One year af­ter blasts, So­mali ter­ror group is cur­tailed

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY IOAN­NIS GATSIOUNIS

KAM­PALA, UGANDA | A So­ma­l­ibased ter­ror­ist group sent an un­mis­tak­able mes­sage on July 11, 2010 when it bombed two night­clubs here: It had the abil­ity and de­ter­mi­na­tion to strike out­side So­ma­lia, the failed, vi­o­lent nation on the Horn of Africa.

Al-Shabab op­er­a­tives reached across neigh­bor­ing Kenya to hit Uganda, tar­geted be­cause it had 5,000 peace­keep­ing troops sta­tioned in So­ma­lia to help sta­bi­lize a coun­try that last had a func­tion­ing gov­ern­ment 20 years ago.

The re­gion braced for more at­tacks from al-Shabab, as an­a­lysts pre­dicted sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa would be­come the world’s new bat­tle­front of terrorism.

A year later, how­ever, alShabab has scored only one fol­low-up at­tack out­side So­ma­lia, when a grenade det­o­nated pre­ma­turely and killed three peo­ple be­side a Kam­pala Coach bus in Nairobi, Kenya, in De­cem­ber. Its goal of turn­ing So­ma­lia into an Is­lamic state looks ever more im­prob­a­ble.

Within the last month alone, African Union peace­keep­ers have wrested con­trol of key sup­ply routes in So­ma­lia’s cap­i­tal, Mo­gadishu. Peace­keep­ing troops from the African Union Mis­sion in So­ma­lia (AMISOM) have en­cir­cled Bakara Mar­ket, alShabab’s last ma­jor strong­hold in the city.

On June 8, the So­ma­lian mil­i­tary picked off Ab­dul­lah Fazul, al Qaeda’s East African leader, who mas­ter­minded the U.S. Em­bassy bomb­ings in Kenya and Tan­za­nia in 1998 and was sus­pected of hav­ing ties to al-Shabab.

Dozens of al-Shabab fight­ers have de­fected. AMISOM now con­trols 13 of 16 dis­tricts in and around Mo­gadishu, as well as key towns in south­ern So­ma­lia, ac­cord­ing to Felix Ku­laigye, a spokesman for the Ugan­dan Peo­ple’s De­fense Force.

“They turned out to be a bless­ing in dis­guise,” said Mr. Ku­laigye of the 2010 bomb­ings that det­o­nated in the clos­ing min­utes of the World Cup soc­cer fi­nals and left 78 dead, in­clud­ing one Amer­i­can.

The ter­ror­ist at­tacks led to an ex­pand­ing role for AMISOM troops, al­low­ing them to ini­ti­ate pre-emp­tive strikes rather than just re­act in self-de­fense.

“Be­fore that, we were sitting ducks,” Mr. Ku­laigye ex­plained.

Some ob­servers feared that Uganda’s new peace­keep­ing role, along with Pres­i­dent Yow­eri Mu­sev­eni’s re­solve to keep his troops on the ground in So­ma­lia, would be­come a re­cruit­ment tool for al-Shabab. Uganda and Bu­rundi ac­count for nearly all of AMISOM’s troops in So­ma­lia.

How­ever, al-Shabab has lost pop­u­lar sup­port over the past year, as it has grown more mil­i­tant and frag­mented along clan lines.

The rag­tag group, num­ber­ing around 3,000, rode to promi­nence on a na­tion­al­ist wave in 2009, when it was seen as the only force ca­pa­ble of beat­ing back oc­cu­py­ing Ethiopian forces.

But its ruth­less tac­tics have alien­ated most So­ma­lis. In its strongholds, al-Shabab banned view­ing of the World Cup and pub­licly be­headed ac­cused crim­i­nals.

Now, judg­ing from the amount of am­mu­ni­tion the group has been dis­pens­ing, al-Shabab is fac­ing a short­age of fund­ing. The Ugan­dan gov­ern­ment, mean­while, re­cently an­nounced it will soon de­ploy 3,000 ad­di­tional troops to So­ma­lia.

With prospects dim­ming do­mes­ti­cally, the al-Shabab ap­pears to be turn­ing its at­ten­tion to­ward civil­ian tar­gets abroad.

In May, Ugan­dan authorities ar­rested four So­ma­lis sus­pected of hav­ing links to al-Shabab, as they were caught en­ter­ing Uganda through Su­dan. In April, Kenyan po­lice ar­rested eight terrorism sus­pects in con­nec­tion with planned Easter at­tacks in Nairobi.

On June 16, Kenyan of­fi­cials nabbed two sus­pected ter­ror­ist fi­nanciers in the coastal town of Mom­basa, one of them, Mark Ture Somerville, an Amer­i­can.

Andrew Mwan­gura, mar­itime edi­tor of So­ma­lia Re­port, said alShabab poses a se­ri­ous threat re­gion­ally be­cause of poor in­tel­li­gence gather­ing and co­op­er­a­tion among East African gov­ern­ments, cor­rupt law en­force­ment agen­cies and the lure of de­viant teach­ings of Is­lam.

Al-Shabab could also find re­cruits among job­less youth. Un­em­ploy­ment among young peo­ple sits at nearly 80 per­cent in Uganda and 65 per­cent in Kenya.

Those fac­tors have plagued the re­gion at least since the July 2010 bomb­ings. How­ever, the past year has seen stronger col­lab­o­ra­tion among re­gional and in­ter­na­tional part­ners in in­tel­li­gence shar­ing, mil­i­tary equip­ment, train­ing and fund­ing.

The Euro­pean Union an­nounced a $92 mil­lion con­tri­bu­tion to AMISOM in March, bring­ing its to­tal con­tri­bu­tion since 2007 to $291 mil­lion. The U.S. gov­ern­ment has de­liv­ered $274 mil­lion in equip­ment, lo­gis­tics and train­ing to AMISOM since 2007 and $85 mil­lion to So­ma­lia’s U.N.-backed tran­si­tional fed­eral gov­ern­ment since 2009.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

They re­mem­ber: Rel­a­tives of vic­tims who died in bomb blasts in Uganda’s cap­i­tal city Kam­pala light can­dles July 11 dur­ing a me­mo­rial ser vice mark­ing the one-year an­niver­sar y of a dou­ble sui­cide bomb at­tack that killed 76 peo­ple who had gath­ered to watch the World Cup soc­cer fi­nal.

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