The rising level of violence in Somalia has triggered widespread calls to reevaluate the African Union role in the country. As senior western diplomat acknowledged, “there is not enough AMISOM troops to win the war again al-Shabaab. There is growing evidence, however that the solution to al-Shabaab is not in Mogadishu but in Hargeisa in Somaliland region of Somalia.
Somaliland is a self-declared region of Somalia. The International Community does not recognize it as independent state. The United Nations (UN), the African Union (AU), and the Arab League Charters all support unified Federal Republic of Somalia. The UN Security Council Resolutions state that the international community supports Somalia sovereignty and territorial integrity. The international community led by the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia, and China as well as all other UN members unanimously opposes Somaliland independence from Somalia.
The implications for the International Community are profound. Increasing the size of AMISOM is no longer sufficient in defeating al-Shabaab. Success requires increasing the size and capabilities of the Somali Security Forces (SSF) and a political and diplomatic feat: Somaliland to stop financing terrorism and proving sanctuary to al-Shabaab, al-Qa’ida and the new Islamic State.
We have conducted extensive interviews with the international community and with senior officials of Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenyan, Djibouti and Uganda. The conclusions are stark. There is significant evidence that al-Shabaab and other groups use Somaliland as a sanctuary for recruitment, financing and support. In addition, there is unanimity that Somaliland Ministry of Interior and intelligence services provide assistance to al-Shabaab operations in Somalia.
In the immediate aftermath of the Council of Islamic Courts defeat of western supported warlords in Somalia in July 2006, the international community had little choice but to work with Somaliland administration to help them capture or kill key al-Shabaab and al-Qa’ida terrorists in Somalia. But the rising level of violent in Somalia linked to Somaliland has increasingly altered the international community cost-benefit calculus. Credible reports suggests that the ability of al-Shabaab and other extremist groups to gain sanctuary in Somaliland and secure financial assistance from state and non-state actors in Somaliland significantly increased their success in Somalia.
The cost of failing to clam on Somaliland financing and support of al-Shabaab and other groups is significant and rising. It virtually guarantees the continuing destabilization of Somalia and the Horn of Africa region, threatening to undermine and uproot the fragile federal effort supported by the international community. As one recent western intelligence assessment provided to AMISOM and the Federal Government of Somalia concluded: ‘financial support and sanctuary provided by Somaliland has contributed more to the survival of al-Shabaab than any other factor’. The deterioration of security in Somalia is giving the international community a pause.
Current policy toward Somaliland does not serve the interests in stabilizing Somalia. It is thus time to fundamentally alter the international community pause. Policymakers in are focused on much tougher policy that pressures Somaliland to participate in the 2016 federal process and forgoes unrecognized independence claims. A tougher policy likely will probably pressure Somaliland to remove senior government officials linked to al-Shabaab financing and support from leadership positions, according to credible western diplomat. If Somaliland is unwilling to cooperate, the international community will alter impose sanctions on Somaliland leaders and reduce contacts and financial support.
Tipping Point for Somaliland
According to western diplomat, the tipping point for Somaliland was the February 2016 Daallo Airline bombing. Reports indicate that Somaliland funded al-Shabaab senior operative Ismail Muse who planned, coordinated and financed the attempted bombing of Turkish Airline Istanbul to Mogadishu flight. After the flight was cancelled, al-Shabaab operatives switched to plan B to bomb Daallo Airlines flight.
In order to minimize detectability, Somaliland provided indirect assistance to al-Shabaab in Mogadishu and south-central Somalia. Western and regional intelligence services have uncovered several instances in which counterterrorism intelligence provided to Somaliland was shared with al-Shabaab at the tactical, operational and strategic levels. Somaliland intelligence has reportedly tipped off al-Shabaab about AMISOM and Somali National Army operations, which undermined several counterterrorism operations.
In addition, senior Somaliland intelligence officials appear to be involved in directing al-Shabaab suicide operatives recruited from Somaliland into Mogadishu. Most of the assistance appears to come directly from individuals at the mid-higher levels of Somaliland government. But there is growing evidence that senior Somaliland officials are aware of Somaliland intelligence role and are actively encouraging it.
Somaliland assistance to al-Shabaab is consistent with Hargeisa past behaviors, especially Somaliland intelligence. Throughout the early 1990s and mid 2000s, Somaliland funded both sides of the conflict and provided arms, ammunition, supplies, financial aid and training to al-Itihad al-Islamiya (AIAI), a group that was originally funded by Osama Bin Laden, al-Qa’ida in East Africa and Somali warlords fighting in south-central Somalia and Mogadishu including warlord Ali Mahdi Mohamed, Botan Isse Alin, Mohamed Qanyare Afrah, Muse Sudi Yalahow, Mohamed Said Atom, Hassan Al-Turki and Hassan Dahir Aweys.
Al-Shabaab Sanctuary in Somaliland
Another source of support for al-Shabaab is the jihadi network, which has deep roots in Somaliland. It has enabled al-Shabaab and other groups to sustain their operations and become more lethal in killing AMISOM and Somali National Army (SNA). This support comes from a variety of sources. Al-Shabaab receives significant financial assistance from Somaliland donor’s abroad, especially from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar and Kuwait as well as United Kingdom, Canada, and Sweden. Al-Shabaab senior facilitators and fundraisers have routinely met with Somaliland businessman in Hargeisa, Burco and Berbera as well as Jeddah, Dubai, Doha and Kuwait to collect funds for the group.
