Late on Tuesday, al-Shabaab militants continued their assault on the capital city by launching a major bomb attack and armed assault on Somalia’s presidential palace. The latest incident has resulted in the firing of Somalia’s intelligence and police chiefs as the militant group has successfully carried out a number of deadly attacks over the Ramadan period, with warnings that attacks will continue.
The raid began with a suicide bomber detonating a car at a barrier near the entrance to the compound, with militants later attacking the presidential palace from two directions. The attack continued for hours as the militants penetrated the heavily fortified complex and fought with security guards inside. On the ground sources have indicated that Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed were not at the presidential palace at the time of the attack and are both safe.
Local police officer Ali Hussein has confirmed the attack, stating “there was an attack on the presidential palace, with gunmen attacking a checkpoint at the rear of the compound,” adding “there was a major explosion and security forces are fighting them.” It took security officials several hours to control the situation, with sources indicating that at least nine attackers were killed in the incident.
An al-Shabaab spokesman has confirmed that the Al-Qaeda-linked group was behind the attack, claiming that their commandos had managed to seize the president’s office inside the presidential compound known as the Villa Somalia. He further indicated that fourteen government soldiers had been killed in the assault however these claims have not been confirmed by Somali government officials.
During a press conference on Wednesday, Information Minister Mustafa Dhuhulow confirmed that police and intelligence heads – Abdihakim Saaid and Bashir Gobe respectively – have been replaced with immediate effect, adding that three of the attackers have been arrested while a fourth has been killed.
The attack appears to be a repeat of an al-Shabaab assault against the presidential palace that occurred in February. In May the Islamist insurgents also launched a similar attack against the national parliament. At the start of the holy month of Ramadan, al-Shabaab’s spokesman promised that the groups fighters would step up their attacks, particularly throughout the capital city. The militant’s warnings appear to be coming true as al-Shabaab militants have carried out a number of attacks throughout Mogadishu, attacks which have further highlighted the capital’s security issues. Further attacks targeting the Somali government are expected over the coming weeks as al-Shabaab attempts to remove the Western-backed government.
Meanwhile, al-Shabaab has threatened to kill Christians at an exclusive beach resort in Kenya. In leaflets that have been distributed over the past several days, al-Shabaab has threatened to kill Christians staying at beach resorts in Lamu and has warned the Kenyan government against killing their “Muslim brothers”. Over the past several weeks, the Kenyan ooastal area has seen a number of attacks carried out by al-Shabaab militants. Last month, at least eighty-seven people were killed in the area after the militant group launched several attacks.
Police and residents reported Tuesday that an explosion ripped through a football viewing centre in Damaturu, northern Nigeria, as fans were gathering to watch a World Cup game.
The blast, which occurred at the Crossfire venue, in the Nayi-Nawa area of the state capital of Yobe, occurred shortly after the tournament began at 8:00 PM (1900 GMT). Unconfirmed reports have indicated that a suicide bomber has killed at least twenty-one people and wounded twenty-seven. Sanusi Ruf’ai, police commissioner for Yobe state, confirmed the attack, stating “there was an explosion outside a soccer viewing center here in Damaturu at around 8:15 PM….Our men have deployed to the scene but it’s too early for us to give details.” On the ground sources have reported that the area has been cordoned off and that police and soldiers are investigating, while eyewitnesses have indicated that the suicide bomber, who was in a tricycle taxi, detonated explosives as people were watching the match. While there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, suspicions have fallen on Boko Haram, as the militant group has previously targeted big screen venues showing soccer matches.
The latest blast comes after at least two Nigerian states banned viewing centers on security grounds following previous similar attacks, which have been blamed on Boko Haram militants. Last week, authorities in Adamawa state closed viewing centers, where large crowds gather to watch the matches on large screens. The central state of Plateau followed suit days later. The decision by authorities to close the viewing centers is in response to repeated threats by the militant group and a blast that occurred earlier this month. A bomb went off after a football match in the town of Mubi in Adamawa state. The incident killed at least forty people. In May, three people were killed in a blast outside a viewing center that was showing the European Champions League final in the city of Jos, the capital of Plateau state, while in April, suspected Boko Haram gunmen stormed a packed venue in Potiskum, in northeastern Yobe state, shooting dead two people as they watched the Champions League quarter-final matches.
