US-tar­geted Daesh in So­ma­lia could be a ‘sig­nif­i­cant threat’

The coun­try with its weak govt al­ready strug­gles to com­bat Al-Shabab

Arab News - - INTERNATIONAL -

MO­GADISHU: The Daesh group’s grow­ing pres­ence in So­ma­lia could be­come a “sig­nif­i­cant threat” if it at­tracts fighters flee­ing col­laps­ing strongholds in Syria and Iraq, ex­perts say, and al­ready it seems to be in­flu­enc­ing lo­cal Al-Shabab ex­trem­ists to adopt tac­tics like be­head­ings.

The US mil­i­tary this month car­ried out its first drone strikes against Daesh fighters in So­ma­lia, rais­ing ques­tions about the strength of the group that emerged just two years ago. A sec­ond strike tar­geted the fighters on Sun­day, with the US say­ing “some ter­ror­ists” were killed.

Daesh burst into pub­lic view in So­ma­lia late last year as dozens of armed men seized the port town of Qan­dala in the north­ern Punt­land re­gion, call­ing it the seat of the “Is­lamic Caliphate in So­ma­lia.” They be­headed a num­ber of civil­ians, caus­ing more than 20,000 res­i­dents to flee, and held the town for weeks un­til they were forced out by So­mali troops, backed by US mil­i­tary ad­vis­ers.

Since then, Daesh fighters have stormed a ho­tel pop­u­lar with gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials in Punt­land’s com­mer­cial hub of Bos­saso and claimed their first sui­cide at­tack at a Bos­saso se­cu­rity check­point.

This long-frac­tured Horn of Africa na­tion with its weak cen­tral gov­ern­ment al­ready strug­gles to com­bat Al-Shabab, an ally of Al-Qaeda, which is blamed for last month’s truck bomb­ing in Mo­gadishu that killed more than 350 in the coun­try’s dead­li­est at­tack.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion early this year ap­proved ex­panded mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions in So­ma­lia as it puts coun­tert­er­ror­ism at the top of its Africa agenda. The US mil­i­tary on Sun­day told The As­so­ci­ated Press it had car­ried out 26 airstrikes this year against Al-Shabab and now Daesh.

Two years ago, some of its fighters be­gan to split away to join Daesh. Some small pro-Daesh cells have been re­ported in Al-Shabab’s south­ern So­ma­lia strong­hold, but the most prom­i­nent one and the tar­get of US airstrikes is in the north in Punt­land, a hot­bed of arms smug­gling and a short sail from Ye­men.

The Daesh fighters in Punt­land are now thought to num­ber around 200, ac­cord­ing to a UN re­port re­leased this month by ex­perts mon­i­tor­ing sanc­tions on So­ma­lia. The ex­perts trav­eled to the re­gion and in­ter­viewed sev­eral im­pris­oned Daesh ex­trem­ists.

The UN ex­perts doc­u­mented at least one ship­ment of small arms, in­clud­ing ma­chine guns, de­liv­ered to the Daesh fighters from Ye­men. “The ma­jor­ity of arms sup­plied to the ISIL fac­tion orig­i­nate in Ye­men,” Daesh de­fec­tors told them.

A phone num­ber pre­vi­ously used by the Daesh’s US-sanc­tioned leader, Ab­dulqadir Mu­min, showed “re­peated con­tact” with a phone num­ber se­lec­tor used by a Ye­men­based man who re­port­edly serves as an in­ter­me­di­ary with se­nior Daesh lead­ers in Iraq and Syria, the ex­perts’ re­port says.

While Daesh in So­ma­lia has a small num­ber of for­eign fighters, the Punt­land gov­ern­ment’s weak con­trol over the ru­ral Bari re­gion where the ter­ror group is based “ren­ders it a po­ten­tial haven” for for­eign Daesh fighters, the re­port says.

Daesh’s grow­ing pres­ence brought an an­gry re­sponse from Al-Shabab, which has sev­eral thou­sand fighters and holds vast ru­ral ar­eas in south­ern and cen­tral So­ma­lia, in some cases within a few dozen miles of Mo­gadishu.

Al-Shabab ar­rested dozens of mem­bers ac­cused of sym­pa­thiz­ing with Daesh and re­port­edly ex­e­cuted sev­eral, ac­cord­ing to an up­com­ing ar­ti­cle for the Com­bat­ing Ter­ror­ism Cen­ter at West Point by the cen­ter’s Ja­son Warner and Caleb Weiss with the Long War Jour­nal.

Civil­ians in ar­eas un­der Al-Shabab con­trol have suf­fered. “Pos­si­bly in re­sponse to the grow­ing promi­nence of ISIL, Al-Shabab im­posed more vi­o­lent pun­ish­ments, in­clud­ing am­pu­ta­tions, be­head­ing and ston­ing, on those found guilty of spy­ing...,” the new UN re­port says.

Al-Shabab mil­i­tants sit out­side a build­ing in Dayni­ile, So­ma­lia, in a file photo. (Reuters)

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