Al-Shabaab and other insurgent groups in Somalia have major support base through their cooperation Somaliland Muslim Brotherhood (SMB), and their political party, which is connected to the International Muslim Brotherhood (IMB). Al-Shabaab has used this support to construct increasingly sophisticated terrorist cells in Somalia.
Al-Shabaab Training Camps in Somaliland
There are al-Shabaab-run training facilities and improvised-explosive factories in Somaliland. They range from small facilities hidden within compounds in Hargeisa and Burco that build the devices, too much larger ‘IED factories’ which double as training centers and labs where al-Shabaab recruits experiment with improvised-explosive technology.
Al-Shabaab also receives operational, financial and logistics support from local clerics in Somaliland. They recruit young men and women from the local madrassas in Somaliland and finance their activities. Some of this explosives expertise has come from al-Qa’ida and other violent groups in Yemen, who provide information to al-Shabaab on making and using various kinds of remote-controlled devices and timers.
There is further evidence of cooperation between al-Shabaab operatives and extremist clerics affiliated with Somaliland intelligence. These clerics have provided information on tactics through face-to-face visits to al-Shabaab training camps in Somaliland and Somalia. Moreover, there is some evidence that al-Shabaab has received military training in Somaliland; and militants in Mogadishu increasingly used homemade bombs, suicide attacks and other tactics honed in al-Shabaab training camps Somaliland.
One effective explosive device used in Mogadishu has been the “laptop bomb” first deployed by al-Shabaab senior operative Ismail Muse in Hotel Maka al Mukaramah in Mogadishu in November 2013. The laptop explosive forced hotels guests outside were Muse detonated a car bomb killing 25 people and wounding more than 100 people. There is growing evidence that al-Shabaab senior operative Ismail Muse received information on how to make laptop bomb from Somaliland intelligence.
Al-Shabaab Insurgents Adopt to New Suicide Tactics
Al-Shabaab operatives have increasingly adopted suicide tactics in Mogadishu. The number of suicide attacks increased every year since 2007. There were over 100 suicide terrorist attacks in Somalia in 2015, more than the total committed in the entire history of the country. The use of suicide attacks has been encouraged by Somaliland clerics in Hargeisa, who see suicide operations as the most successful way of inflicting damage against the opponent and the least costly to al-Shabaab in terms of casualties. Several factors have contributed to the rise in suicide attacks in Somalia.
First, al-Shabaab have successfully tapped into the expertise and training of Somaliland. Extremist clerics in Hargeisa and Burco have helped supply a steady stream of suicide bombers. Secondly, al-Shabaab and extremist clerics have concluded that suicide bombing is more effective than other tactics in killing civilians and security forces in Somalia. Suicide attacks allow al-Shabaab terrorists to achieve maximum impact with minimal resources. Data show that when the insurgents fight AMISOM and Somali Security forces directly, there is only a 5% probability of inflicting casualties. With suicide attacks, the chance of killing people and instilling fear increases several folds.
Thirdly, Somaliland government and al-Shabaab judge that suicide attacks have increased the level of insecurity among the Somali population. This has caused some Somalis to question the government’s ability to protect them and has further destabilized the authority of local government institutions. Consequently, the distance between the Somali government and the population in specific areas is widening. Finally, suicide attacks have provided renewed visibility for al-Shabaab, which previous guerrilla attacks did not generate. Because they are lethal and dramatic, suicide attacks are nearly always reported in the national and international media.
Suicide bombers predominantly came from Isaaq and minority groups in Somalia and a majority of them attended madrassas in Hargeisa and Burco, where they are radicalized and immersed in extremist ideologies by clerics affiliated with the intelligence service.
Changing the cost-benefit Calculation
The rise in violence in Somalia and the existence of al-Shabaab sanctuary and financial support in Somaliland threatens the International Community efforts in Somalia. If unchecked, it will destroy the fragile political, social and economic progress that Somalia has experienced since 2011. There has been a gradual deterioration in the security environment in Mogadishu, South-Central and along the Somalia-Kenya border. The number of suicide attacks increased from 8 in 2006 to 100 in 2015, remotely detonated bombings more than doubled from 83 to 277, and armed attacks nearly tripled from 558 to 1,542. The violence led to more than 3,500 deaths in Somalia in 2015, the bloodiest year in the country since 2011.
Promoting disorder in Somalia is a key objective for Somaliland. Disrupting the economy and decreasing security helps produce discontent within the government and undermines its strength and legitimacy. Once al-Shabab has established a hold over the population in certain areas, the portion that was loyal to the government becomes invisible.
Success in Somalia will require a much more sustained effort by the international community to capture or kill insurgents and undermine their support base. To date, Hargeisa has calculated that the costs of supporting a sustained campaign against Somalia are too low and the benefits too high. Ending Somaliland support to al-Shabaab and arresting key middle-and upper-level officials should be sufficient to undermine al-Shabaab. If nor, however, the international community should punish Somaliland political, security and business leaders.
Peter Wolfson & Greta Backstrom
Nairobi, Kenya & Stockholm, Sweden
Peter Wolfson and Greta Backstrom are pseudo used by investigative journalists to protect our sources. Due to the nature of the threat in Somalia and the Horn of Africa and the serious risk to our contacts and our obligation to protect them, we are using pseudo names. Our contacts in Somalia and the region are highly credible with access to important information that could highlight the nexus between state and non-state actors support for al-Shabaab and other extremist groups in Somalia. We will publish more reports in the coming weeks and months about the subject of terrorism in Somalia.