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Terrorism Watch

Man in Australia Hostage-taking, Shootout Had Militant Connections

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Harun Maruf

An Australian man of Somali origin who killed one person and took another hostage had connections with two prominent militant groups, VOA has learned.

Yacqub Khayre was killed in a shootout with police Monday after killing an employee of a Melbourne apartment building and holding a woman captive inside one of the apartments. Three police officers were injured in the exchange.

The Islamic State militant group has claimed responsibility for the incident. Police say they are treating this as a “terrorism incident,” but add that they have not seen messages showing that Khayre was guided by an outside force.

A relative told VOA’s Somali Service that Khayre, 29, had past connections to both Islamic State and the Somali militant group al-Shabab.

Yacqub Khayre: Melbourne siege gunman’s history of violent crime and drugs

Violent history

Khayre was born in the Somali city of Baidoa; his birth name is Yacqub Ahmed Mohamed. He moved to a Kenyan refugee camp with his family in 1992, after the outbreak of civil war in Somalia, before moving to Australia with his grandparents in 1994.

He returned to Somalia in mid-2006 when the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) took over most of southern and central Somalia, according to the relative. At the time al-Shabab fighters were part of the ICU.

The relative, speaking on condition of anonymity, says he is “certain” that Khayre trained with members of al-Shabab near Baidoa for three months. “He travelled there against the wishes of his family,” says the relative.

After the intervention of Ethiopian troops and the collapse of the ICU, Khayre fled the country and travelled to Kenya. He was arrested at Jomo Kenyatta airport in Nairobi in 2006 by Kenyan authorities.

“After being arrested by Kenya security forces he was handed over to Interpol and the FBI,” says the relative who was familiar with the arrest. “He was later handed over to the Australian authorities.”

Lack of evidence

After returning to Australia, Khayre was involved in other crimes, including robbery.

He was among a group of men charged with plotting to attack an Australia army base in Sydney in August 2009. He was later released for lack of evidence, while three other members of the group were convicted and given jail sentences.

Khayre then spent 16 months in a high security facility for terrorism offenses, but was acquitted and later released in 2010, according to the Australia Broadcasting Corporation.

In 2012, he was arrested after committing robbery while armed with a knife. He was reportedly under the influence of drugs and was sentenced to five years. He was released in November last year on parole, according to the relative.

‘No doubt’

The relative says he has “no doubt” that Khayre was radicalized. He says Khayre knew at least one Australian of Somali origin who travelled to Syria to fight for ISIS.

“He was a close buddy to Sharmarke, an ISIS militant from Australia who was killed three years ago,” the relative said.

Sharmarke Jama was an Australian model and DJ who joined ISIS. His death in 2014 in Syria attracted media attention. Jama was from Melbourne, as was Khayre.

According to sources, police have seized all the family members’ electronic gadgets for review. “The whole family is now treated as a scene for crime,” said the relative.

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Briefing Room

US orders new probe on alleged massacre in Somalia

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DAILY NATION — The head of the US Africa Command on Thursday ordered a new investigation of claims that US troops massacred 10 civilians in an August raid on a farm in central Somalia.

The move by Africom Commander Gen Thomas Waldhauser follows media reports that children were among those killed in an attack based on faulty intelligence.

“Gen Waldhauser referred the matter to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service to ensure a full exploration of the facts given the gravity of the allegations,” Africom said in a statement.

It added that “Africom takes all allegations of misconduct seriously and will leverage the expertise of appropriate organisations to ensure such allegations are fully and impartially investigated.”

Africom had said soon after the August 25 raid that all the dead were “armed enemy combatants.”

A pair of recent reports in the Daily Beast, a New York-based online news site, cited accounts by eyewitnesses and Somali officials of unprovoked killings of farmers in the US raid carried out in conjunction with Somali soldiers.

“These local farmers were attacked by foreign troops while looking after their crops,” Ali Nur Mohamed, deputy governor of the Lower Shabelle region where the attack occurred, had earlier told reporters in Mogadishu.

“The troops could have arrested them because they were unarmed but instead shot them one by one mercilessly,” Mr Mohamed added as 10 corpses were displayed in the Somali capital soon after the raid.

Africom’s acknowledgment that further investigation is warranted comes at a time of growing and shifting US involvement in the war against Al-Shabaab.

STRIKES

Defence Department officials have presented President Trump with a plan for less restrictive US military operations in Somalia during the next two years, the New York Times reported on December 10.

The proposed initiative would give greater discretion to US field commanders in launching strikes and rescind the State Department’s ability to pause offensive military operations in response to perceived problems, the Times said.

