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Why the Somalia attack is being compared to Sept. 11

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It’s been a week since a massive truck bomb blew up the center of Mogadishu in Somalia. The blast that killed more than 350 is being compared to Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S.

LAKSHMI SINGH, HOST:

It’s been a week since a massive truck bomb blew up in the center of Mogadishu. It killed more than 350 people in what Somalis are describing as their 9/11. NPR’s East Africa correspondent Eyder Peralta has been following this story and joins us now from Mombasa in Kenya. Eyder, obviously September 11, 2001, changed the United States in a huge way. Is what happened in Somalia truly comparable though?

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: I mean, this is the single deadliest attack in the history of Somalia. The government says 358 people are confirmed dead, but another 56 are still missing, so that number is probably going to cross the 400 mark. So just in terms of sheer numbers, the attack has really affected a whole lot of people in the capital. Yesterday, I spoke to Abdi Aynte. He served for a couple of years as a Cabinet minister. And what he says is that this is so big that it calls into question the, quote, “viability of our governance system.” But he says the thing that hurts him the most is the disappointment.

Mogadishu has been on a rebound in the last few years. And the government had really secured the place. And there was new investment, which he thinks that will be spooked. But he says the one good thing to come out of this is that the attack has given Somalis the license to speak out against extremism.

SINGH: Have you seen Somalis protest in the streets in large numbers?

PERALTA: They have. You know, we’ve seen thousands of people in Mogadishu wearing red bandanas, calling for an end to the bloodshed. I’m in Mombasa right now. And it’s just down the coast from Mogadishu, so there’s a big Somali diaspora here. I took a walk through the Somali market, and what I heard was a community that is soul searching. I spoke to Uda Abdi Mahamud, and she says it is time for Somalis to start facing some hard truths. Here’s what she told me. You’ll hear her followed by an interpreter.

UDA ABDI MAHAMUD: (Through interpreter) Each and every government that’s formed in Somalia, Somalis have the tendency of blaming the West, but that’s a lie. The government that has been formed which we had hope with his being interfered by nothing other than the local Somalis who are living in Somalia.

PERALTA: So the essence of what she’s saying is that al-Shabab is a Somali problem that needs to be dealt with by Somalis.

SINGH: Al-Shabab has been widely suspected of being behind this terrible attack. Has there been any more clarity on that?

PERALTA: No, not really, not officially. I mean, the – al-Shabab hasn’t taken responsibility. But I’ve been talking to a lot of people, and they say the same thing, that yes, it is possible that someone else did this. But it’s hard to imagine that any other group has the drive or much less the technical know-how to do something like this. The government has blamed al-Shabab.

An army spokesman told the Associated Press that President Formajo will declare a state of war, and that’s supposed to kick off an offensive to flush out al-Shabab from its strongholds. Basically, they’re trying to deny the Islamist group a place to plan attacks like this. It’s also likely that Somalia will seek deeper involvement from the U.S. and that’s something to watch stateside.

SINGH: That’s NPR’s East Africa correspondent Eyder Peralta joining us from Mombasa in Kenya. Eyder, thank you.

PERALTA: Thank you, Lakshmi.

Briefing Room

Somalia says it requested U.S. air strike which killed 100 militants

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Somalia’s government said on Wednesday it had requested the U.S. air strike which killed more than 100 suspected militants on the previous day to help pave the way for an upcoming ground offensive against Islamist militant group al Shabaab.

The United States military’s Africa Command said on Tuesday it had killed more than 100 of the al Qaeda-linked insurgents in an air strike on a camp 125 miles (200 km) northwest of the capital Mogadishu.

“Those militants were preparing explosives and attacks. Operations against al Shabaab have been stepped up,” Abdirahman Omar Oman, the Somali minister, told Reuters.

“We have asked the U.S. to help us from the air to make our readied ground offensive more successful.”

The United States has ramped up operations in Somalia this year after President Donald Trump loosened the rules of engagement in March.

Africom reported eight U.S. air strikes from May to August this year, compared to 13 for the whole of 2016. Including Tuesday’s air strike, it has reported five strikes in Somalia this month alone.

The Pentagon said the U.S. military would continue to target militants in strikes in coordination with the Somali government.

A Navy Seal was killed in a raid in May and U.S. forces were present at a controversial raid on the town of Bariire in August, in which 10 people were killed.

Al Shabaab has lost control of most of Somalia’s cities and towns since African Union peacekeepers supporting Somali troops pushed the insurgency out of the capital Mogadishu in 2011. But it retains a strong presence in parts of the south and center.

Somali president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, a dual U.S.-Somali citizen, has taken a harder line than his predecessors against the insurgency since he was sworn in earlier this year.

But his plans have been repeatedly thwarted by the poor state of the Somali military and political infighting.

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U.S. airstrikes kill more than 100 militants in Somalia

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WASHINGTON — Reflecting stepped-up targeting of extremists in Africa, the U.S. military said airstrikes killed more than 100 militants in Somalia on Tuesday and hit Islamic State fighters in Libya days earlier.

