A new disarmament campaign, launched by the Somali government earlier this week, has already netted some 500 guns and has caused heaving fighting to break out in the capital city. On Friday, heavy fighting broke out in Mogadishu as Somali government troops and African Union (AU) forces launched a pre-dawn raid on a house belonging to a former warlord. According to police officer Capt. Mohammed Hussein, seven people were killed in the violence, including four civilians, two militia members and one soldier. Eight people were also wounded.
During the early morning hours on Friday, government troops, backed by the AU mission in Somalia (AMISOM) attempted to seize weapons from militia leader Ahmed Dai before the fighting erupted. A statement released by AMISOM indicated that the mission’s troops took part in a pre-dawn raid on Mr. Dai’s home in a “search operation…following a tip-off that there was an arms cache,” adding that the “militia was overpowered and 20 were arrested.” Mr. Dai, who was not arrested, confirmed that AMISOM forces had carried out a raid on his house noting however that if AMISOM is “…claiming the operation is aimed for disarmament, then I have got not weapons, except a few for self-defense purposes.” Mr. Dai’s home is based in the capital’s Madina district, a neighborhood located close to the heavily defended airport zone, which is also the headquarters of the 22,000-strong AU force.
Government security official Mohamed Yusuf confirmed the fighting, disclosing that militiamen confronted government forces and African troops as they were carrying out security operations in the capital city this morning. Eyewitnesses reported bursts of gunfire and heavy explosions before dawn, with some reports indicating that both sides fired rocket-propelled grenades. The fighting calmed by mid-morning.
Earlier this week, the Somali government launched a disarmament campaign aimed at attempting to reduce the number of weapons and bringing greater security to the capital city, which has seen a number of deadly attacks in recent months. After more than two decades of conflict, Somalia has become awash with guns, resulting in several politicians and local leaders commanding what are effectively private armies. While such forces are not connected to al-Shabaab, who is fighting to topple the internationally backed government, they nevertheless pose a significant threat to Somalia’s fragile security situation. Furthermore, while government officials fear that these weapons may fall into the hands of al-Qaeda-linked fighters, some Somalis believe that the latest campaign is aimed at disarming rivals of the country’s leadership as the country prepares itself for the proposed 2016 national elections.
Government officials disclosed Friday that during the first four days of security operations, some 500 guns were recovered.
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.
The United Nations has launched a human rights investigation into the on-going violence that is taking place in the Central African Republic (CAR). The launch of the investigation comes after the UN Security Council ordered an inquiry in December to identify suspects who could be prosecuted for the violence. On Monday, inquiry head Bernard Acho Muna indicated that he hoped the presence of investigators in the CAR would help prevent genocide. The Cameroonian judge added that “we have to put an end to the impunity,” noting that the “hate propaganda” in the CAR was similar to that in Rwanda before the 1994 genocide that killed about 800,000 people. Speaking at a press conference in Geneva, before heading for the CAR, Mr Muna stated “we don’t wait until genocide is committed and then we call for prosecution….I think it is in our mandate to see how one can stop any advances toward genocide.” The inquiry will “…present to the Security Council a complete file so that the appropriate action can be taken.” A team of UN investigators will arrive in Bangui on Tuesday to begin interviewing Christian and Muslim victims of attacks, as well as senior political and military officials and activist groups. The commission, which includes former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castaneda and Fatimata M’Baye, a lawyer from Mauritania, will spend two weeks in the CAR and will also look into Chad’s role in the violence. They will then draw up a confidential list of suspects for eventual prosecution, which will be submitted to world powers later this year. They will also be in touch with a preliminary inquiry, which will be carried out by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Since the beginning of the conflict last year, thousands of people have been killed while the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) says that about 1.3 million people, a quarter of the population, are in need of aid. Tens of thousand of Muslims have also fled the country as Christian militias have stepped up their attacks since the forced resignation of the CAR’s first Muslim ruler, Michel Djotodia, in January 2014. Many Muslims have crossed the borders into neighbouring Cameroon and Chad, while thousands more are living in camps inside the CAR. Although interim President Catherine Samba Panza has appealed for an end to the bloodshed, this appeal has gone with little success.
On Friday, UN aid chief Valerie Amos announced that fewer than 1,000, of the more than 100,000 Muslims who once lived in the capital city, remain in Bangui.
Somali Forces Launch Operations to Retake al-Shabaab Controlled Regions
Officials indicated Monday that African peacekeepers, operating alongside government forces, have recaptured several strategic towns in the south-western region of Somalia. The recapture comes just days after the African Union’s AMISOM force announced that it had launched a wide scale offensive against al-Shabaab militants in areas located near the Ethiopian border. The operation to remove the militant group from its last remaining strongholds in central and southern Somalia also comes in the wake of a sure of attacks in the country’s capital, Mogadishu, where al-Shabaab continues its bid to oust the internationally-backed government.
Speaking to reports, regional government official Abdulahi Yarisow confirmed the operations, stating “AMISOM and the Somali troops kicked al-Shabaab out of several key towns including Wajid and regional capital Hudur,” adding that “our military advancement will continue until we eliminate the enemy from the rest of the country.” A statement released by AMISOM indicated that troops had secured the towns of Ted, Rabdhure and Buudhubow, effectively driving out al-Shabaab militants from the area. The statement added that “the SNA (Somali National Army) and AMISOM joint operations signal the beginning of the renewed efforts by the Somali government forces working more closely with AMISOM forces to dislodge al-Shabaab from many of its strongholds across the country.”
Although Hudur had been captured from al-Shabaab by Ethiopian troops in March 2012, their withdrawal from the region resulted in the town falling back into the control of al-Shabaab.
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.