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What Happened? The Wabeeri Market Bombing

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L-R: Bomb-maker; Remote Operator; Planner; Bomb-maker; Driver/Suicide-bomber; and an officer from NISA, the National Intelligence & Security Agency

Our Man on the Horn —  ‘THE history of a battle is not unlike the history of a ball,’ said the Duke of Wellington. ‘Some individuals may recollect all the little events of which the great result is the battle won or lost, but no individual can recollect the order in which, or the exact moment at which, they occurred, which makes all the difference as to their value or importance.’ Equally true would be any attempt to describe a terrorist atrocity.

Saturday’s attempted attack by an al-Shabaab suicide car bomber in Mogadishu targeting – depending upon who your source is – the Somali Police Force Academy or the Presidential motorcade is a prime example. In both versions, the operation went dramatically wrong, with the bomber getting lost and having to ask Somali security forces for directions to the target.

The security forces were on a heightened state of alert anyway, because of the President’s visit to a nearby college. But they were wary of the man anyway:  clearly not a resident of the city, his disorientated, dishevelled state and pronounced limp aroused their suspicions. He was identified by a female shopkeeper as the driver of a parked vehicle, but denied it was his. As an officer investigated the vehicle (which was parked some distance away), the explosives in the car were detonated.

It is also unclear at this point if the man himself detonated the device or if an accomplice initiated the bomb by remote control. (Terrorists often deploy a back-up operative with a remote control in case the suicide bomber, as often happens, has a last minute change of heart.)

The driver of the vehicle was immediately taken into custody and a number of arrests were made at a garage in the city where he claimed the attack had been planned and the car bomb assembled.

Putting aside the amateurishness of the attack, which possibly represents al-Shabaab’s difficulty in finding willing, competent attackers from amongst its dwindling ranks, the human tragedy of the attack stands out, even in a city that has suffered regular and horrifying attacks. Many men and women, shopkeepers and customers, the passengers of a crowded mini-bus, a number of children from nearby schools, were killed. (There was a particularly poignant image on Twitter of some shredded jotters – but it could have been taken anywhere, at any time.) The driver of a passing petrol tanker was killed, but fortunately the tanker itself did not explode, otherwise the death toll would have been even greater. The exact numbers are still unclear and it is not the business of this blog to perform al-Shabaab’s Battle Damage Assessment for it anyway. Suffice to say dozens of casualties.

Al-Shabaab rationalises its attacks using the perverted logic of ‘legitimate targets’ – proximity to a target justifies the deaths of the hapless civilians who happen to be nearby. If you hang around with politicians, security forces, foreigners, then you deserve to die along with them, says al-Shabaab. But how can al-Shabaab justify this atrocity? It is unsurprising that their spokesmen have been unusually silent in the aftermath of this attack, despite it clearly being their handiwork.

One positive did come out of the attack: within hours the market was functioning again, albeit with a few sheets of corrugated iron a bit bent here and there. By the next day no sign could be found of the attack. (I would post a photo but the market always looks like a bomb had gone off in it. A lot of markets do.)

Despite its proclamations, Al-Shabaab’s war is not with the government, the security forces or the international community: it is a war on the population. And the population has proven itself to be consistently, unconquerably resilient.

Somali News

Somali traders boycott business over new government tax

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MOGADISHU, Feb. 18 (Xinhua) — Traders in Somalia’s largest market, Bakara, on Sunday boycotted business over what they termed as punitive tax measures imposed by the government.

Traders told Xinhua that they will keep off from the Mogadishu-based market until the federal government scraps the 5 percent mandatory sales tax it imposed recently.

“As you see the market has closed and we will continue until the government responds to our complaint about the tax,” Abdisamad Mohamed, one of the traders, told Xinhua.

“We are not refusing to pay taxes but this is heavy burden for our business,” Mohamed said. “We are requesting the government to take steps to lower it.”

Another trader, Shariff Abdullahi, said the imposition of taxes had stalled business as traders cannot collect their goods from the port in Mogadishu.

“We have imported goods from the port and we cannot pick them because of the taxes the government has imposed,” Abdullahi said.

However, Somali Finance Minister Abdirahman Beileh has maintained that taxes must be paid to enable the government to offer services.

Beileh told the media last week that the government had arrived at the decision and that it was not optional.

“Today I clarified the purpose of the sales tax and the importance of paying legally mandated taxes to the Somali people. The payment, collection and budgeted utilization of these funds is a must for Somali development,” Beileh said. “We must finance our future. This is the bottom line.”

Somali parliament late last year passed a 274 million U.S. dollar budget for 2018, and Beileh noted that the government would bolster efforts to mobilize domestic tax collection to finance the budget as the country seeks to cut dependence on foreign donors.

The government has not yet responded to the ongoing strike.

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Somali refugees enslaved in Libya return home

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Eleven Somali refugees held captive in Libya for years have returned home. Many African refugees have been tortured and some were sold as slaves in the country, which was used as a transit hub for those trying to reach Europe.

Al Jazeera’s Katia Lopez-Hodoyan reports.

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Somali News

Somali Migrants Returning From Libya Tell of Abuse, Horror

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It was an emotional moment for the nearly dozen Somali migrants who were repatriated to Mogadishu from Libya on Saturday.

