Monday, as government forces continued operations to secure the port city. While some troops conducted house-to-house searches for weapons, the majority of soldiers were setting up bases just outside the town. Residents reported Monday that the port city was quiet, with no fighting. A statement released by the AU’s AMISOM force, which includes 22,000 soldiers from six nations, indicated that Barawe fell without “much resistance from the terrorist group.”
According to AU officials, the port town, which had been under the control of al-Shabaab for the past six years, was being used by the militant group as a base to launch attacks in the central and southern regions of Somalia, specifically the capital city. The port city was also a major source of revenue for the militant group. According to UN estimates, al-Shabaab exported charcoal through Barawe to Gulf countries, earning at least US $25 million a year from the trade, which was then used to fund their operations. It is seen as a major blow to the insurgents and comes just one month after the death of their leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, who was killed in a US air and drone strike. In the wake of their leader’s death, al-Shabaab vowed to avenge their leader’s death and to continue their fight to topple the country’s internationally backed government. On Saturday, al-Shabaab commander Mohamed Abu Abdallah reiterated that the militia would continue to stage attacks.
Over the past several months, al-Shabaab has lost several key towns as Somali and AU forces launched a new offensive to force the militant group out of their remaining strongholds in the central and southern regions of the country. The group however continues to control large territory in rural areas, which will likely be the next focus of the offensive once the major towns in the region have been secured. Al-Shabaab is known to tactically withdraw from areas when faced with a large offensive, however some fighters usually remain to launch attacks at a later point. It is likely that some militants may have stayed back in Barawe in a bid to launch attacks in the port city.
United States Defence officials confirmed on Monday that the US military had launched a missile strike in Somalia on Sunday, targeting a suspected al-Shabaab militant leader.
According to one of the officials, an unmanned drone launched the missile in the late evening hours on Sunday. The strike was carried out in the south-eastern port town of Barawe – an al-Shabaab stronghold located south of the capital, Mogadishu. Pentagon officials have stated that the target was a senior leader of both al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda. Local residents have reported that al-Shabaab commander Sahal Iskudhuq and four others were killed as they were travelling in a convoy, which was hit by the missile, adding that al-Shabaab fighters later cordoned off the area. Iskudhuq is said to be have close ties with al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Godane and has a large number of fighters under his control. US officials however have not made any confirmations, only indicating that “the US is assessing the results of the operation,” and that the US government has “been tracking this individual for years.” Al-Shabaab has also not commented on the incident.
The US strike comes at a time when al-Shabaab has called for renewed attacks against foreign forces, after Ethiopia joined the African Union force that is battling the militant group and US officials confirmed the deployment of troops to Somalia. In the fall of last year, the US sent a handful of military advisers to Somalia to help bolster the African Union force. The deployment marked the first stationing of US troops in Somalia since 1993, when two Blackhawk helicopters were shot down and eighteen Americans were killed. There have been no confirmations as to whether or not this team was involved in the planning of this recent military operation.
While the US has not deployed troops to Somalia since the 1993 incident, it has however carried out a number of operations that have targeted al-Shabaab commanders.
In 2008, a US air strike killed al-Shabaab commander Aden Hashi Ayro. More recently, in October 2013, US Navy SEAL Team Six aborted a pre-dawn raid in Barawe after an intense fire fight prevented them from reliably taking the suspect alive. The target of that operation was al-Shabaab commander Abdukadir Mohamed Abdukadir, alias Ikrima.
Diplomats indicated on Wednesday that the UN Security Council is expected to soon authorize 4,000 more troops in order to boost the African force that is battling resurgent al-Shabaab militants in Somalia. According to reports, the council is likely to allow a new upper limit of about 22,000 troops for the African Union force, which is known as AMISOM. During a recent Security Council meeting on Somalia, which specifically focused on efforts to support the country’s interim government, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson stated that advances made by the African force, along with the Somali army, had “ground to a halt” because it lacked a sufficient number of troops. According to the UN Deputy, al-Shabaab “is mobile and is training and recruiting substantial numbers of frustrated, unemployed young men.” During the meeting, the UN Deputy reaffirmed an earlier call made by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the African Union for “a significant temporary boost” to AMISOM’s numbers. In a recent report to the Security Council, the Secretary-General indicated that there is an urgent need to reinforce AMISOM in order to move into southern Somalia to “deny Shebaab the opportunity to raise resources and to forcefully recruit and train personnel.” Britain is drawing up a resolution on increasing the force, which is expected to be voted by the Security Council in mid-November. The resolution would effectively allow for an increase of about 4,000 troops in order to allow an upper limit for AMISOM of about 22,000 troops. The call for an increase in troops comes amidst mounting warning pertaining to al-Shabaab’s increasing threat after the Nairobi shopping mall attack last month. While the AMISOM force, along with the Somali army, have pushed al-Shabaab militants out of the capital city, along with other major cities, over the past eighteen months, al-Shabaab has been able to regroup and stage large and elaborate attacks, such as the one on Westgate Mall in Nairobi on September 17. In turn, suicide bombers have been able to stage attacks in Mogadishu, which is government controlled. If the increase in troops is to pass in a Security Council vote, the new deployment of troops will likely be tasked with focusing on removing al-Shabaab militants from the southern region of Somalia, particularly from their new stronghold of Barawe. In recent weeks, the town has been the focus of two missions carried out by US forces. The first focused on targeting a senior al-Shabaab commander, known as Ikrima, while the second, a drone strike, killed three al-Shabaab commanders, including the militant group’s top bomb-maker. In turn, sources indicate that al-Shabaab militants stationed in Barawe have been planning attacks not only throughout the rest of the country, but regionally as well.
