9 July 2014

Somalia: Security Chiefs Sacked After Al-Shabaab Attacks Villa Somalia Again

Mogadishu — Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud sacked his police and intelligence chiefs Wednesday (July 9th) after al-Shabaab fighters launched an assault against the presidential palace for the second time this year.

An al-Shabaab spokesman confirmed that the group was behind Tuesday's attack, and claimed their commandos had managed to seize the president's office inside the compound known as Villa Somalia.

"The enemy suffered high casualties during the operation," al-Shabaab spokesman Abdulaziz Abu Musab told AFP. "The assault is a victory for us since the foreign installed government said that security was beefed up."

Authorities gave no immediate details of casualties from the attack.

The militants launched a two-pronged attack on the presidential complex, police said, setting off a large bomb at the rear of the compound and then storming in via another entrance. The attack came shortly after the start of iftar, when Muslims end the day's Ramadan fast.

Witnesses said they could hear heavy gunfire and several blasts believed to be from grenades, before the fighting died down around an hour later.

A security official had told AFP earlier that at least nine attackers were involved, and had all been killed. They had been dressed in government army uniforms.

But Information Minister Mustafa Duhulow later said at a joint press conference with the president that there were only four attackers, three of whom were killed in the car park and one captured.

"Fortunately, the prompt actions of the Somali National Army, assisted by AMISOM forces, quickly halted the attack," he said. Bomb disposal experts detonated several explosive devices, "including a suicide vest that one attacker was wearing that had failed to detonate," he said.

Mohamud, who was not in the complex at the time of the attack, delivered a defiant message from Villa Somalia, saying "The attack failed".

"Terrorists can make as many claims and threats on the internet as they want," he said. "I say to them, you will not kill us and nor will you demolish our spirit."

"The Federal Government of Somalia is here to stay, and I am here to stay, with God's will."

Security shake-up:

The morning after the attack, the president announced a shake-up of Somalia's security apparatus.

Colonel Khalif Ahmed Ereg, former Mogadishu intelligence chief, was named as Somalia's new national security minister.

The post had been empty after his predecessor, Abdikarim Hussein Guled, resigned in April following a suicide attack against the federal parliament building while lawmakers were meeting, killing several guards and staff.

Mohamed Sheikh Hassan Ismail was appointed as police commissioner, while Somalia's Ambassador to the United Kingdom Abdullahi Mohamed Ali Sanbaloshe was appointed chief of the National Intelligence Service.

The attack on Tuesday appeared to be a repeat of al-Shabaab's assault against the presidential palace in February, when the militants, wearing Somali army uniforms, managed to penetrate the complex with a car bomb before being killed.

Al-Shabaab commander in Mogadishu Sheikh Ali Mohamed Hussein vowed last month that the capital would become the "frontline" for assaults.

Since Ramadan began at the end of June, al-Shabaab has carried out a number of targeted assassinations and attacks in the capital.

Could al-Shabaab carry out a third attack?

Shamso Ahmed, a 26-year-old mother of two who lives minutes away from Villa Somalia, said that even though no one in her neighbourhood was injured in the attack, fear has taken over and some of the families are considering moving away from the area.

"We are terrified, we were not expecting al-Shabaab was going to be able to attack the presidential palace again," she told Sabahi a few hours after the attack. "I have decided to move [with my family] to one of the other neighbourhoods in the city before al-Shabaab returns to attack us in our houses."

"At this point it is possible for al-Shabaab to carry out a third attack," she said. "I still cannot believe how it was possible for them to enter the presidential compound and fight from inside."

Ali Muse, 42, was breaking his fast at the Village Restaurant near Villa Somalia when the attack took place.

"I could not see what was happening inside," he told Sabahi. "There were several of us in the restaurant and we all spread out to look for cover when the firefight started. If those of us near the compound were feeling under siege, you can imagine how those inside were feeling about their safety."

"The government must thoroughly investigate the security officers tasked to secure the compound," he said, questioning how al-Shabaab was able to bypass security.

Yusuf Nor, a Somali military official at the scene of the attack, said that because some of the militants were wearing Somali military uniforms when they stormed the gate, the guards were confused and let them enter. Amid the confusion, he told the Associated Press, some soldiers fired at their comrades.

Ailments with security personnel:

Centre for Moderation and Dialogue Director Omar Dahir Sheikh Abdirahman said Tuesday's attack was more an indication of the government's inability to properly vet and search their own personnel rather than proof of al-Shabaab's capability to carry-out a large scale attack.

"The attack was carried out by four men driving a small vehicle and the driver was [reportedly] the son of someone who worked in the presidential palace," he said. "He was known in the presidential palace and his vehicle routinely entered the compound."

"It was the duty of officers manning checkpoints at the palace to search that vehicle," Abdirahman said, blaming security personnel for being too lax when searching people they know.

Sabahi contacted government spokesman Ridwan Haji Abdiweli to address allegations that the attackers were helped by someone on the inside, but he declined to comment.

Retired army Colonel Abdikarim Daud, who served under the Mohamed Siad Barre regime, said Tuesday's attack was to be expected considering how slow the administration has been to make changes in the security apparatus.

The long delay to name a replacement for Guled, the former national security minister, compounded by the fear among many officials in the ministry that they would be sacked as part of a reshuffle, weakened an already fragile security environment, he said.

While replacing the police and intelligence chiefs was a decisive reaction to the latest al-Shabaab attack, Daud said, it is not enough to tighten security.

"One new individual will not make a difference, unless there is a clear plan [to improve security] that he can implement when he takes office," Daud told Sabahi.

"The ailment of this administration is the security personnel," he said. "[First], officers must be given their rights and their preparation ensured. After that, a well-defined security plan must be laid out. Unless that is achieved nothing will be accomplished."

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