US forces have carried out about 30 airstrikes so far this year in Somalia — twice as many as in 2016. More than 500 US soldiers have also been dispatched to Somalia to assist in the fight against Shabaab.

Conversely, Washington is simultaneously suspending food and fuel payments to most units of the Somalia National Army (SNA) due to concerns over rampant corruption, Reuters reported on Thursday.

Only those SNA units mentored by US instructors will continue to receive the stipends, the report said.

“Documents sent from the US Mission to Somalia to the Somali government show US officials are increasingly frustrated that the military is unable to account for its aid,” Reuters said.

“The documents paint a stark picture of a military hollowed out by corruption, unable to feed, pay or arm its soldiers — despite hundreds of millions of dollars of support.”

SOLDIERS

A team of US and Somali officials who visited nine SNA bases earlier this year reported that expected consignments of food aid could not be found, Reuters revealed. The best-staffed base visited by the team had 160 SNA soldiers present out of a total officially listed at 550. Only 60 of the soldiers had weapons, Reuters said.

“The SNA is a fragile force with extremely weak command and control,” said an earlier leaked assessment by the African Union, United Nations and Somali government. “They are incapable of conducting effective operations or sustaining themselves.”

Kenyan forces have also been cited for allegedly failing to carry out assigned duties in Somalia.

A report last month by UN monitors charged that Kenyan troops operating under African Union command have failed to assist authorities in blocking illicit charcoal exports that are said to earn al-Shabaab at least $10 million a year.

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Terrorism Watch

Somalia’s Defense Minister Calls For More US Drone Strikes

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Somalia’s defense minister is calling for more U.S. support and drone strikes in the fight against al-Shabab because without more backing, the counter-terror effort is doomed.

Local al-Qaida affiliate al-Shabab controls about 30 percent of Somalia’s territory, and international military efforts in recent years to rid the country of Islamic extremism haven’t produced any real results.

For Mohamed Ali Haga, Somalia’s defense minister, U.S. support will make or break anti-al-Shabab operations, and drone strikes are a particularly effective mode of support.

“If we don’t have the support of the Americans, we cannot stand on our own feet,” Somali Defense Minister Mohamed Ali Haga told The Wall Street Journal. “The Somali security sector is still disorganized. And we need more drone strikes because a drone can strike the snake in the head.”

Current military aid for the United Nations-backed Somali government from local sources amounts to about 22,000 African Union (AU) troops from nearby African countries, but that force has shrunk after taking serious hits from al-Shabab militants. About 1,000 troops will leave by the end of 2017, and the entire AU force is set to leave by 2020.

The U.S. has in the meantime dramatically scaled up its efforts in Somalia as part of a renewed focus from the Trump administration. According to recent Pentagon releases, there are more than 500 U.S. troops now operating in Somalia, and the U.S. has also intensified the number of drone strikes against militants.
A recent drone strike in late November obliterated more than 100 al-Shabab militants northwest of Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, although the group mostly operates in the central and southern parts of the country.

The U.S. has also elected to fund a new Somali National Army, which is about 27,000-men strong.

But as in Afghanistan, U.S.-funded efforts to run a local army have run into near insurmountable problems. U.S. officials have admitted that many Somalis part of the Somali National Army simply don’t show up when called for duty. These troops aren’t as well trained as al-Shabab and often have to make do with inferior military equipment.

“Al-Shabaab are better trained and got whatever they need while the SNA is neither armed nor trained nor paid properly,” Jawahir Abdi, a lawmaker from Somalia’s South West state, told The Wall Street Journal. “At the moment, the government is not winning at all.”

Moreover, corruption in the Somali National Army has become so bad that the U.S. has now decided to suspend food and fuel aid to the force, according to a State Department official who spoke with Reuters last week. The U.S. is also suspending a program providing $100 a month to local soldiers, as the payroll is full of ghost soldiers who don’t exist or are dead but still receive payments through their families. While the U.S. is still willing to provide assistance, that assistance will mostly focus on training and advising small Somali special forces units.

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Somali News

Al-Shabaab claims responsibility for attack on police academy

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Al Shabaab, SuicA suicide bomber has struck a police training centre in the Somali capital, Mogadishu. Conflicting reports indicate nearly 20 people have been killed. Al-Shabaab militants have claimed responsibility for the attack. It claims to have killed at least 27 people. The suicide bomber struck during a police parade. Authorities in Somalia have in recent weeks stepped up efforts against the militant group, but frequent attacks still take place.

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