Boko haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau has previously preached against football and has threated to carry out attacks during this year’s World Cup football tournament. In several video clips, he described football and music as a Western ploy to distract Muslims from their religion. While football is Nigeria’s national sport, and has many followers, many residents living in the northern regions of the country have indicated that they will watch the World Cup at home because of fears of Boko Haram attacks.
Similar fears have also put a number of east African nations on high alert amidst fears that Somalia’s al-Qaeda-linked-al-Shabaab will carryout similar attacks during football screenings.
Earlier this week, officials in Britain released warnings to citizens in several east African nations, including Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya, warning of the threat of terrorist attacks at public screenings of the World Cup games. A statement released by Britain’s Foreign Office indicated “previous terrorist attacks in the region have targeted places where football matches are being viewed,” adding that crowded areas, including “transport hubs, hotels, restaurants and bars” are possible targets for the militant group.
In what appears to be a clear sign that al-Shabaab’s recent statement of moving the war to Kenya is now becoming a reality, at least fifty people were killed on Sunday after unidentified gunmen attacked hotels and a police station in a Kenyan coastal town. Sunday’s attack is the deadliest incident to occur in Kenya since last year’s Westgate shopping centre siege.
Late Sunday, around 50-heavily armed gunmen attacked a busy coastal town, opening fire from two minibuses. Witnesses in the town of Mpeketoni, which is located on the mainland near Lamu island, a well-known tourist resort, reported Monday that gun battles, which began around 8:00 PM (1700 GMT), lasted for several hours on Sunday, while several buildings were set on fire. Witnesses have reported that a police station, a bank and two hotels were attacked, however officials have not confirmed the extent of the attack. The latest attack to hit Kenya came as cafes and bars were beginning to fill up with people expected to watch the World Cup game. According to Kenyan army spokesman Major Emmanuel Chirchir, the gunmen entered the western town of Mpeketoni, a trading centre on the main coastal road located around 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the border with Somalia, and began “shooting people around in town.” An investigation has been launched with “surveillance aircraft already airborne,” searching for the attackers, who are believed to have fled into a nearby forest.
While unconfirmed reports had initially indicated that the raid may have been linked to a land dispute between rival communities in the remote area, early on Monday Major Chirchir stated that the attackers are “likely to be al-Shabaab.” This statement was confirmed later Monday when a statement released by the militant group indicated that the attack was revenge for the “Kenyan government’s brutal oppression of Muslims in Kenya through coercion, intimidation and extrajudicial killings of Muslim scholars.” The group also condemned the “Kenyan military’s continued invasion and occupation of our Muslim lands and the massacre of innocent Muslims in Somalia,’ adding “to the tourists visiting Kenya we say this: Kenya is now a war zone and as such any tourists visiting the country do so at their own peril.”
The latest attack in Kenya comes just weeks after al-Shabaab’s most senior commander, Fuad Mohamed Khalaf, released a radio broadcast, urging his fighters to strike Kenya. Rising tensions in Kenya, coupled with on going militant threats and attacks have prompted a number of travel advisories to be issued by countries including the United States and United Kingdom. Following new warnings of terror attacks from Britain’s Foreign Office, hundreds of British tourists were evacuated last month from beach resorts near Kenya’s port city of Mombasa. Earlier this week, Britain released additional warnings to citizens in several East African nations, including Kenya, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Uganda, all of which have troops deployed in Somalia. According to Britain’s Foreign Office, there is currently a heightened threat of attacks at public screenings of the World Cup games. With the on going World Cup football tournament set to end on July 13, further attacks on bars and cafes showcasing the games are highly likely to occur.
While Kenya has suffered numerous militant attacks since deploying troops to neighbouring Somalia to combat the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab in 2011, this is the most deadly attack in the country since at least sixty-seven people were killed during a siege by al-Shabaab fighters at Nairobi’s Westgate shopping centre last September.
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.