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Al Shabaab Attacks in Somalia Scuttle Amisom’s Plan to Withdraw

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by Mohammed Sergie and Donna Abu-Nasr

African troops battling an al-Qaeda affiliate in Somalia for the past decade stand little chance of withdrawing by their deadline in two years as the government remains fragile and a spike in militant violence has drawn in U.S. forces.

The longest-running African Union peacekeeping mission, known as Amisom, operates in a shattered country whose lawlessness has bred regional violence — al-Shabaab has staged attacks in Kenya, Uganda and Djibouti — and piracy that plagued global shipping in the early 2000s. Over the past year, the U.S. has boosted its cooperation with the Somali army, targeting al-Shabaab and an Islamic State faction. The U.S. Africa Command said al-Shabaab controls about a fifth of Somalia, mainly in the south.

Assaults on Ugandan peacekeepers this month show the challenge still facing the mission that deployed in 2007 as al-Shabaab stepped up its violence. Since October, Somalia has suffered its deadliest attack in three decades of civil war, debate in parliament threatened to turn violent and the federal and regional governments have been at loggerheads.

Amisom officials still talk as if departure is imminent and say 1,000 troops from about 22,000 uniformed personnel will leave this year. Yet in March they asked the United Nations to repeal a resolution to trim the force, which also includes Kenyan, Ethiopian, Djiboutian and Burundian soldiers.

‘Extremely Unrealistic’

A 2020 exit is “extremely unrealistic,” said Richard Cole, a former adviser to Somalia’s army. Talk of leaving is based on the “war-weariness” of the troop-contributing countries rather than “the situation on the ground, where al-Shabaab has not been decisively defeated and remains a constant threat,” he said.

Amisom’s deputy head of mission, Simon Mulongo, said it “will most likely stay longer than 2020-21 because of challenges to statehood development, despite significant gains registered.” Without Amisom, the insurgents are “capable of easily retaking the reins of power,” he said.

Many Somali officials agree 2020 isn’t feasible. The chief inspector of police, Hassan Mohamed Nur, said by phone that the army won’t be able to take over without increased capacity, an organizational overhaul and a comprehensive training program.

Political Quarrels
Political disputes among Somali officials are the Achilles’ heel of government forces, said Hussein Sheikh Ali, a former national security adviser. Amisom is undermined by a “lack of commitment” to finish the job and “constant clashes” between international donors, he said. The spokesman for the Internal Security Ministry, Abdulaziz Ali Ibrahim, said the current priority is solving splits in the government.

Amisom’s departure needs institutions that can assume responsibility for security, according to Matt Bryden, director of Sahan Research, an institute in neighboring Kenya and a former head of a UN sanctions monitoring group on Somalia.

“That scenario will prove unattainable unless there exists a stable political settlement, not only in Mogadishu, but also between the federal government and authorities in other regions,” he said.

Withdrawal ‘Premature’
Uganda’s army, the largest contributor to Amisom with more than 6,000 troops, has changed its stance on an early pullout after a review, military spokesman Richard Karemire said by phone from the capital, Kampala.

In Kenya — whose army invaded Somalia in 2011, citing a wave of cross-border abductions by al-Shabaab, and later joined Amisom — opinion polls show the majority of Kenyans want the troops home.

While Kenyan army spokesman David Obonyo acknowledged it would “be premature to withdraw before the country is fully fortified,” the presence of his nation’s forces depends on Amisom’s UN mandate continuing. Officials from Djibouti, Ethiopia and Burundi didn’t answer calls seeking details on their withdrawal plans.

For Cole, the former Somalia army adviser, there’s simply no alternative to Amisom at the moment.

“While many Somalis berate and mock Amisom based on long-held grievances, they remain the only realistic option,” he said.

— With assistance by Fred Ojambo, and Desire Nimubona

Somali News

Kansas Trio Convicted in Plot to Bomb Somali Immigrants

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WICHITA, Kan. — A federal jury on Wednesday convicted three men of plotting to bomb an apartment complex where Somali immigrants lived and worshiped in Garden City, Kan., giving prosecutors a victory at a time when threats against religious and racial minorities are rising nationally.

“These defendants conspired to build a bomb, blow up a building and murder every single man, woman and child inside,” Tony Mattivi, a federal prosecutor, told jurors during closing statements.

The men, Curtis Allen, Gavin Wright and Patrick Stein, all of whom are white, appeared stoic as the verdicts were read. They face up to life in prison when they are sentenced in June.

The jury of six men and six women deliberated for about seven hours over two days.

Defense lawyers tried to convince jurors that their clients were manipulated by the F.B.I., and had been unfairly targeted for exercising their rights to own guns and speak freely.

“He was a member of a militia. He loved his guns. This was a lifestyle,” Melody Brannon, a lawyer for Mr. Allen, told the mostly white jury. “The government tried to criminalize that lifestyle.”

