Dylann Hanrahan ‘25
Violence erupted in Somalia on October 29th when a double car bomb attack carried out by Al-Shabaab outside Somalia’s Education Ministry resulted in 100 casualties and 300 injuries in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu. This is the highest civilian death toll from an attack in five years. According to reports, the first blast left the street in chaos with the injured screaming for help while the second blast targeted paramedics and drivers aiding in the emergency response. Many ambulances and their crew were obliterated. Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulle, a Somali journalist working for Voice of America (VOA), was one of three journalists to arrive on scene and report on the first attack and was soon thereafter caught in the second blast. The second bomb severed two of Abdulle’s fingers and blasted him with shrapnel.
The U.S. Treasury Department authorized sanctions on Tuesday against networks of weapon traffickers with ties to the Islamic State and Al-Shabaab in Somalia. State Department spokesman Ned Price stated that the weapon network primarily operates between Somalia and Yemen. This announcement of sanctions on the network of weapons gives an insight into the smuggling process. Abdirahman Mohamed Omar, a sanctioned member of ISIS-Somalia and considered one of the most active arms importers in Somalia, is accused by the U.S. Treasury Department of allegedly taking AK-47 rifles and machine guns out of nearby Yemen by hiding them under ice and fish, and then, in Somalia, the weapons are hidden in sugar and rice sacks which are loaded onto camels.
Historically, militia groups have been a part of Somalia’s conflict, most notably their ongoing civil war which began over three decades ago. Often these groups coalesce as a response to unrest, vulnerability, conflict, etc. Somalia’s state-aligned militias can allow for the rise of militant groups such as Al-Shabaab. Al-Shabaab’s agenda is clear with an aim to rid Somalia of any foreign forces and to implement an Islamic State. One cannot explain in a short article the motivations of Al-Shabaab, a sect of Al-Queda. For Al-Shabaab, these goals are only achievable through reformation of Somali society. The group is suspected to receive millions of dollars each year from taxes they impose in Somalia under their control. Somalia’s President has stated that he vows to shut down these revenue streams, but it will be no easy task. President Mohamud additionally stated there is evidence that the money collected by Al-Shabaab is used to finance other terrorist groups in Mozambique and Nigeria, while some goes directly to al-Qaeda terrorists. The President’s comments were the first statements made by the Somali government to acknowledge Al-Shabaab’s earnings through extortion. The U.S. Panel of Experts report on Somalia from earlier this year said Al-Shabaab has around 100 checkpoints throughout the country, in which they impose taxes on trucks transporting goods. The Hiraal Institute estimates that Al-Shabaab has enough money to spend $24 million each year on weapons. Al-Shabaab has exploited weaknesses in the Somali government’s bank and money transfer system which points to a need for strengthening the country’s poor oversight of economic transactions.
It is important to note that Somali viewpoints are not always directly antagonistic towards Al-Shabaab. The group has an extensive youth recruitment process (Al-Shabaab literally translates to “the youth”) which enforces radicalization through vulnerable targets with an emphasis on issues of identity, theology and ideology, and even economic exclusion. Understanding Al-Shabaab from all angles through analytical analysis is crucial in my opinion. A grounded background of the terrorist group will help the Somali government and now the U.S., posit methods to stop possible threats of violence and insurgence. Additionally, an understanding may contribute to peace efforts and assist stability in the region. While the group has committed violent atrocities and many would argue the latter, it is clear the only way to avoid or limit civilian casualties is to communicate with and attempt to reason with Al-Shabaab members with an understanding of their mindset.
Somalia President, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud publicly called out Al-Shabaab in his Sunday address to the country stating, “These are men who could not face our army on the battlefield and have resorted to attacking from the rear to inflict harm on innocent civilians.” Al-Shabaab’s recent violent insurgence comes as no surprise to many as the group has lost more ground in the last four months than in over five years. Al-Shabaab’s so called economic empire is also under fire as the U.S. places sanctions with the aid of Somalia’s government. Rashid Abdi, chief analyst at the Nairobi-based Sahan Research think tank exclaimed on Twitter, “Brace. It will get worse before it gets better.”