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Extremist Violence Returns to Hit Mogadishu

MOGADISHU/NAIROBI, Aug 3 2013 (IPS) - As the Somali government announced it would set up a coastguard to combat piracy in this Horn of African nation, insecurity is emerging as the biggest challenge that the government faces – and it is only getting worse.

Osman Aweis Dahir, director of the local Dr. Ismail Jimale Human Rights Organisation, said that the Somali militant group Al-Shabaab has renewed its campaign to bring instability to the country’s capital Mogadishu.

“The little stability that the city had experienced since the Al-Shabaab withdrawal appears to have been broken,” Dahir told IPS from Mogadishu. The Islamist extremist group was forced out of its bases in Mogadishu on Aug. 6, 2011 by Somali and African Union peace-keeping forces. Until the withdrawal, the government only controlled half of the city.

But in recent weeks there has been a rise in the number of ambushes, assassinations and suicide bombs in Somalia’s capital.

“The city is like an open shop in a market which its owner has left [unattended].” -- Jama Ahmed Siad, local security expert

“The city has experienced its deadliest attacks in recent times during the past two weeks,” said Dahir. More than 60 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in several incidents across Mogadishu. This is a setback to the rising hopes of a return to relative security.”

On Tuesday, Jul. 30, an officer from Somalia’s National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) was assassinated by Al-Shabaab. His name was added to the growing list of government officials killed over the last three weeks. Included on that list is female deputy commissioner of Mogadishu’s Yaqshid district, Rahma Dahir Siad, who was killed outside her home on Jul. 17.

Even foreign diplomats are not safe in the city. On Jul. 27, Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for an attack on the Turkish embassy that killed three people.

It was the second that day. A few hours earlier a bomb planted inside a member of parliament’s vehicle exploded in the north of the city.

On Jul. 24, Sheikh Abdu Aziz Abu Musab, Al-Shabaab’s military spokesman, said that his group carried out over 100 attacks between Jul. 10 and 24. Half of these, he said, occurred in Mogadishu.

“If anything, the sharp rise in such coordinated attacks is a clear testament to the strength of the Mujahidin and their operational capacity,” he told a pro-Islamist radio station in Somalia.

Somali Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdoon acknowledged his disappointment at the government’s weak handling of the security situation in the country. “We are very concerned [about] the security matter and it was not handled the way we wanted,” Shirdoon told reporters in Mogadishu on Jul. 18. He promised to improve the city’s security.

But Jama Ahmed Siad, a security expert based in Mogadishu, said the government was negligent and lacked a clear strategy to counter the Islamist extremist group’s switch to guerrilla-style warfare.

“Security is the key to all problems in Somalia and when you solve it, you have solved half the problem,” Siad told IPS, adding that the government is yet to understand that.

“For instance, the NISA agents have reduced their presence on the roads entering Mogadishu for the past three months. They used to inspect the vehicles and people entering the city at these checkpoints, where they previously captured members of Al-Shabaab trying to infiltrate the city,” Siad added.

A senior officer at NISA told IPS that the agency had handed the control of these checkpoints to the Somali police and military “but there is a plan to deploy NISA’s agents back there very soon.”

Mohamed Elmi, a civil society activist in Mogadishu, said the government’s main challenge was how to combat the suicide car bombings. He told IPS that government forces did not have the advanced weaponry, technology and training for this.

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud told journalists on Monday, Jul. 29: “The security forces are at war…but it is not easy to find a suicide car moving around in a city of two million.”

The presidential spokesman, Abdirahman Omar Osman, and the prime minister’s spokesperson, Ridwan Haji Abdiweli, refused to comment to IPS on the security situation in the city.

But one government official told IPS that the government had, on the day of the Turkish embassy bombing, deployed a 1,000-strong counter-terrorism force on the streets in Mogadishu. “The elite force with unique uniforms armed with advanced weapons and their vehicles painted in a distinctive colour are assigned to cleaning up the city of Al-Shabaab members,” said the officer who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

Siad said such a force was unlikely to counter the Islamists’ increasing terror attacks. “There is no single Islamist base in the city, but several secret bases that they use. Therefore, such deployment is unhelpful,” he said.

He said the government needed to concentrate efforts on gathering intelligence relating to these secret Al-Shabaab bases and the organisation’s leaders in the city.

Dahir said the government’s weak handling of the country’s internal security casts doubt on its ability to deliver its Six Pillar Policy – a policy framework that aims to secure progress in the areas of security, stability, justice, economic recovery, peace-building, and service delivery.

In a policy brief released in April, the Heritage Institute for Policy Studies (HIPS), the country’s first think tank, praised the government’s foreign policy and diplomatic successes.

Somalia has been gaining more visibility in the international arena, with Mohamud paying high-level visits to Washington, London, Ankara, Brussels, Cairo and several other countries to build his government’s image.

“However, there are disturbing signs of an imbalance between foreign policy priorities and domestic achievements,” the HIPS report said.

And until the issue of domestic security is resolved, Mogadishu’s occupants will remain vulnerable.

“The city is like an open shop that its owner has left,” Siad said.

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