The Somali government said Monday that it has opened conciliatory talks with United Arab Emirates leaders on Monday, a day after the UAE said it would disband a training program for Somali military forces in the East African country.
The talks aim to resolve a diplomatic spat after Somali security forces seized three bags of cash from a UAE-registered civil aircraft at Mogadishu’s Airport on April 8.
The United Arab Emirates said the $9.6 million was intended to cover the salaries of 2,407 Somali soldiers and to run three training centers. The UAE did not name the three, believed to be located in Mogadishu, Bosaso and Kismayo, where a newly built center has not been officially inaugurated.
The Somali government had said the money was being held in the central bank pending an investigation into whether it was actually to pay soldiers or to bribe politicians to “destabilize” the country.
Somali Foreign Minister Ahmed Isse Awad told VOA Somali that talks have begun “between the top leadership from the two countries and are progressing well.” He did not elaborate on the venue or format, but said no third country was mediating.
Somalia’s foreign ministry says the Somali government “has sought to clarify facts surrounding recent developments in order to remove any room for misunderstanding between the two governments and peoples. This effort continues.”
The ministry statement confirmed “lengthy deliberations,” adding that “the UAE has explained the purpose and the utilization of the said funds and the federal government will work together with the UAE on their utilization.”
As of Monday afternoon, VOA had not been able to confirm negotiations with the UAE’s ambassador to Somalia, Mohammed Ahmed Othman Al Hammadi.
Military training threatened
Somalia took this softer stance just hours after the United Arab Emirates announced that it would disband its Somali military training program, started in 2014.
“The UAE has expressed its denunciation of the seizure incident, which flies in the face of diplomatic traditions and ties between world countries and contravenes the agreements signed by both countries,” read Sunday’s statement from the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi.
Before the UAE announcement, Somalia’s defense minister told state media that the government no longer would accept UAE funding for the Somali forces. Mohamed Mursal Sheikh Abdirahman also said that troops trained by UAE would be merged with other divisions.
On Saturday, the UAE evacuated dozens of trainers from Somalia’s coastal city of Bosaso, where they have been training Puntland regional maritime police forces. A source to close to the UAE Embassy in Mogadishu said the number of trainers was reduced but did not say how many remained.
Somali regional leader Abdiweli Mohamed Ali told VOA he has requested continued UAE training support.
Questions about cash
Somali officials initially rejected the UAE’s explanation for the plane carrying unmarked bags of cash. They blamed the UAE ambassador, Al Hammadi, who was at the airport to receive the money.
“The ambassador refused [to let] the bags to be examined with metal detectors, electronic scanning or canine sniffing without opening or detaining the bag, which was a simple solution to the problem,” a Somali official told VOA Somali.
Somalia denied it violated international diplomatic norms in seizing the money.
“If a ‘diplomatic bag’ is used to deliver illegal articles such as weapons [or] cash, then the bag is violable,” said a senior government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
UAE officials argued that Somali officials knew the money was coming.
Gen. Abdiweli Jama Gorod, Somali National Army commander, told VOA Somali that he was approached by UAE officials on the day the money arrived in Mogadishu and asked to write a letter to the airport manager requesting the money’s release to UAE.
But Gorod said he was not told the amount of money. He said he told UAE officials to accept a bag search.
Discrepancies in the money’s sourcing also raised Somali officials’ suspicions at the airport, VOA has learned.
Gorod’s letter, obtained by VOA Somali, said the money was coming from Bosaso in Puntland, where UAE has been running a training camp. But Somali aviation officials said the plane came directly from the UAE.
A second letter, obtained by VOA Somali and dated April 5, informed the Somali national army about the money. It indicated that $6 million was allocated for the Mogadishu training center, with the remaining $3.6 million was intended for the Bosaso training center.
Relations between Somalia and the UAE have worsened since Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s administration resisted pressure to cut ties with Qatar and took a neutral position on a dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Last month, the Somali government rejected an agreement between the UAE’s Dubai World, Somaliland and Ethiopia over Berbera port, claiming the deal “violates the territorial integrity of Somalia.”
The Somali Service’s Falastine Iman contributed to this report.
Kansas Trio Convicted in Plot to Bomb Somali Immigrants
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.”
What’s triggering tension between Somalia and the UAE? | Inside Story
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?
AMISOM asks for more police officers in Somalia
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.