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AMISOM Warns of Increased Al-Shabab Ambushes

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VOA — Al-Shabab attacks against African Union peacekeepers and Somali government forces could worsen as troops try to reopen Somalia’s main supply roads, currently cut off by the militants, a spokesman for the peacekeepers warns.

Lieutenant Colonel Wilson Rono said the African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops and Somali National Army forces are trying to reopen the highway linking the capital, Mogadishu, to Baidoa, 240 kilometers (150 miles) to the west. It’s one of three main roads linking Mogadishu the south, southwest and central regions.

Rono spoke to VOA’s Somali service this week after al-Shabab militants ambushed an AMISOM supply convoy about 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Mogadishu on Friday, killing at least 10 soldiers and destroying most of the 20 trucks. It was the latest of many deadly attacks the militant group has waged against the AU forces.

Al-Shabab was pushed out of Mogadishu in 2011 and in following years lost control of almost all the country’s major towns. It had to resort to “difficult” guerrilla tactics, Rono said.

Rono said AMISOM soldiers repulsed another al-Shabab ambush Friday near the town of Fafahdhun in Somalia’s Gedo region.

He said the soldiers killed 23 Al-Shabab fighters. Mohamed Hussein al-Qadi, the district’s deputy governor, put the Shabab death toll at five.

“We learn from each incident,” Rono said. “But the nature of the asymmetrical warfare and fighting of insurgency makes you certain that this kind of thing will happen” again.

Bal’ad ambush

The deadly attack Friday occurred near the town of Bal’ad. At least five armored AMISOM vehicles were escorting a convoy transporting supplies to Jowhar, the main headquarters of the Burundian peacekeepers operating in the Middle Shabelle region.

Rono said the militants were hiding in thick vegetation along the road when they detonated explosives then attacked the convoy with machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire.

Just three weeks ago after an attack on a military checkpoint killed several Somali soldiers, AMISOM and Somali troops cleared vegetation along the road to improve visibility and remove possible militant hiding spots.

Al-Shabab claimed it killed 23 Burundian soldiers, a figure Rono disputes.

“We lost three of our troops and six of them are injured and are here in Mogadishu,” Rono said.

But other sources put the AU death toll higher. Burundi Vice President Gaston Sindimwo told VOA’s Central Africa Service that five of his country’s soldiers had died.

At least 10 AU peacekeepers were killed in the ambush on Friday, according to three separate Somali officials. If correct, that makes the ambush one of al-Shabab’s deadliest attacks on AMISOM since the AU mission arrived in Somalia 11 years ago.

Withdrawal?

AMISOM currently has over 20,000 peacekeepers in Somalia. Last year, the mission announced plans to gradually reduce its troop strength. The Mission says eventual withdrawal will be “conditions-based,” but has made it clear to Somali leaders it wants to see concrete progress in building a national force to take over security responsibilities.

Few soldiers have actually been withdrawn, on the grounds that Somalia’s army needs more time to strengthen and cohere in order to hold off al-Shabab.

Hussein Arab, former Somali defense minister and current head of the Parliamentary Defense Committee, welcomed the plan to rebuild Somali forces and improve their coordination with AMISOM.

“The important thing is that we focus on our forces that will be taking over the security,” he told VOA Somali.

Soon after his February 2017 election as Somalia’s president, President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo vowed to build a capable Somali army within two years. Farmajo, a dual U.S.-Somali citizen, now has less than a year to meet that deadline.

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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Somali News

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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