25 October 2013

Somalia: Al-Shabaab Menace Lingers Along Mogadishu's Edge

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
A Predator drone in US Air Force base in 2011's summer.

Mogadishu — Mariam Osman used to have a gold business in Elasha Biyaha until May 2012 when she closed shop and fled as al-Shabaab fighters and Somali government forces battled to gain control of the area.

Even though the government and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces were able to eliminate al-Shabaab from Elasha Biyaha that same month, more than a year later, many residents say they have not been able to return because insecurity persists.

Osman, 50, who asked to use a pseudonym out of fear of al-Shabaab retribution, now lives in Mogadishu's Hodan district, but says the situation is too unstable to reopen her business.

"We cannot trust our lives with going there for business because fighting could break out at any time, as al-Shabaab is not far from there and can carry out operations there at any time," she told Sabahi.

Elasha Biyaha is just northwest of Mogadishu in Lower Shabelle's Lafoole district.

"Among the problems facing that region are ambush attacks by al-Shabaab and al-Shabaab militia hiding among the residents," Osman said.

A recent such attack occurred October 14th when al-Shabaab fighters battled government and allied forces for several hours.

"A group of about 20 al-Shabaab operatives attacked us from Jazeera," Lafoole District Commissioner Ibrahim Gedi told Sabahi. "We were able to defend ourselves and did not suffer any damage, but we do not know if they did."

Gedi said his district was still vulnerable to terrorist attacks, and that the federal government had yet to send in police reinforcements to bolster security around Lafoole.

In the meantime, al-Shabaab operatives have been able to hide out among the local population, he said.

"There are only military troops here, and they are not capable of going among the people and weeding out al-Shabaab because that is not their job," Gedi said. "The military function like the police here. And that is not a solution, so the government has to bring police here."

Continuing threat in Benadir

Residents of Yaqshid, Hiliwa and Daynile -- three districts in Benadir region that were also freed from al-Shabaab control last year -- have expressed similar fears about their sense of safety from the lingering militant threat.

"Security and police forces do not operate here and have no station [in the district] where they can be contacted," said 43-year-old Daynile resident Farhiya Abdi. "We need a police force to be brought to the area so they can ensure security."

Even though the area was liberated from al-Shabaab, it still lacks the kind of stability that people enjoy in other parts of Benadir under government control, said Hussein Ga'al, a 25-year-old Daynile resident.

"People in the government, such as representatives, do not live here because they are concerned about their safety," he told Sabahi.

In the past two months, government troops began moving out of some of the bases they had captured from al-Shabaab last year, leaving residents vulnerable to the terrorists again, said 26-year-old Yaqshid resident Fadumo Hirsi.

Al-Shabaab's presence has grown in the Gupta neighbourhood of Yaqshid to the point where militants openly execute people, according residents.

"We see al-Shabaab conducting operations here. They kill people here and do whatever they want," Sheikh Abdullahi, 66, told Sabahi. "Two months ago they came to the shop of a young man and ordered him to close his shop and come outside. They then killed him in a clearing outside his shop, and no one came to his aid."

Intelligence forces on alert

Benadir regional administration spokesman Mohamed Yusuf Osman told Sabahi they have deployed plain-clothes intelligence forces to the districts to secure the area instead of having military soldiers carrying guns among the people.

He said there are enough intelligence forces in the neighbourhoods to ensure security.

"People do not know [there are] intelligence forces [in their neighbourhoods] because they secure the peace in secret, but we have not abandoned them," Osman said. "The intelligence forces live in neighbourhoods like civilians. They have shops and [work undercover] in order to ensure security, and that is the peacekeeping plan that we use to secure those areas."

Osman said they have relocated the military forces to bases outside of residential areas after complaints from residents who said they were troubled by having soldiers living in their midst.

"We have moved the troops to separate bases so that they are not roaming around in the neighbourhoods since the public has made that request," he said.

There are neighbourhood gangs that pretend to be part of al-Shabaab to scare off citizens, Osman said. Police have arrested some of them, but have not charged them with major crimes.

"We educate them and rehabilitate them since we have not found them guilty of a major crime," he said.

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