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Terrorism Watch

Al-Shabaab militants ban starving Somalis from accessing aid



Islamist militants in Somalia have imposed a ban on humanitarian assistance in areas they control, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to choose between death from starvation and disease or brutal punishment.

In some towns, hungry and weak people have been ordered by extremist leaders to remain where they are to act as human shields against US airstrikes.

Somalia is suffering its worst drought in 40 years, with the effects of climatic catastrophe compounded by war and poor governance.

Interviews with villagers in the swaths of land controlled by al-Qaida-affiliate al-Shabaab, in the centre and south of the east African state, reveal a population on the brink of catastrophe, with children and older people already dying in significant numbers.

Al-Shabaab has told people they will be punished – possibly executed as spies – if they have any contact with humanitarian agencies.

Strict British and US counter-terrorism laws are also discouraging humanitarian organisations from delivering vital emergency assistance, aid agencies have said.

Although aid officials say a huge international effort and donations by Somalia’s vast diaspora have so far averted a repeat of the 2011 famine, when 250,000 people died, conditions in much of the country have continued to deteriorate in recent months.

An additional 500,000 people now need humanitarian assistance, bringing the total to 6.7 million. Almost half of these people face starvation if they do not receive help.

One reason for the high death toll six years ago was a blockade imposed by al-Shabaab on humanitarian assistance by international and local NGOs that did not meet its strict criteria.

This time, al-Shabaab appeared initially to adopt a more moderate policy, which analysts said suggested leaders were wary of being blamed once more for failing to either provide or allow help to reach needy communities.

However, its approach appears to have hardened since late June, possibly owing to internal power struggles.

Tiyeglow, a town in the Bakool region that is largely controlled by al-Shabaab, has been badly affected, according to its government-appointed mayor.

“People in Tiyeglow are starving. Al-Shabaab suddenly stopped aid agencies which were trying to reach hungry people in the town. That is why some of the residents began to flee to seek food aid,” Ibrahim Abdirahman Mohamed said.

“Children under five are particularly in a very risky situation, because the malnutrition rate is going up, and if this blockade by Al-Shabaab continues we will be witnessing more and more children dying,” Mohamed warned.

A Save the Children survey published last month showed that the number of severe acute malnutrition cases had soared in four out of nine districts it assessed in southern and central Somalia. In the district of Mataban, 9.5% of children aged under five were severely malnourished.

The survey focused on areas that are largely controlled by al-Shabaab.

Hassan Noor Saadi, Save the Children’s country director in Somalia, said any aid reaching al-Shabaab-controlled areas was “a very localised response”.

“These locations are getting perhaps 10 to 15% of what is reaching places where there is government control or the presence of humanitarian actors,” Saadi added.

More than two million people – a fifth of the population of Somalia – live in areas controlled by al-Shabaab. The extremist group has repeatedly attacked aid workers and continues to launch daily strikes against government targets.

More than 700,000 people have already fled their homes in Somalia, 200,000 over the past two months. Almost all have left al-Shabaab-controlled territory in a desperate bid to find food or medical aid.

Abdiya Barrow, a 48-year-old mother of seven who fled Tiyeglow, told the Guardian she had walked for seven days to reach the city of Baidoa, where her three youngest children were being treated by international medical teams for diarrhoea and malnutrition.

“When the drought began, al-Shabaab told us that we could accept food only from aid agencies related to Islamic organisations, but eventually they said no. Anybody found bringing food aid will be killed because of suspicion that aid agencies might be affiliated to the [Somali] government,” Barrow said.
“Life was extremely bad. There is no food and water. People were dying on a daily basis. The day I and my family left, a male neighbour and his young son starved and died.”

In some towns, al-Shabaab leaders have stopped residents leaving their homes.

Mohamed Osman, who lives in Buale, a drought-hit town in Somalia’s Middle Juba region, said the group did not allow aid workers to operate there and had warned locals they would be punished if they attempted to arrange assistance from outside.

