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Thursday May 13, 2010 - 11:22:40 in Latest News by Super Admin
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By Andrea Floudiotis

Nairobi (Sunatimes)-Tensions in Somalia have not eased. The militant Islamic group al-Shabaab (the youth) is still doggedly laying siege to the embattled Transitional Federal Government (TFG) which is just clinging to control of the country. Even the pirates operating along the coastline have been attacked recently.

The streets of the capital Mogadishu still witness scenes of such violence that people are fleeing with few or no possessions; sometimes leaving family members behind in the mad rush to escape. It is estimated that at least half of Mogadishu’s population have fled to refugee camps.

al-Shabaab has banned school bells from ringing out, as they are deemed too Christian. It has banned the playing of music on radio. It has prevented school children from participating in sports or playing courtyard games.

Not too long ago, a thirteen year old rape victim was publicly beaten for “committing adultery”. These acts are in accordance with the group’s strict version of Shari’a law; a system which al-Shabaab believes is the solution to all of Somalia’s woes.

Some Somalis have come to accept al-Shabaab and their strict, forcefully self-imposed, rule of a country over which it has no legal jurisdiction. These Somalis say that they would rather live under these strict laws than with the anarchy that has reigned over the last two decades. Others are bitterly opposed to al-Shabaab and would rather see them defeated in order to allow some semblance of normal life to resume under a freely elected government. The group’s area of influence is however growing, and defeating al-Shabaab is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve.

Since its emergence in 2004, al-Shabaab is now estimated to command a force of at least 6000 fighters. The majority of these who joined in the early days are said to have been nationalists loyal to the Islamic Courts Union. A few hundred of the group’s elite fighters however, are fiercely loyal to the group and its founder Aden Hashi Ayro who reportedly handpicked these men and had them trained in guerrilla warfare and explosives expertise in Eritrea.

Many Somalis living abroad have also since joined the group and received training. These members pose the greatest threat to global security outside of Somalia. It is feared that these men, many of whom hold foreign citizenship, aim to return to the United States (US), United Kingdom (UK), Canada or Australia to carry out al- Shabaab’s attack on nations which the group has labelled as infidels.

The group’s extremist ideology is aligned with that of al-Qaeda’s, and ties between the two terrorist groups were officially announced in February this year. The announcement was reinforced with videos of support for al-Shabaab’s activities and ideology by Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

The threats posed by al-Shabaab’s expanding areas of influence and alignment with al-Qaeda have not gone unnoticed by other countries; particularly the US.

President Barack Obama recently gave US treasury officials broader power to deal with the deteriorating

security situation in Somalia. Officials now have the authority to freeze the assets of any individuals involved.



In piracy, or those of militants who threaten the country’s stability, This extends to anyone who interferes with the delivery of humanitarian assistance, threatens peace, or violates the UN arms embargo. There is also speculation that the US is aiding the TFG strategically and militarily, but this has not been confirmed by US officials; despite the recognizable sound of drones flying over Mogadishu at night.

Retaliation against the al-Shabaab and its allies is also growing within Somalia. The town of Dusamareb to the North-East of Mogadishu serves as the headquarters of Ahlu Sunnah, a moderate Sufi Islamic movement bitterly opposed to al-Shabaab. The group has signed a formal agreement with the struggling TFG to cooperate militarily in the battle against the growing force of al-Shabaab. With al-Shabaab attempting to establish links with Hizbullah in Lebanon and sympathetic militants in Eritrea, the TFG is welcoming any assistance it can get.

Despite the support shown for the TFG, al-Shabaab remains intent on governing Somalia under its strict

laws. As a result of the group’s involvement in fighting the Ethiopian forces which tried to invade Somalia to oust Somali Islamists from power in 2006, it feels entitled to its self-appointed leadership role. Even after having lost many soldiers during this operation, al-Shabaab has successfully regrouped; partly as a result of the time and space to manoeuvre that was unintentionally provided by the TFG’s descent into factional politics and Ethiopia’s disinterest in doing anything more than prop up the TFG militarily.

al-Shabaab has also begun to restructure, but with seemingly greater success than the TFG. It has become apparent that al-Shabaab’s command structure has been decentralized, and the group has been divided into cells. This gives regional al-Shabaab commanders greater independence to carry out attacks when and where they deem it necessary. This decentralized structure has also made it more difficult to target any specific leadership core.

The only viable solution to the increasing security threat posed by al-Shabaab, is to better support and strengthen the TFG and AU forces attempting to aid it in its battle against al-Shabaab. If al-Shabaab is

allowed to overthrow the TFG, Somalia will certainly become a larger terrorist outpost than it already is. The international community needs to focus on this short term goal, as well as begin to formulate a viable long term plan for Somalia’s government in an attempt to regain some semblance of democratic peace and security; a long-forgotten, lofty ideal for most Somalis.

This commentary from the International Institute of Islamic Studies of Ileana

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