Piracy at sea is at its lowest level in six years, with 264 attacks recorded, a 40% drop since Somali piracy peaked in 2011.
The drop in worldwide piracy attacks has greatly been due to the dramatic drop of incidents recorded in waters off Somalia. In 2013, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reported fifteen incidents off Somalia. According to its records, this is down from 75 in 2012 and 237 in 2011. The increase of armed guards on vessels, coupled with international navy patrols and the “stabilizing influence” of Somalia’s government have aided in deterring pirate. According to Pottengal Mukundan, IMB’s director, “the single biggest reason for the drop in worldwide piracy is the decrease in Somali piracy off the coast of East Africa,” adding that “it is imperative to continue combined international efforts to tackle Somali piracy. Any complacency at this stage could re-kindle pirate activity.”
The IMB’s annual global piracy report has indicated that more than 300 people were taken hostage at sea in 2013 and 21 were injured, nearly all with guns or knives.
Examining global piracy figures, Indonesia witnessed the most pirate attacks last year, accounting for more than 50 of all reported incidents. However it must be noted that attacks in waters of Indonesia were “low-level opportunistic thefts, not to be compared with the more serious incidents off Africa.” Piracy off West Africa made up 19% of attacks worldwide in 2013. According to the IMB report, Nigerian pirates accounted for 31 of the region’s 51 attacks. These attacks were “particularly violent,” with one crew member killed, and thirty-six people kidnapped and held onshore for ransom.
In November 2013, a United Nations and World Bank report indicated that pirates operating off the Horn of Africa, which are some of the world’s busiest shipping and humanitarian aid routes, had netted more than US $400 million (£251 million) in ransom money between 2005 and 2012.
Meanwhile in neighboring Kenya, the trial of four men charged over the Westgate shopping centre siege began in Kenya’s capital Nairobi.
The four suspected foreigners have denied the charges of aiding a “terrorist group,” and of being in Kenya illegally. However none of the men – named as Mohammed Ahmed Abdi, Liban Abdullah, Adnan Ibrahim, and Hussein Hassan – have been accused of being the gunmen who carried out the attack. While their nationalities have not been disclosed, they are said to be ethnic Somalis.
Police officials in Kenya have also indicated that the four accused had sheltered the attackers in their homes in Eastleigh a Somali neighbourhood in Nairobi, and that they were in contact with the gunmen four days prior to the siege being carried out.
During the first day of the trial, the court heard testimony from security guards who saw what happened when the gunmen launched the attack in September 2013, killing at least sixty-seven people. During his testimony, guard Stephen Juma told the court that he had been directing traffic outside the upmarket shopping centre when a car pulled up and three men jumped out. According to Mr Juma, one of them immediately shot dead a shopper, adding that “I began to hear gunshots, I made a radio call for help while running to the main entrance.” Mr Juma further noted that he could not identify any of the gunmen as their heads and faces had been covered with black headscarves.
The four are the first to be charged over the attack, which was the worst in Kenya since 224 people were killed in the 1998 bombing of the US embassy. Reports have indicated that around forty witnesses are expected to give evidence at the trial, which is likely to last around a week.
Somalia’s al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab confirmed days after the siege at they were behind the attack, indicating that one of its suicide brigades carried out the siege. Although al-Shabaab is fighting for the creation of an Islamic state in Somalia, the militant group has on numerous occasions carried out attacks in neighboring Kenya in a bid to avenge the presence of Kenyan troops in Somalia to bolster the UN-backed central government.
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.
On Friday, officials in Kenya indicating that Somali refugee camps were being used as a safe haven for Islamist militants, adding that the time had come for hundreds of thousands of refugees to go home. According to the country’s Interior Minister, Joseph Ole Lenku, “for many years, Kenya has been host to the largest refugee community in the world, we are host to almost 600,000 refugees. We have welcomed, with open arms, refugees fleeing from insecurity in neighboring countries,” adding that “some of these refugees have abused our hospitality and kindness to plan and launch terror attacks from the safety of the refugee camps. This cannot and should not be allowed to continue.” In the wake of last months attack on the Westgate shopping centre, a number of Kenyan officials have pointed the finger at Dadaab, a Somali refugee camp located in the northeastern region of the country which is home to over 4000,000 people who have fled instability in neighboring Somalia. According to these officials, the refugee camp has turned into a “training ground” for Somali extremists. While the Interior Minister did not indicate that the camp should be immediately lose, he did state that Somalia was “now experiencing relative peace” and that Kenya was now “working closely with the government of Somalia and UNCHR to ensure that the repatriation process is as smooth and humane as possible.” Meanwhile the Interior Minister has also confirmed that fifteen immigration officers had been fired in connection with an ongoing tightening of national security after last month’s attack in Nairobi. According to the minister, fifteen officers were fired for issuing “Kenyan identity documents to illegal immigrants thereby endangering national security.” The minister also vowed a complete audit of all identity cards and passports issues in the last years in order to “flush out those who have been issued with illegal passports and other identification documents.”