“[Al-Shabaab] warned the residents not to move out, because they said they do not want the town to become empty, but … there is nothing to eat. A kilo of rice is nearly $4. Who can afford that? Children and women are dying,” Osman said.

One woman in Buale, who requested anonymity owing to security concerns, said her four-year-old daughter died from diarrhoea last month. “My five-year-old son is now sick. He is severely malnourished. Al-Shabaab is giving us nothing and yet they do not allow aid agencies to come to us. If you talk about the aid or call for aid, they even kill you by labelling you a spy,” she said.

Abdirahman Mohamed Hussein, the government official overseeing humanitarian aid in Jubaland, said the situation in al-Shabaab-controlled areas was likely to deteriorate in coming weeks. “The situation will turn into famine if the people in these towns do not get food very soon. We are very worried about the condition there.”

Al-Shabaab is facing a new military campaign launched by Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, the president of Somalia, and supported by the US.

Hussein said the extremists used local populations as a human shield because they wanted to ensure towns remained “safe havens for al-Shabaab militant leaders”.

“They do not want people to move out because they are worried that there could be an airstrike if the civilians leave,” he added.

A recent United Nations assessment said “Somalia is not yet out of the woods”, with other analyses suggesting that an “elevated risk of famine in 2017 persists”.

This year’s rainy season has been disappointing. Some parts of Somalia, already parched, have so far received only half of the usual rainfall.

Donald Trump, the US president, recently designated Somalia a “zone of active hostilities”, allowing commanders greater authority when launching airstrikes, broadening the range of possible targets and relaxing restrictions designed to prevent civilian casualties. He also authorised the deployment of regular US forces to Somalia for the first time since 1994.

The US in effect pulled out of Somalia after 1993, when two helicopters were shot down in Mogadishu and the bodies of American soldiers were dragged through the streets.

Somali News

At least 14 dead, several hurt in car bomb in Somali capital



ABC — At least 14 people were killed and 10 others wounded in a car bomb blast near a hotel in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, Somali officials said Thursday.

Capt. Mohamed Hussein said the explosion occurred near the Weheliye hotel on the busy Makka Almukarramah road. The road has been a target of attacks in the past by the Somalia-based extremist group al-Shabab, the deadliest Islamic extremist group in Africa.

Most of the casualties were passers-by and traders, Hussein told The Associated Press. The toll of dead and wounded was announced by security ministry spokesman Abdulaziz Hildhiban.

Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the blast. The group frequently attacks Mogadishu’s high-profile areas such as hotels and military checkpoints. A truck bombing in October killed 512 people in the country’s deadliest-ever attack. Only a few attacks since 9/11 have killed more people. Al-Shabab was blamed.

Thursday’s blast comes almost exactly a month after two car bomb explosions in Mogadishu shattered a months-long period of calm in the city, killing at least 21 people.

The Horn of Africa nation continues to struggle to counter the Islamic extremist group. Concerns have been high over plans to hand over the country’s security to Somalia’s own forces as a 21,000-strong African Union force begins a withdrawal that is expected to be complete in 2020.

The U.S. military, which has stepped up efforts against al-Shabab in the past year with dozens of drone strikes, has said Somali forces are not yet ready.

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Terrorism Watch

Somali forces kill 32 Al-Shabaab fighters in central Somalia



MOGADISHU, March 17 (Xinhua) — Thirty-two Al-Shabaab militants were killed in a fierce fighting with the Somali National Army (SNA) in the past 24 hours, Somali officials said on Saturday.

Ahmed Mohamed Teredisho, Somali Army Commander in Hiiraan region, told reporters that the fighting took place in Hiiraan region after armed Al-Shabaab members tried to impose taxes on villagers around Mahas town.

“We have killed 32 Al-Shabaab militants at an area about 28 km to Mahas town in Hiiraan region after heavy fighting with Al-Shabaab fighters. SNA soldiers were reinforced by locals to help fight the enemy in the region in the past 24 hours,” Teredisho said.

He did not disclose the number of soldiers or civilians injured in the latest fighting in central Somalia.

The locals said the government soldiers backed with villagers engaged in more than six hours of battle with the insurgents.

