Somalia begins 2017 under the sign of terrorism

The al-Shabaab extremists began the New Year with two attacks in Mogadishu, the latest of which took place last Wednesday at a United Nations compound near the Somali capital, where four men from DUGUF, a private security company that protects the safety of UN staff and various embassies in Somalia, were injured.

Credit: Feisal Omar / Reuters
Credit: Feisal Omar / Reuters

Just two days earlier, the jihadist group had conducted another terrorist act by means of two suicide bombers, who killed seven people and wounded twenty.

The Somali Islamists used two bomb vehicles, the first intended to spread panic by destroying a checkpoint near Medina Gate, one of the main entrances to the Adan Ade International Airport in the Somali capital, which hosts the main command centre of AMISOM, the regional peacekeeping mission operated by the African Union.

The second suicide vehicle, a truck bomb, crossed a roadblock unmolested and exploded outside the Peace Hotel, located across from the airport and often frequented by foreigners and officials from international organizations.

High-profile terror attacks targeting hotels in Mogadishu

It is not the first time that a Mogadishu hotel frequented by Westerners ended up in the Somali extremists’ sights. In March 2015, in the assault at Maka al-Mukarama Hotel, they killed twenty people, including Somalia’s ambassador to Switzerland and the head of the United Nations Office at Geneva, Yusuf Mohammed Ismail Bari-Bari.

The terrorist raid began with a car bomb detonated by a suicide bomber at the entrance of the hotel, while a simultaneous raid saw armed terrorists shooting the customers.

There was a similarly dynamic move by Somali Islamists on the morning of 1 November, 2015, when they attacked the hotel Sahafi, killing 15 people.

Then, on February 26 last year, they hit another hotel in Mogadishu, the hotel of the Somali Youth League (SYL), located in the city centre, where they killed 14 people.

On June 1, they stormed the Ambassador, another popular hotel in the Somali capital, used by foreigners, especially people from the diplomatic corps. During the attack,  24 people were killed and over sixty wounded.

Only twenty-five days later, al-Qaeda, linked with Somali jihadists, attacked the hotel Hablod Nasa Mogadishu, where 15 people were killed and 25 injured. Again, the terrorists barricaded themselves inside the building taking several people hostage - both customers and service personnel -  just as had happened a little over three weeks before at the hotel Ambassador.

Al-Shabaab is still dangerous and deeply rooted into Somali territory

The power and dynamics of last Monday’s attack show that al-Shabaab is still dangerous and rooted in Somali territory. In recent months, the terrorist organization has demonstrated its ability to recover from a series of significant defeats and setbacks from 2011 until the first half of 2015, which included the elimination of prominent members and the loss of strongholds in parts of south-central Somalia.

Then, from the second half of 2015, al-Shabaab tried to relaunch their offensive effectively, seeking to maintain control of many remote areas in southern and central Somalia, in addition to maintaining the ability to undertake lethal attacks on a large scale.

According to the latest report of the United Nations Monitoring Group on Eritrea and Somalia, the control of large areas in the centre-south of the country allows the jihadist network to put pressure on the rest of the territory, while the repeated attacks of the past eighteen months on AMISOM bases and the Somali army seem to be aimed at driving the peacekeeping forces out of some politically and militarily strategic areas.

The resilience of the extremist group is also highlighted by its recapture of a substantial range of coastal territory south of Mogadishu, essential to undertaking and managing various types of traffic and making them able to exercise some form of control over the distribution of humanitarian aid.

In addition, the re-conquest of some important coastal strongholds and their ports is a significant reverse in the course of the already ten-year old struggle against the Islamic radical movement.

In such conditions, it is clear that at least in the medium term al-Shabaab will continue to pose a serious and persistent threat to Somalia, for the AMISOM troops, and for the security of other countries in the region - especially Kenya and Uganda.

@afrofocus

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