Galkayo — Puntland security forces have increased security operations between Galgala and Bosaso, resulting in a drop in attacks by al-Shabaab militants hiding out in the Golis Mountains, security officials and residents say.
"We have foiled planned attacks in which they wanted to carry out explosions in the city," Bari region Police Chief Osman Hassan Awke told Sabahi. "We would not have been able to achieve that if the public did not assist us. The people we are targeting [in our operations] are terrorists."
The Golis Mountain Militia, led by Mohamed Said Atom, formally pledged its allegiance to al-Shabaab in February 2012. Galgala, from which it often launches its attacks, sits at the foot of the mountain range and provides access to strategic roads to the port of Bosaso, 60 kilometres north-east.
The militia has carried out ambushes along the road between the towns of Bosaso and Kalabeyr, as well as limited attacks on a checkpoint at the entrance to Bosaso, said Osman Mohamed Farah, an officer with the Puntland armed forces.
"Sometimes they fill the roads with large rocks to damage the vehicles of the armed forces and carry out intermittent attacks on the checkpoint at night even though their situation has not been the same recently," he told Sabahi.
In response to the attacks, the regional administration in May launched a series of security operations in Bosaso and surrounding areas.
These included a sweep by government forces of mosques, Qur'an schools, houses and business centres, which led to the arrest of some locals suspected of ties to al-Shabaab, Farah said.
"The people we suspect of having ties with terrorists are [hunted] from all of their hiding places," he told Sabahi. "People who are captured during government sweeps are [prosecuted] based on the rule of law."
The security operations seem to be successful, according to Galgala resident Jibril Haji Hussein, who served as a general under the Mohamed Siad Barre government.
"The Puntland administration has prevented [militants] from accessing important locations such as along the sea where it has deployed extra troops," he said. The combination of stepped up security measures and the influx of al-Shabaab troops coming from southern Somalia needing to recuperate after their losses there have forced the Golis militia to feel the pressure and reconsider some of their operations, he said. "[Militants] have decreased their attacks."
Monitoring traffic from southern Somalia:
Puntland officials are on the lookout for suspected al-Shabaab members and have started questioning citizens coming from southern Somalia. Despite the inconvenience and delays the public faces at checkpoints, travellers who spoke to Sabahi said they welcomed the security operations and want to collaborate to ensure everyone is safe.
Yurubey Abdow Ali, 41, recently arrived in Bosaso from Afgoye with her two sons, aged 17 and 20. "It was my first time in Bosaso, but my husband works there," she told Sabahi. "When we came to the [checkpoint], we were taken out of the vehicle. We were approached by a soldier who asked us where we came from."
Yurubey's two sons were questioned about the purpose of their trip and whether they knew about al-Shabaab or had ever used weapons, she said. "My sons are not among the people who concern themselves with such things because we were farmers," she said. "We were let go ... The troops treated us well while they were questioning us. We were not threatened or harmed in any way. I saw them as people who were doing their jobs and I welcome that."
Another passenger, 26-year-old Abdullahi Yasin Elmi, described his experience at a checkpoint. "I was in a bus when I got to the checkpoint. I was taken off of it and was asked for my full name. After I answered all of the soldiers' questions I was released," he said.
"But I saw a man known to the soldiers who was immediately arrested with his arms behind his back and put in a car as soon as our vehicle arrived [at the checkpoint]," Elmi told Sabahi. "I cannot say where they took him or where he ended up, but he looked like someone on whom they had enough information."
Locals are also helping police and security forces in their mission against terrorism. "We take a major role in security," said Fadumo Nur, a member of the Bari Women's Association. "Since we are not armed [and cannot help on the battlefield], we help them by reporting suspicious activity."
"Until recently the situation in the [Galgala] area was very dangerous because there were ongoing battles, but now it has settled down," she said. Meanwhile, Galgala locals have reported that the whereabouts of Atom are unknown and that an individual by the name of Abduqadir Mumin has temporarily taken over his post.
"We are investigating that information and will not be able to anticipate findings before the security forces complete the investigation," Bari region Police Chief Osman Hassan Awke told Sabahi.