Al-Shabaab militants have not commented on the military victory claimed by the Somali government officials in the region.

A resident told Xinhua by phone that confrontation was first staged between locals and Al-Shabaab fighters and then Somali Army later joined to defeat the militants.

Meanwhile, Somali security officials said a roadside bomb has targeted a pickup vehicle carrying members of the security forces in the outskirts of Mogadishu.

The officials said on Saturday that a remote-controlled landmine struck the vehicle along the road between Mogadishu and Afgoye, injuring two security forces and a civilian.

The Saturday attacks by Al-Shabaab militants was the latest in series of improvised explosive device blasts targeting Somali and Africa Union mission troops on the key road linking Mogadishu to Afgoye district in the recent past.

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Briefing Room

US lists Shabaab’s leader in Kenya, wanted commander as global terrorists



The US State Department added Ahmad Iman Ali, the leader of Shabaab’s network in Kenya, and Abdifatah Abubakar Abdi, a dangerous Kenyan commander, to its list of Specially Designated Global terrorists on March 8. The two Shabaab leaders have fueled the group’s insurgency in Kenya and southern Somalia for the past decade and are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of civilians.

Ahmad Iman Ali

Ali was appointed by Shabaab to lead its group in Jan. 2012, just three days after the Muslim Youth Center (MYC) merged with Shabaab and announced that it was “part of al Qaeda East Africa.”

“Allah favours our beloved al Shabaab, and al Shabaab in return has placed the responsibility of waging jihad in Kenya in the capable Kenyan hands of our Amiir Sheikh Ahmad Iman Ali,” the MYC said when it announced that it joined Shabaab.

Additionally, the MYC said that Ali is following in the footsteps of “brother Fazul,” or Fazul Mohammed, the former leader of al Qaeda’s operations in East Africa who also served as a senior leader in Shabaab. Fazul was indicted along with Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri, and other top al Qaeda leaders by the US government for his involvement in the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Somali troops killed Fazul at a checkpoint south of Mogadishu in June 2011.

Ali was a cleric for the Muslim Youth Center, and he has advocated for Muslims to wage jihad across the world.

“[If you] are unable to reach the land of jihad, the land of ribat, like the land of Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Algeria, or Iraq, if you are unable to reach these lands which have established the banner of tawheed and the Shariah of Allah, then raise your sword against the enemy that is closest to you,” Ali said when he was named to lead Shabaab’s operations in Kenya.

According to the MYC, Ali has fought in southern Somalia, where he led other Kenyans against Somali troops and African Union forces. State’s designation said that Ali is the “director of the group’s Kenyan operations, which has targeted Kenyan African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops in Somalia,”

According to State, Ali was responsible for the Jan. 2016 assault on a Kenyan base in El Adde, Somalia. The United Nations later found that “150 Kenyan soldiers were killed during the attack, making it the largest military defeat in Kenyan history.” Additionally, 11 kenyan soldiers were captured. [See LWJ reports, Shabaab overruns African Union base in southern Somalia and Kenyan soldier held hostage since Jan. 2016 appears in Shabaab video.]

In addition to serving as Shabaab’s leader in Kenya and its operational commander against Kenyan forces in southern Somalia, Ali is a propagandist, a recruiter who targets “poor youth in Nairobi slums,” and a fundraiser.

Abdifatah Abubakar Abdi

Abdi, who is also known as Musa Muhajir, leads a group of Kenyan jihadists who have been described by the Kenyan government as “bloodthirsty, armed and dangerous,” according to The Nation. In 2015, the government put him at the top of a list of wanted jihadists.

“He is believed to be planning further attacks at the Coast. He is currently in Boni Forest with his associates,” a Kenyan government report that detailed the activities of Abdi and other jihadists noted.

State noted that Abdi is “wanted in connection with the June 2014 attack in Mpeketoni, Kenya that claimed more than 50 lives.” Shabaab claimed the brutal attack and claimed it was carried out to punish Kenya for deploying troops to Somalia.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.

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