Meanwhile on Thursday, authorities in Kenya pledged to boost security for the Nairobi marathon, which is due to take place this Sunday. According to Nairobi deputy police chief Moses Ombati, “we have taken this function very seriously, putting into consideration all the threats we have in the country right now,” adding that “we don’t want a repeat of what happened at Westgate, which took all of us by surprise.” According to the police chief, “we have enhanced security right along the 42 kilometer (26 mile) route, both from the air and on the ground, with restrictions at all the key points. There will also be screening of all the participants.” Over 20,000 local and international athletes are expected to take part in the annual marathon race through the streets of the capital. With security forces on high alert, Nairobi is still reeling from the four-day siege on the upmarket Westgate shopping mall.
One month after Somalia’s al-Shabaab militants stormed Kenya’s Westgate shopping centre, killing sixty-seven people during a four-day siege, the threat from the militant group, and local sympathizers, remains high as officials in Somalia and in the African Union (AU) look towards increasing troop numbers in a bid to completely destroy a group which has transformed itself into a regional threat.
Posters reading “if you haven’t learnt the lesson Westgate, more is coming,” which were posted up last week during rallies held in the southern Somali port of Barawe, an al-Shabaab stronghold, confirm what is already going on throughout the country. Over the past number of months, al-Shabaab has significantly increased its attacks, both within Somalia and near the border regions with Kenya and Ethiopia, both countries which have deployed troops to Somalia in order to combat the militant group. While these attacks will not stop any time soon, recent remarks made by commanders within the group have indicated that al-Shabaab may increasingly place pressure on those states that have deployed troops in Somalia in a bid to force their withdrawal.
While over the past two years, AMISOM forces throughout Somalia have dislodged al-Shabaab from a number of its strongholds, including from the capital city of Mogadishu and the surrounding regions, as well as from the southern port city of Kismayo, the militant group has continued to carry out assassinations of politicians and journalists along with a number of suicide bombings that have targeted troops and security officials. While most of the groups‘ previous attacks have typically been small in scale, al-Shabaab has carried out large scale attacks in Somalia and in the region, such as the June 2013 attack on a UN compound in Mogadishu or the 2010 bombings in Kampala which killed seventy-six people. However this more recent attack on the Nairobi mall has demonstrated a significant and worrying step up in al-Shabaab’s operations, with the group now seemingly increasingly concentrating on attacks that require longer periods of planning and surveillance. Uganda’s announcement last week that it had increased its security level in the capital city of Kampala, after officials from the US Embassy indicated that they had credible information of a possible terror attack linked to al-Shabaab, also signified that the terrorist group may now increasingly focus on targeting regional interests, especially in those countries which have deployed troops to battle the militant group in Somalia. This recent move may also signify that al-Shabaab is turning its focus from Somalia’s internal politics to a more global agenda, similar to al-Qaeda, which the group is aligned with.
The battle to defeat al-Shabaab will now likely have to concentrate not only within Somalia, but also throughout the wider region, including in the countries that have deployed their armies in Somalia, such as Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. While the AU force in Somalia has requested that its size be increased by a quarter, which will amount to 23,000 troops, preventing al-Shabaab from attaining territorial gains within Somalia will not eliminate the group entirely. A UN report recently indicated that “al-Shabaab continues to pose a regional and international threat through its affiliates,” noting that as AU troops have seized more territory throughout Somalia, there has been an “increasing exodus” of foreign fighters, some of whom left “with the intention of supporting jihad in the region.” Last week’s announcement that a Norwegian citizen of Somali origin, 23-year-old Hassan Abdi Dhuhulow, was suspected of being one of the attackers in the Westgate incident confirmed what United Nations experts have already noted. That dozens, if not hundreds, of young men from countries across the Horn of Africa travel to Somalia in order to train with al-Shabaab militants. In turn, it remains unknown whether the Westgate attackers were sent specifically from Somalia, or whether they were a “homegrown” team recruited within Kenya. Consequently increasingly focusing on fighters coming from Western or Arab nations, along with local sympathizers and groups aligned with al-Shabaab across eastern Africa, will be a necessary step in fighting the militant group.