Some fell to their knees, crying; others placed their foreheads to the ground in prayer; while some chanted the Somalia national anthem as they disembarked from a Turkish Airways plane that had flown them from Libya, where some had been stranded for years, to the Somali capital.

Since 2014, Libya has become a major transit point for migrants from Africa and the Middle East who are trying to get to Europe to flee instability and violence.

Somalia’s Deputy Prime Minister Mahdi Mohamed Guled, members of parliament and representatives from civil society organizations welcomed the migrants at the airport. The migrants then told stories of abuse, fear and horror they had experienced in Libya.

Somali migrants disembark from a plane upon arrival from Libya to be repatriated in their country at Mogadishu International Airport, Feb. 17, 2018. (H.K. Qoyste/VOA)

Survivor’s tale

Abdikarim Mohamed Omar, 22, who shared his story with VOA’s Somali service, was among those repatriated Saturday. He said he left Somalia in 2016 and traveled to Libya via Ethiopia and Sudan.

Before reaching Libya, Omar said, he lost several of his Somali friends during the journey. At one point, he said, they fought with Eritrean migrants.

“I was among 150 migrants packed into a truck by smugglers from Sudan — 100 Eritreans and 50 Somalis. They mercilessly forced us into a truck that fit only 30 people. Some of the Somali migrants were thrown out of the truck into the desert. Then we fought with the Eritreans for survival. Several of my friends were killed during the conflict,” Omar said.

Earlier this week in Libya, a truck packed with more than 200 illegal migrants, mainly from Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan, overturned near Bani Walid, killing 19 of them. Sixty others were injured.

Omar said that once he reached Libya, he was filled with painful memories that he could not forget. He and other migrants were taken to the Kufra detention center, in southeast Libya.

“They lock us up in a room, where we hardly eat. You have no place to urinate. The room is overcrowded with migrants. Some of us sit the whole night, and some sleep a few hours. Every morning, they severely beat you with iron rods and sticks,” he said.

“To taste the pain and convince our parents to pay them, the smuggler woke us up with beatings early in the morning and send us to silence or sleep at night with beatings,” Omar said. “It was like our daily greetings and the first communication between the smugglers and the detainees.”

He continued, “Because of the constant torture [and] hunger, many of the migrants in the detention room where I was died, including my Somali friend who shared a blanket with me.”

Fleeing Africa, Middle East

Since 2014, more than 600,000 people have crossed the central Mediterranean to Italy. But the number of illegal migrants housed in Libyan detention centers has risen dramatically this year since armed groups in the western city of Sabratha began preventing boats from departing for Europe.

After clashes in Sabratha in September, thousands of migrants held near the coast were transferred to detention centers under the nominal control of the U.N.-backed government in Tripoli.

A Somali migrant from Libya kisses the ground at Mogadishu International Airport upon arriving back in the Somali capital, Feb. 17, 2018. (Somali Ministry of Information)

However, Amnesty International said in December 2017 that up to 20,000 people were being held in detention centers and were subject to “torture, forced labor, extortion and unlawful killings.”

Other human rights organizations have said similar things in recent months.

Late last year, Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairman of the African Union Commissions, said an estimated 400,000 to 700,000 African migrants were being detained in dozens of camps across the chaotic North African country, often being held under inhumane conditions.

Omar said he was lucky to escape from the Kufra detention center months ago, but he has since lived in Tripoli, in constant fear and hiding.

On Saturday, he was among 10 migrants repatriated to Mogadishu.

The repatriation effort was ordered by Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo after U.S. broadcaster CNN showed footage of a slave auction in Libya where migrant Africans were shown being sold.

“Following the order of President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, the government has repatriated 10 Somali migrants from Libya and 30 more will be repatriated soon,” said Guled, the deputy prime minister.

Seeking to repatriate Somalis

The Somali government is working to return to their homeland a large number of Somali migrants who are in Libya. Earlier this week, that effort hit a snag, however, when the delegation sent to Libya was unable to persuade migrants to abandon the dangerous journey to Europe and instead return to Somalia.

The migrants have told government officials behind the repatriation effort that they have suffered during the journey to Libya but feel they have “nothing else to lose.”

Upon arrival, the 10 Somalis were registered with the government. For six months, they will have their relocation expenses paid for by the Somali government. The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are providing some training to help the recent returnees rejoin their communities and build their lives.

Mariam Yassin, special envoy for migrants and children’s rights of Somalia, was among the delegation sent by the Somali government to Libya this week to try to persuade migrants to return home. She said those who returned Saturday had survived a harsh journey.

“Among them are migrants who have spent three years in the hands of smugglers in Kufra, [in] south Libya. And now Allah saved them from the unbearable torments and torture they have been mentally and physically subjected to,” Yassin said.

Ahmed Abdikarim Nur, Somalia’s commissioner of refugees and internally displaced persons, said because of the extent of the abuses they faced, some migrants could not openly tell their horrific stories.

“They told us that they feel ashamed and embarrassed. … They have been subjected to all inhumane abuses against mankind,” Nur said.

The Somali government plan was to repatriate more than 5,000 migrants stranded in detention centers in Libya, but so far only about 40 migrants have accepted the repatriation.

“Our plan is to repatriate all those who want to return home,” Nur said.

Hassan Kafi Qoyste contributed this report from Mogadishu.

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