SOMALIA: Al-Shabab: Striking like mosquitoes

_73216514_al-shabab_afp624As Somalia’s government plans a new offensive against al-Shabab, the BBC’s Mary Harper considers why the Islamist militants remain so brazen.

The storming by al-Shabab fighters of Villa Somalia, the seat of government in the capital, Mogadishu, last Friday did not take me altogether by surprise.

On a recent visit to this large, shabby, sprawling compound I was struck by the lackadaisical security.

True, I had to walk through a lot of checkpoints, but each one seemed more sleepy and chaotic than the next.

I was surprised the African Union and Somali government soldiers let my companion in: His name was not on the security list at the gate, and he was not carrying ID.

The day after the attack, in which at least 11 people were killed, I spoke by telephone to an al-Shabab official.

He sounded relaxed, assured and in a very good mood.

“Villa Somalia is meant to be the most protected part of Mogadishu, and Mogadishu is meant to be the most protected part of Somalia,” he said.

Yet we managed to strike the president’s house. My advice to the apostate President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is try to protect your house and your staff before trying to protect your country.

He then went on to describe in great detail how “our boys” prepared for the attack.

Al-Shabab has left several other towns, including the lucrative port of Kismayo, but it continues to collect “taxes” in the areas it controls.

Some business people in Mogadishu have told me they still pay fees to the group.

As al-Shabab is such a secretive movement, it is difficult to say how many fighters it has. Recent estimates say it may have as many as 5,000, including the “pay-as-you-go” elements who are paid to carry out specific acts such as throwing grenades. ‘Nice to die’ Continue reading the main story  Al-Shabab At A Glance

“The Youth” in Arabic     Formed as a radical offshoot of the Union of Islamic Courts, which controlled Mogadishu, in 2006     Controls most of southern Somalia     Estimated to have 5,000 fighters     Announced merger with al-Qaeda in 2012

Back in Villa Somalia, I suggested to President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud that he was going backwards instead of forwards both politically and in terms of security.

There had been no major advances against al-Shabab since the seizure of the town of Jowhar in December 2012.

His normal cuddly smile disappeared from his face, and he looked decidedly cross.

“I do not agree with you on many of these issues. I believe the opposite is true,” he said.

“We have established the basis for security institutions with new leadership and new legislation. But after 23 years of conflict, it’s not rational to believe that miracles can happen.”

To be honest, I found it odd that the main conversation amongst the people I met in Villa Somalia was about who the new Prime Minister, Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed, would chose for his cabinet. With the continuing violence and the miserable conditions in which most Somalis live, why were they so obsessed with internal politics?

When I ask Somalis why al-Shabab has intensified its attacks in Mogadishu, some say it is a response to the planned new offensive by the Somali army and the African Union force, which is now 22,000 strong.

I put this to the al-Shabab official, who shrugged it off. President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who was elected by MPs in 2012, is under pressure to end the conflict

“We are not at all worried about the new offensive, of which there is not yet a single sign,” he said.

“We have been fighting since 2007. We are on the right path; we have honour; it is actually very nice to die if one dies for one’s religion.”

When the new offensive begins, in all likelihood al-Shabab will adopt its usual tactic of officially withdrawing from the remaining urban areas it controls.

Some of its fighters will remove their battledress and melt into the civilian population, others will move to the towns’ outskirts.

But like mosquitoes in the night, al-Shabab fighters will continue to strike.

Like mosquitoes, they will sting where it hurts and will be difficult, if not impossible, to eliminate.

Source: BBC NEWS



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