Meanwhile, for the first time, Somalia’s President visited the southern port city of Kismayo on Thursday, which is a former al-Shabaab stronghold that is now controlled by a warlord who has long been opposed to the region being controlled by the central government in Mogadishu. While no further details of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s visit have been released by his spokesman, Abdirahman Omar Osman, the trip does signal a step forward in relations with the breakaway region. Shortly after the President’s visit, al-Shabaab spokesman Abdulaziz Abu Musab boasted that the group’s militants fired dozens of artillery and mortar rounds at the “infidel leader,” however officials have dismissed this claim. The president’s spokesman later confirmed that “there was no mortar attacks at Kismayo airport contrary to al-Shabaab claims.” The visit also comes amidst efforts to increase support for the central government and is seen as a bid to combat the threat from al-Shabaab militants who continue to control large areas around the port city. Kismayo, which is patrolled by Kenyan and Sierra Leonean troops from the African Union force, is controlled by the Ras Kamboni militia of warlord Ahmed Madobe, who has claimed leadership over the southern semi-autonomous region of Jubbaland. The region lies in the far south of Somalia, bordering both Kenya and Ethiopia, and its control is split between multiple forces including clan militias, al-Shabaab and Kenyan and Ethiopian troops. Al-Shabaab forces currently control their last major port at Barawe, which is located some 250 kilometers northeast of Kismayo. However African Union forces are moving closer to capturing control of the town. Taking Barawe would result in al-Shabaab loosing a vital area and in turn, it would link up AU forces who are currently split between Jubbaland and Mogadishu.
Days after a drone strike, carried out by US forces, targeted al-Shabaab militants in the southern Somali town of Jilib, government officials have confirmed that three senior al-shabaab commanders, including an explosives expert, have been killed.
On Tuesday, one day after the attack, residents near the site of the strike reported three people dead in a vehicle, which had burst into flames shortly after the sound of an aircraft was heard overhead. The drone strike had targeted a Suzuki four-wheel-drive as it made its way along a road leading rom Barawe, the site of failed night-time assault that was mounted by US special forces earlier this month, to Jilib in southern Somalia.
Amongst those killed in Monday’s drone strike was Ibrahim Ali Abdi, also known as Anta-Anta. According to Somalia Interior Minister Abdikarin Hussein Guled, Somalia’s intelligence services had been tracking him for some time before the drone strike was carried out. During a government radio interview, the minister stated that “the operation in which this many had been killed was very important for the government. This man had a major role in the death of many innocent civilians and his death will help in brining back peace.” The two other men who were killed in the strike were Abdikarim Kibi-Kibi and Warsame Baale, deputy commanders of two al-Shabaab units that control large areas of southern Somalia.
Somalia’s government officials have described Abdi as being the head of al-Shabaab’s bomb-making division. He was well-known for making suicide bomber vests and preparing car bombs that had been used regularly by militants in order to attack government officials and African Union peacekeepers. According to the Prime Minister’s spokesman, who noted that the Somali government had welcomed the strike, “he was al-Shabaab’s chief suicide bomb-maker, he was responsible for numerous bomb attacks which claimed the lives of many Somalis,” adding that “it is a victory for the Somali people that such dangerous individuals should be taken out.” So far, there have been no comments released by al-Shabaab, however the death of a top bomb-maker will likely force the group to reconfigure its operations as they train new militants to take over the role.
While Somali’s Interior Minister did not specify who was behind the drone attack, on official in Washington confirmed that the US army was responsible. While the official did not indicate where the drone was launched from, the US army operates these devices from its bases located in neighboring Djibouti and Arba Minch, in southern Ethiopia. Furthermore, the fact that such an operation was authorized by US President Barack Obama, signifies that officials in Washington will likely now go after operatives even if they have not directly targeted American interests.
The latest strike to target Somalia comes weeks after an audacious attack on the Westgate mall in Nairobi, which was claimed by al-Shabaab and which killed sixty-seven people. The missile strike also follows a raid that was carried out by US Navy SEALs on the southern port city of Barawe in early October. That mission however failed to hit the alleged target, Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir, a senior al-Shabaab militant leader who remains on the run.
The strike comes weeks after an audacious attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, which was claimed by al-Shabaab. It is also the missile strike also follows a raid that was carried out by US Navy SEALS on the southern port city of Barawe in early October. That mission failed to hit the alleged target, Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir, a senior al-Shabaab militant leader.