Nairobi, December 26, 2009 – On the first Thursday in December a young
Danish-Somali man in women’s clothes blew himself up in a suicide attack
in Mogadishu. Four days earlier, Somali pirates had hijacked a
300,000-tonne supertanker 800 miles out to sea. Somalia’s abject failure
does not end at its own borders: the chaos is spreading far across its
frontiers and beyond its coastline.
Al-Shabaab Islamist insurgents denied responsibility for that suicide
bombing. No one believed them. Civilians braved the streets of Mogadishu
to protest against the attack that killed dozens of medical students and
marked a new low in the country’s violent history.
“It was unprecedented even by Somalia’s bloody standards,” said Rashid
Abdi, a Somalia analyst at the International Crisis Group. “They knew
the civilian casualties would be massive and they didn’t care.”
Mr Abdi said that the attack, which killed three Cabinet ministers,
underlined al-Shabaab’s increasing thrall to al-Qaeda and its ability to
attract recruits from Somali communities abroad. The bombing was “a
classic al-Qaeda tactic. They don’t give a damn what Somalis think. They
don’t care how many bones they break in achieving their aims,” he said.
At al-Shabaab training camps in Somalia, new recruits are taught
guerrilla techniques and bomb-making, and are indoctrinated into the
ideology of martyrdom and suicide bombing by experienced foreign and
Young recruits from within Somalia are, commonly, paid gunmen who have
few alternatives in their shattered country. Others come for ideological
reasons either from the Somali diaspora in Europe, the US and the Middle
East, or from elsewhere in Africa, South Asia and the Arab world.
Fears are growing that diaspora Somalis who come to fight will gain
skills that can later be deployed in their host countries when they
return. Bruno Schiemsky, a Somalia expert and former head of the UN arms
embargo monitoring group, calls these young men “future time bombs”.
Already it is clear that the traffic is not one-way.
In March, a Yemeni extremist trained in Somalia blew himself up in the
mudbrick city of Shibham, killing four South Korean tourists and their
Yemeni guide. In Australia, some of those arrested in August and accused
of planning to launch an al-Qaeda type attack on a military base in the
country had allegedly travelled to Somalia for training.
Somalia’s Government is under siege and its people are under threat of
humanitarian catastrophe and arbitrary murder, but neighboring countries
in the Horn of Africa are also increasingly embroiled in the conflict.
Observers agree that were it not for the protection of 5,000 African
Union peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi, the UN-backed Government of
Sheikh Sharif Ahmed would collapse. Al-Shabaab has threatened attacks on
both countries and one intelligence source told The Times that the group
came close to carrying out a “Mumbai-style” attack on Kampala late last
year. Peter Pham, associate professor at James Madison University in
Virginia, believes that such an attack remains a real possibility: “The
game-changer in 2010 might be al-Shabaab trying to launch an attack in
Uganda or Burundi to get [the peacekeepers] out of Mogadishu.”
As the insurgency gathered momentum, Kenya declared its 400-mile border
with Somalia closed and its security agencies keep a wary eye on the
frontier region and its own Somali communities. But the boundary is so
remote and poorly patrolled as to render the closure meaningless.
Reports suggest that not only is al-Shabaab sourcing recruits among
refugees and Kenya’s ethnic Somali population but that Kenya — a strong
backer of the Somali Government — has begun to press-gang young Somali
refugees into a militia to combat al-Shabaab. Human Rights Watch says
that since October, recruiters have paid Somali refugees to join a
military training programme in Manyani, near Mombasa. The Kenyan
Government has denied the claims but one analyst insisted: “Hundreds of
Manyani graduates are now ready for deployment.”
Kenya and Uganda risk being sucked into Somalia’s war but Ethiopia and
Eritrea are deliberately involved. Christian Ethiopia has long been an
enemy of Muslim Somalia: apart from the religious differences, the two
countries fought a bitter war over the disputed Ogaden territory in the
1970s. It took little coaxing from the US to encourage an Ethiopian
invasion of Somalia in 2006 to oust the Union of Islamic Courts.
Eritrea, always keen to give its bitter enemy Ethiopia a bloody nose,
has offered al-Shabaab training and hardware. Eritrea’s denials are
given little credence. “Eritrea is clearly responsible for a great deal
of what Shabaab is doing,” said Dr Pham.
After a call from the African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority
on Development, a Horn of Africa regional grouping, the UN Security
Council is this week considering imposing an arms embargo and targeted
sanctions on Eritrea.
The aftershocks of Somalia’s total lack of law and order are being felt
beyond the region. In recent months, Somali pirates have launched
attacks and hijacked ships more than 1,000 miles from their coastal
Both are products of Somalia’s chronic lack of governance, but there are
no known ties between the alQaeda-linked Islamists and the pirate gangs.
While the former wage an ideological battle, the latter are ruthless
capitalists in it for the money.
After pirates kidnapped the British couple Paul and Rachel Chandler in
October it was reported that Islamists, far from working with the
pirates, were ready to launch an assault against them to seize the
Imams in al-Shabaab territory have declared piracy unIslamic. Its
continuation indicates the weakness of al-Shabaab’s grip on the Somali
people. Far from garnering support for its extremist ideology,
al-Shabaab “operates on the basis of intimidation and fear”, said David
Shinn, a Horn of Africa specialist and former US envoy in Africa.
Source: Times Online, December 22, 2009