The trial, which played out over about a month in Wichita, focused on a period before the 2016 presidential election when a paid F.B.I. informant infiltrated a militia group that prosecutors said included the three men. Prosecutors, who built much of their case around secret recordings that the informant made of the men talking, said that they planned to carry out the bombing on Nov. 9 of that year, a day after voters selected a president.

“They wanted to send a message to the people living there that they’re not welcome in Garden City, they’re not welcome in southwest Kansas, they’re not welcome in the United States,” Mr. Mattivi said.

The men, who called themselves “the Crusaders,” were arrested about four weeks before Election Day and charged with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy against rights, which the Justice Department considers a hate crime. Mr. Wright was also charged with lying to the F.B.I. The three men were found guilty on all counts against them.

The trial came amid a national escalation in threats against religious and racial minorities, especially Muslims, according to the F.B.I. and organizations that monitor hate crimes.

“It is now approaching the level of hate violence against the same communities that we saw in the immediate wake of the 9/11 attacks,” said Suman Raghunathan, executive director of SAALT: South Asian Americans Leading Together, a national advocacy organization.

Prosecutors portrayed the Kansas defendants as aspiring domestic terrorists who joined a militia and decided to bomb the Somali apartments after considering other attacks — on elected officials, churches that helped refugees and landlords who rented to immigrants.

Defense lawyers, who criticized the F.B.I.’s investigation throughout the trial as government overreach, suggested that their clients had merely engaged in idle talk inspired partly by the 2016 election. Expletive-filled recordings of the men played before the jury contained repugnant, bigoted language, the defense lawyers said, but not evidence of a federal crime.

“It is not morally right to hold such hate, but it is not legally wrong,” said James Pratt, a lawyer for Mr. Stein, who acknowledged that his client referred to Muslims as “cockroaches.” Mr. Stein referred to himself, the recordings showed, as an “Orkin man,” referencing the pest extermination company.

“We all have the right to hate,” Mr. Pratt added.

A bombing never took place, and no one was physically injured in Garden City, a point defense lawyers emphasized to jurors. They said the men lacked the ability or commitment to carry out such an attack, and that the F.B.I.’s paid informant helped steer the plot and suggested targeting the apartments.

Garden City is a racially diverse place about 200 miles west of Wichita with around 27,000 residents. Many Somalis and other immigrants have moved to the area in recent years to work at a nearby meatpacking plant.

The apartment complex that prosecutors say was targeted is a center of Somali life in Garden City. Many refugee families live in units of the complex; others come to pray in a makeshift mosque inside one unit.

Moussa Elbayoumy, who chairs the board of the Kansas chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the verdict affirmed his faith in the justice system.

Many Muslims he talked to in Garden City had not followed the trial closely, Mr. Elbayoumy said, but had hoped for convictions.

“The instance was troubling, was concerning. People were afraid,” Mr. Elbayoumy said in a phone interview. “But after that, they put this behind them and moved on with their lives.”

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What’s triggering tension between Somalia and the UAE? | Inside Story

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Somalia has been in conflict for much of the past 25 years. But the horn of Africa nation has been showing signs of recovery.
And that’s provoked interest from many regional countries including the United Arab Emirates.

The Gulf nation has been conducting a military training programme and running a hospital in the capital Mogadishu.

But, the UAE’s government has now abruptly ended its involvement on both those fronts after a series of recent diplomatic disagreements.

So, why are the UAE and other regional countries interested in Somalia?

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Somali News

AMISOM asks for more police officers in Somalia

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DAILY MONITOR — KISMAYO- The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) has asked partners states to contribute more police officers to expand its operations in the war-torn country.

The call was made on Tuesday by Ms Christine Alalo, the acting AMISOM police commissioner while receiving 145 police officers from Sierra Leone.

The deployment of the force from Sierra Leone brings to 160 the number of police officers from Sierra Leone.

“We expect other police contributing countries to do the same because we are expanding our operations. We are moving away from Mogadishu,” Ms Alalo said.

Apart from Sierra Leone, other police contributing countries in Somalia are; Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia and Ghana.

Early this month, over 500 Ugandan Police Officers sat for interviews that would see successful ones join police operations in Somalia.

Ms Alalo said since police operations will be extended to other federal states and districts, it is inevitable to increase the number of police units.

Between 2015 and 2016, AMISOM trained 600 Somali officers in Jubbaland, but Ms Alalo said that number has to be reinforced.

Meanwhile, the AMISOM Assistant Inspector General of Police, Mustafa Solomon Kambeh, said the police officers would be deployed in Jubbaland and Kismayo.

Mr Kambeh doubles as the Contingent Commander of the Sierra Leonean FPU in Mogadishu urged the forces to stick to the AMISOM mandate of pacifying Somalia and its regional states.

The Formed Police Unit is charged with public order management, protection of facilities and support to police operations that require a concerted response.

The United Nations Security Council Resolution adopted in 2017 approved an increase to a maximum of 1,040 police officers serving under the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM)

AMISOM is committed to redoubling its efforts to train and recruit more police officers during the transition period as it prepares to hand over security responsibilities to the Somali security forces as stipulated in the Security Council Resolution.

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