A recent call by the leader of Somalia’s most dangerous militant group Al Shabaab to his fighters to “give good news” to the worldwide Al Qaeda leadership is raising the fear of possible attacks in the Eastern Africa region, where the militants have in recent years carried out deadly assaults against civilian targets.
The UN envoy for Somalia as well as security experts and analysts are also warning that the ongoing offensive in the Horn of Africa nation could strengthen the militants’ determination to seek revenge, or at least to try and ease the military pressure on fellow fighters.
“The risk of further attacks against the Somali government and international targets remains high,” said Nicholas Kay, via videoconferencing in his briefing to the UN Security Council on Tuesday, just weeks after militants raided the seat of Somalia’s government in Mogadishu in a failed bid to capture or kill President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.
Emmanuel Kisiangani, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, warned the region is not well-protected. “The region is vulnerable,” he said.
Yet it seems both the Somali president and African Union which is carrying out the offensive in the country are not about to relent.
Speaking in Mogadishu ahead of a state visit to Japan on Monday, President Mohamud told Somalis that now was “the time to decide your destiny,” and that “there is no going back.”
After defeating the militants, he said, the government will focus on other important national issues, such as reviewing the provincial constitution, implementing federalism across the country and creating an environment in which elections can be held in 2016.
The operation in Somalia, mainly led by Ethiopian forces, who joined the AU force last January, is concentrated in the southern regions, where the militants have lost control of several towns.
The UN has supplied food, fuel and water to the AU operation, saying it is “the most significant and geographically extensive military advance” since the arrival of peacekeepers in 2007.
“We promised that this year, 2014, will be a year of action and now that has started,” said Ali Col. Ali Houmed a spokesman for the AU force.
In recent months, the US and Kenya have also carried out several aerial attacks against militants to disrupt, deter and prevent them from pulling off another attack.
And given its status as the regional hub for the international media, Nairobi is still a tempting target for militants who are desperate for making international headlines, said analysts.
Although the militants’ powers have been depleted over the years and in 2011 were forced to withdraw from Mogadishu, they still control a dozen small but crucial towns and most of the countryside in south-central regions.
But security experts and analysts say the right approach to inoculate Somalia, and by extension the region from Al Shabaab threats is to help Mogadishu strengthen the capabilities of its army and win over the public.
“The new Somali government can’t rely on the African troops for its long-term security needs,” said Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad, a Horn of Africa specialist who teaches history and political science at Kenyatta University in Nairobi.
By MALKHADIR MUHUMED Special Correspondent