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Police Deny IS Presence Near Mogadishu

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VOA — Security officials in the Somali town of Afgoye say they are not aware of the presence of pro-Islamic State militants in the town, despite a series of social media posts by the group claiming responsibility for attacks in the area.

Afgoye police commander Captain Abdulkadir Osman Mursal says attacks against civilians in Afgoye are carried out by the al-Shabab militant group and not “Daesh,” but says police are “on alert and investigating the claims.”

“Daesh and al-Shabab are the same to us, they both kill civilians,” he said.

Pro-Islamic State militants have been claiming responsibility for series of attacks in Afgoye since the second half of last year. One of the attacks in January took place last week with pro-IS militants claiming they killed a finance officer.

In another incident in January, the group said it killed a man who worked for the national intelligence agency of Somalia.

IS even published a purported video showing assassins carrying pistols who approached the target from a behind. The young man who is already lying on the ground is shot and killed.

Even more confusing, al-Shabab claimed killing an intelligence agent in Afgoye on the same night, but did not provide any video or pictures. It is unclear if the two militant groups are claiming responsibility for the same incident.
False claims?

Mursal says he went to the scene on January 13, and the person assassinated was not an intelligence officer.

“I went to the scene where he was killed, they arrived on a motorbike, they killed and they escaped to the villages near Afgoye,” he said.

“The man they killed was a student at a university in Mogadishu; he also worked as a teacher in Afgoye. He was not a soldier, he did not work for the government as his relatives told us, he was a civilian.”

Mursal says residents told police that assailants who carried out the killing may have escaped the town. He says he is certain about the people targeted regardless of the claims.

“They target a civilian person who is vulnerable, and then when they escape they claim that he was with government security agencies,” he said.

Mursal believes al-Shabab is responsible for killings in the town.

“As far as we know, the group who are denying people to live and to have peace, who kill them and then brag about killing innocent civilians, are al-Shabab,” he said.

There have been at least seven killings reported in Afgoye in January. Apart from the student, they include soldiers, tax collectors, a religious man, and a social media enthusiast who posts messages condemning the killings on his accounts.

Mursal admits that no one has been arrested for the January killings, but says police are on the “heels” of the attackers.

Growing fear

Residents in Afgoye say they are concerned about the reports. One resident who did not want to be named for safety reasons said the presence of pro-IS militants could worsen the security of the town, which is already under constant attack from al-Shabab.

“If they compete for killings in our town, that is a big problem for the people,” he said.

Observers also believe the danger could be real and urged the government not to take the reports lightly. The only other place where pro-Islamic State militants claimed responsibility for attacks last year has been Bosaso in the far northeast of Puntland.

Despite the insistence that it’s only al-Shabab that is killing people in Afgoye, Mursal says they are exercising caution.

“We are on alert, we are cautious, we are conducting operations during nighttime and daytime,” he said. “We are investigating, and we will follow up the claims but we are not aware of their presence.”

One possibility, Mursal says, is that attackers are coming from the outskirts of Afgoye where foreign militants hide. Afgoye is surrounded by farmlands and forests where militants plan and launch hit-and-run attacks against government troops and the AMISOM forces of the African Union.

Afgoye, a populous, agricultural town just 30 km southwest of Mogadishu, is crucial for the security of Mogadishu, as it links the capital to the southern and southwestern regions of Somalia. It’s also the gateway to at least six regions to Mogadishu.

Briefing Room

Diplomatic leaks: UAE dissatisfied with Saudi policies

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AL JAZEERA — Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ) is working on breaking up Saudi Arabia, leaked documents obtained by Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar revealed.

Al Akhbar said that the leaked documents contained secret diplomatic briefings sent by UAE and Jordanian ambassadors in Beirut to their respective governments.

One of the documents, issued on September 20, 2017, disclosed the outcome of a meeting between Jordan’s ambassador to Lebanon Nabil Masarwa and his Kuwaiti counterpart Abdel-Al al-Qenaie.

“The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed is working on breaking up the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the Jordanian envoy quoted the Kuwait ambassador as saying.

A second document, issued on September 28, 2017, reveals meeting minutes between the Jordanian ambassador and his UAE counterpart Hamad bin Saeed al-Shamsi.

The document said the Jordanian ambassador informed his government that UAE believes that “Saudi policies are failing both domestically and abroad, especially in Lebanon”.

“The UAE is dissatisfied with Saudi policies,” the Jordanian envoy said.

The Qatar vote
According to the leaks, UAE ambassador claims that Lebanon voted for Qatar’s Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari in his bid to become head of UNESCO in October 2017.

“[Lebanese Prime Minister Saad] Hariri knew Lebanon was voting for Qatar,” the UAE ambassador said in a cable sent to his government on October 18, 2017.

In November last year, Hariri announced his shock resignation from the Saudi capital Riyadh.

He later deferred his decision, blaming Iran and its Lebanese ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah, for his initial resignation. He also said he feared an assassination attempt.

Officials in Lebanon alleged that Hariri was held hostage by Saudi authorities, an allegation Hariri denied in his first public statement following his resignation speech.

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Somalia’s Puntland region asks UAE to stay as Gulf split deepens

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BOSASO, Somalia (Reuters) – Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region urged the United Arab Emirates not to close its security operations in the country after a dispute with the central government, saying the Gulf power was a key ally in the fight against Islamist militants.

The dispute goes to the heart of an increasingly troubled relationship between Gulf states – divided by their own disputes – and fractured Somalia, whose coastline sits close to key shipping routes and across the water from Yemen.

Analysts have said the complex standoff risks exacerbating an already explosive security situation on both sides of the Gulf of Aden, where militant groups launch regular attacks.

The central Somali government said on Wednesday it was taking over a military training program run by the UAE.

Days later the UAE announced it was pulling out, accusing Mogadishu of seizing millions of dollars from a plane, money it said was meant to pay soldiers.

“We ask our UAE friends, not only to stay, but to redouble their efforts in helping Somalia stand on its feet,” said the office of the president of Puntland, a territory that sits on the tip of the Horn of Africa looking out over the Gulf of Aden.

Ending UAE support, “will only help our enemy, particularly Al Shabaab and ISIS (Islamic State),” it added late on Monday.

SUSPICION, RESENTMENT

The UAE is one of a number of Gulf powers that have opened bases along the coast of the Horn of Africa and promised investment and donations as they compete for influence in the insecure but strategically important region.

That competition has been exacerbated by a diplomatic rift between Qatar and a bloc including the UAE. In turn, those splits have worsened divisions in Somalia.

Puntland, which has said it wants independence, has sought to woo the UAE which runs an anti-piracy training center there and is developing the main port. The central government in Mogadishu last year criticized Puntland for taking sides in the Gulf dispute. Qatar’s ally Turkey is one of Somalia’s biggest investors.

One Somali government official said last week Mogadishu had decided to take over the UAE operation because the Gulf state’s contract to run it had expired. Another official said the government was investigating the money taken from the plane.

The competition among Gulf states in Somalia has fueled accusations of foreign interference and resentment in many corners of Somali society.

The loss of the UAE program could have a destabilizing effect, said one security analyst, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“The value of the UAE trained forces was two-fold – they were relatively well trained but, most importantly, they were paid on time,” unlike other parts of the security forces, the analyst told Reuters.

Somalia has been mired in conflict since 1991.

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Puntland President calls UAE continue its mission in Somalia

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