10 May 2013

Somalia: Al-Shabaab Strikes Back

Photo: United Nations
Federal government troops attacked in Mogadishu (file photo).

Al-Shabaab is targeting government officials, AMISOM peacekeepers, Turkish and now Qatari nationals in suicide attacks.

On 5 May 2013, at KM4 junction near Mogadishu's airport, a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (IED) targeted a government convoy escorting Qatari delegates, eight civilians were killed and 20 were injured.

While al-Shabaab had claimed to have withdrawn from Mogadishu in August 2011, the jihadi group has since focused on targeting government officials, AU peacekeepers (AMISOM), Turkish interests and now Qatari nationals in suicide IED attacks. Despite efforts to establish a secured area around the capital's key sites - such Bakara market and federal government buildings - al-Shabaab has demonstrated its capability to infiltrate and stage high casualty attacks in a bid to destabilise President Mohamud's government.

Turkey and Qatar are seen to be allies of President Mohamud, with the latter allegedly supporting Mohamud's Damul Jadid, a splinter faction of al-Islah, the Somali equivalent to the Muslim Brotherhood. Since Mohamud's election in August 2012, his regime has faced mounting criticism of undermining devolution and instead concentrating power within his Abgal Hawiye clan and Damul Jadid. Reports indicate that owing to these grievances al-Shabaab has exploited rising inter-clan rivalries to win support in rural areas, but also to gain access to Somali National Army uniforms and key sites within major cities such as Mogadishu and Kismayo.

Over the past two months, al-Shabaab attacks have become increasingly bold but restricted to the government and its allies. On 10 April, simultaneous attacks targeted Mogadishu's High Court and a Turkish Red Crescent convoy travelling near KM4 junction. However, AMISOM security will mitigate risks of the group attacking prime targets like the presidential compound (Villa Somalia) and Mogadishu's Aden Adde International Airport. Within the central Benadir region, government, Western, Turkish and Qatari personnel and assets will be vulnerable to IED attack and abduction whilst in transit.

In Kismayo, Somalia's second largest port, al-Shabaab has already been successful in breaching AMISOM-secured areas to attack high-profile targets. On 29 April, al-Shabaab raided Kismayo airport and launched mortars at Kenyan AMISOM forces, claiming to have killed at least eight soldiers. With greater mobility in Kismayo and the southern Jubba provinces, the group poses risks of attack on parked and low-flying aircraft, particularly those transporting military supplies. Cargo movement in Somalia's central and southern regions (Kismayo, Marka) will be at high risk of extortion and theft by al-Shabaab militants. In the northern Puntland and Somaliland regions, despite al-Shabab being newer to these areas, oil related operations will be at risk of ambush and abduction.

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