The Obama administration yesterday announced that it will increase assistance of arms and funds to Somalia’s government, as it tries to beat back a terrorist insurgency that includes an international who’s-who of jihadists, including Al-Qaeda.
It does not exaggerate the stakes in Somalia to say that for the first time in its history, Al-Qaeda is about to have rule over an entire country. The Al-Shabaab, a Somalia-based affiliate of the group, assassinated the country’s national security minister on June 18 and currently controls the entire south and large portions of the central parts of the nation, along with parts of the capital. Should the terrorists succeed, they will also have extremist Somali networks in the West to call upon to expand their jihad and support their efforts.
Al-Shabaab and its allies have received extensive backing from foreign countries, the greatest of which is Eritrea, a single-party state with a history of religious oppression and with a recent fondness for rogue states like Iran. Eritrea was accused by the U.N. in June 2007 of secretly providing Somali insurgents with “huge quantities of arms” possibly including suicide bomb belts and anti-aircraft missiles.
Sheikh Hassan Dahir Awyers, the leader of Hizbul-Islam, which is allied to al-Shabaab, is known to have taken safe harbor in Eritrea in the past. Awyers told Reuters in May that Eritrea was supporting his organization, saying “Eritrea supports us and Ethiopia is our enemy—we once helped both countries but Ethiopia did not reward us.” The current U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs has also said that there are numerous “credible” reports that “the government of Eritrea has, in fact, been supplying weapons and munitions to al-Shabaab.”
This seriousness of this threat is greatly compounded by the reach of the Somali networks in the West. Al-Qaeda and its affiliates will not only have a country to themselves, free of any limits or restrictions a host government might impose, but will also be able to draw upon extremist segments in unassimilated Somali communities in Europe and the United States. Already, these segments are causing trouble for those with counter-terrorism duties.
The terrorist groups are already recruiting Somalis in the West to come to East Africa, providing them with training to join their jihad and skills to bring back home. At least 20 Somalis from the Minneapolis area alone have left the country and linked up with al-Shabaab forces, including at least one man who chose to end his life by carrying out a suicide bombing, and several of which have returned to the U.S. Dozens of British-Somalis have also returned to the United Kingdom after training in their home country.
Patrick Poole writes that disappearances of Somalis following al-Shabaab’s call on them to join their fight have occurred in Columbus, Atlanta, Boston, San Diego, Seattle, and even the country of Denmark. He also warned that there is an extensive infrastructure to support Somali jihadist activities.
“…there exists an active recruiting and transportation network in the U.S., including Minneapolis, for Somali-run terrorist training camps, many of which have recently reopened. In many instances, these same Somali leaders purporting ignorance and innocence for the local media are not only aware of these recruiting operations, but have actively participated in them,” he wrote in December 2008.
Al-Qaeda’s links with the Somali pirates provides them with a wealth of information and capabilities. A European military-intelligence report says that the pirates have a network of informants in Yemen, Dubai, around the Suez Canal, and in London providing them with intelligence on their shipping targets. The criminal gangs in Somalia will provide their new terrorist hosts with tremendous fundraising, intelligence, logistics and connections on the black market.
It would be foolish to assume that all or most of the Somali immigrants in the West are extremists, as Abdurahman Warsame, the head of the Terror-Free Somalia Foundation
proves, but there are undeniable problems coming from the unassimilated communities that are forming and the extremist beliefs that can result from not merging into Western society. With approximately 250,000 Somalis living in the United Kingdom, and 70-200,000 living in the United States, the tiny minority that may be seduced by al-Shabaab and extremism as a whole is enough to cause major damage.
Fearing a takeover of Somalia by Al-Shabaab and its allies, Kenya is hinting at military intervention, with Foreign Minister Wetangula saying “We will not sit by and watch the situation in Somalia deteriorate beyond where it is.” Ethiopia, which previously intervened in an attempt to stop the extremists and withdrew its forces earlier this year, has confirmed that its military has conducted “reconnaissance” in Somalia but has denied reports that soldiers have moved in and says they have no plans to intervene again. However, reports continue to surface of Ethiopian troops in Somalia, including one that soldiers and officials meeting with local elders in the Bakol region on June 18.
Absent foreign intervention, Al-Qaeda and their ilk will take Somalia, and replenish what they have lost in Afghanistan and Iraq. With an entire country to themselves, the terrorist group will have opportunities they have not ever had in the past. The world has come too far in the War on Terror to let its progress become undone.