The conference on Somalia held in London Thursday was replete with handshakes and backslapping as the U.K. and others praised the new Somali government and pledged to do all they could to help defeat terrorism in the Horn of Africa country.
Yet amid the genial atmosphere, there was a moment of tension as Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi “Farmajo” Mohamed broached the issue of lifting a 25-year arms embargo that he said has hampered the fight against Al-Shabab, an Islamist militant group affiliated to Al-Qaeda that has bombed and blasted the Somali military for more than a decade.
“Al-Shabab has AK-47s and the Somali National Army has the same equipment, the same weapons. And that’s why this war has been lingering for 10 years,” said President Farmajo at a press conference at the conclusion of the London meeting. “If we don’t have more sophisticated and better weaponry, this war will definitely continue for another 10 years.”
Besides temporarily loosening some restrictions in 2013, the international community has steadfastly refused to remove the arms embargo, as Somalia has battled to establish a stable government and retake control of territories governed by Al-Shabab, which has a presence in much of rural southern Somalia.
The embargo was put in place in 1992 as Somalia fell into civil war, wracked by clan conflicts.
The civil war saw two northern regions of Somalia effectively break away, with one claiming independence, left the country without a central government for more than two decades, and created the conditions for the rise of Al-Shabab, a militant offshoot of a group of sharia courts that seized control of the capital Mogadishu in 2006. It also saw Somalia become a byword for anarchy: The Horn of Africa country has been ranked top of the Fragile States Index seven times in the past nine years.
Farmajo, who was elected in February on a wave of optimism, said his government was working toward a full lifting of the arms embargo. But the country is not there yet, says Thomas Shannon, the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs in the U.S. Department of State.
“He talked about creating a process that would get Somalia there. He understands that the reason that hasn’t happened yet is because Somalia still doesn’t have in place the internal control mechanism, the storage, repository and tracking mechanisms necessary to ensure that weapons stay where they are supposed to stay,” says Shannon in an exclusive meeting with Newsweek on the sidelines of the London conference.
While the original 1992 embargo banned the sale of all weapons and military equipment to all parties in Somalia, several amendments have since been made.
Somalia President Explains Why Lifting The Arms Embargos Is Important For Somalia
In 2007, the Security Council resolved that the embargo would not apply to weapons and equipment directed for the sole use of AMISOM, the 22,000-strong African Union force that has been leading the fight against Al-Shabab, and which is due to exit Somalia by 2020. Then in 2013, following the establishment of the first central Somali government since the early 1990s, the Security Council lifted the embargo on light weaponry being sold to Somali national forces for a twelve-month period, though certain heavy arms—such as surface-to-air missiles—were still banned.
The international community’s key concern is that Al-Shabab could get its hands on heavy weaponry if the embargo to Somali forces was lifted, says Omar Mahmood, an expert on Somalia at the Institute of Security Studies, an African think tank.
This could happen in a number of ways, he says: Either sympathetic elements in the SNA could smuggle weapons to the militants, or corrupt Somali forces could sell arms on the black market, potentially attracting Al-Shabab. Alternatively, the Islamist group could collect the munitions as spoils of war after overrunning Somali forces.
An example of the latter occurred when Al-Shabab overran Kenyan troops at a base in El Adde, near the border between Somalia and Kenya, in January 2016: The militants released video footage of the aftermath of the attack, in which fighters are seen looting boxes of ammunition and military vehicles.
At the London conference, President Farmajo suggested tentatively that “maybe next year, maybe in eight months,” the embargo could be lifted if Somalia could fulfil whatever criteria was demanded by the Security Council.
The comment was apparently brushed aside by British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, who chaired the conference: “This is not the time to lift the arms embargo. We shouldn’t be thinking of doing it that way round.
The priority has got to be to get the Somali forces to a condition working with the regional authorities where they are able to take on Al-Shabab, and where AMISOM is finally able to discharge its obligations,” said Johnson. The British minister emphasized the training of Somali forces currently being undertaken by advisers and troops from several countries, including the U.K. and United States.
The international community still appears to have many doubts about Somalia’s capacity to keep weapons out of the clutches of Al-Shabab, which has called for attacks on the West as well as launching major incursions into Kenya and other neighboring states.
Farmajo’s government has been in place less than three months—he announced his cabinet in March—and in that time, the militant group has carried out multiple large-scale suicide bombings in Mogadishu and other attacks elsewhere. The president announced a state of war in Somalia in April, offering disillusioned jihadis a 60-day window to disarm.
But even if, against the prevailing mood, the arms embargo were to be lifted, it would not have a determinative effect in Somalia’s war on Al-Shabab, says Mahmoo, pointing out that AMISOM has been excused from the arms embargo for the past 10 years. While the African Union force has made significant gains against Al-Shabab—pushing it out of Mogadishu and most other urban areas—the militant group still holds around 10 percent of territory in the country and appears to conduct attacks at will.
“Al-Shabab has been very good at undertaking asymmetric attacks,” says Mahmood, “so it’s no guarantee that if we have heavier weapons going to Somalia, Al-Shabab is going to be eliminated. AMISOM’s struggle pertinently demonstrates that.”
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.