U.S. Africa Command, which manages U.S. military operations on the continent, said the airstrike in Somalia targeted an al-Shabab camp about 125 miles northwest of the capital, Mogadishu, killing more than 100. That is the largest number of reported deaths from a single U.S. airstrike in Somalia since the Trump administration approved expanded military operations against al-Shabab, which is allied with al-Qaida.

Al-Shabab is blamed for last month’s truck bombing in Mogadishu that killed more than 350 people.

It’s largest number of reported deaths from a single U.S. airstrike in Somalia since the Trump administration approved expanded military operations against al-Shabab.

A Somali intelligence official said U.S. drone aircraft fired at least eight missiles at al-Shabab bases and training camps in Bur-Eylada, a village situated between the towns of Dinsor and Burhakaba in the Bay region. The official, who was not authorized to speak to reporters on the record and discussed the matter on condition of anonymity, said senior al-Shabab commanders were among the dead.

The U.S. this month also began targeting a small but growing IS presence in northern Somalia.

Separately, Africa Command said it conducted two airstrikes near Fuqaha in central Libya against Islamic State group militants — one Nov. 17 and another two days later. It made no mention of casualties and did not identify the specific targets. It said the strikes were done in coordination with Libya’s interim government, known as the Government of National Accord.

The Trump administration has committed to preventing the Islamic State group from regrouping after losing its grip on significant territory in Iraq and Syria.

AFRICOM STATEMENT

In coordination with the Federal Government of Somalia, U.S. forces conducted an airstrike in Somalia against an al-Shabaab camp on Tuesday, Nov. 21 at approximately 10:30 a.m. local Somalia time, killing more than 100 militants.

The operation occurred 125 miles northwest of the capital, Mogadishu.

Al-Shabaab has pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda and is dedicated to providing safe haven for terrorist attacks throughout the world. Al-Shabaab has publicly committed to planning and conducting attacks against the U.S. and our partners in the region.

U.S. forces will continue to use all authorized and appropriate measures to protect Americans and to disable terrorist threats. This includes partnering with AMISOM and Somali National Security Forces (SNSF); targeting terrorists, their training camps and safe havens throughout Somalia, the region and around the world.

Our political and security goals in Somalia are the same: a reconstituted Somali state at peace internally and able to address all threats within its territory.

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Briefing Room

Somaliland Ruling Party Candidate Bihi Wins Election

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Ruling party candidate Muse Bihi Abdi has been declared the winner of the presidential election in the breakaway republic of Somaliland.

The electoral commission said Bihi won 55 percent of the vote compared to 40 percent for Abdurahman Mohamud Abdullahi, the opposition Wadani party candidate.

Faisal Ali Waraabe, of the For Justice and Development party (UCID), finished third with about 4 percent of the vote.

Electoral Commission Chairman Abdikadir Iman Warsame, who announced the results in Hargeisa Tuesday, said the election was “peaceful, free and fair”

The announcement came eight days after hundreds of thousands of voters cast ballots at more than 1,600 polling stations.

Bihi would replace outgoing President Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud, who chose not to seek another term. He is Somaliland’s fifth president since the region broke away from the rest of Somalia in 1991.

Who is Bihi?

Bihi was born in a rural part of Hargeisa in 1948.

In 1985, as an air force military colonel, he joined the Somali National Movement, (SNM), a rebel group that fought for secession from Somalia.In 1993, after the collapse of the former Somali military government, he became Somaliland’s interior minister.

In 2002, he became a member of the executive committee of the ruling Kulmiye party, where he was named deputy chairman in 2008 and chairman in 2015.

President-elect Bihi will serve a five-year term with an option for a second term. His central agenda is how to win international recognition for Somaliland.

Somalia wants Somaliland to be part of a single Somali state. But Somaliland, which used to be a British colony and broke away from the rest of Somalia in 1991, wants to be a separate country.

Since its formation it has been more stable than Somalia and democratic elections have been commonplace.

Post-election tension

Political tension mounted in Somaliland following the election, after the Wadani party candidate Abdirahman Mohamed Abdullahi said he would not accept what he termed the “massively rigged and corrupted exercise.”

Abdullahi questioned the transparency of the election and accused the current government of arresting his representatives at polling stations to steal votes and commit fraud.

“The election was not [a] free and fair election because members of our party representatives and supporters were arrested on the Election Day and after,” said Abdullahi. “And then we found out that the election was massively corrupted and rigged.”

Wadani party members withdrew from the counting process, saying they had evidence of fake ballots smuggled out of the polling stations in at least three Somaliland regions.

The allegations were later denied by Electoral Commission Chairman Warsame, who said there was no ballot stuffing or other irregularities.

On Thursday, at least two people were killed in protests that followed the opposition party’s claims of alleged election fraud.

Abdullahi then called on his supporters to show calm and asked the leaders of the current government to release party members from jails.

The head of a British-funded team of 60 international observers, who monitored the vote, said last week they saw some minor infringements of voting rules, but agreed the overall voting process met international standards.

“We determined from our observations that there were not [irregularities] of sufficient scale to undermine the integrity of the electoral processes,” said Michael Walls, a senior lecturer in the Development Planning Unit at University College London.

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