Thursday, September 17, 2009

Suicide bombings in Mogadishu were revenge for recent US raid: Al-Shabaab

The Somali insurgent group al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for a deadly attack in Mogadishu earlier today that killed at least nine people. Two cars painted to look like UN vehicles made it onto the base where peacekeeping troops from the African Union are quartered, near the airport. One car detonated near a fuel depot, the other nearby. Among those killed was the AU's deputy commander for the mission in Somalia, Major-General Juvenal Niyonguruza, four other officials and the attackers.

A spokesman for al-Shabaab told Reuters that the double suicide bombing was in retaliation for Monday's raid by U.S. special forces, in which suspected al-Qaeda leader Salah Ali Saleh Nabhan was killed. Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage is quoted as saying, "We have got our revenge for our brother Nabhan." He also said that his group believes the "infidel government" and AU peacekeepers are planning to attack al-Shabaab once Ramadan ends. "This is a message to them," said Rage.

The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM; website here) comprises some 5,000 troops, from Uganda and Burundi, as well support staff. Since being first deployed in February 2007, the force has seen 33 peacekeepers killed in Somalia, not counting today's fatalities. AMISOM is not involved with counter-piracy operations.

Penetrating the main military base of AMISOM within days of vowing revenge for the US-led raid reveals the organizational capabilities of al-Shabaab, as well as the weakness of the peacekeeping force. But it also reveals a degree of frustration that must be felt by the Somali Islamist group's leadership, since the suicide attack targeted fellow Africans, not the Americans they would have preferred to kill. One wonders if some members of the peacekeeping force are angry with both al-Shabaab and the U.S., and whether this week's incidents will cause other nations to avoid committing their troops to AMISOM or other operations.

On a related note, al-Shabaab also confirmed that they continue to hold a French security consultant who was seized in July (a fellow French captive kidnapped at the same time managed to escape late last month). The group announced a modest list of demands in return for which they would release the man: France must withdraw its security advisors from Somalia and cease supporting the "apostate government of Somalia" militarily or politically; the AU's troops are to be removed; mujahideen fighters being held in other countries are to be released; and French warships deployed in counter-piracy operations off Somalia are to pack up and go home.

Sarcasm aside, it is interesting that al-Shabaab put that last demand in their statement. With the new piracy season about to begin, it could be the group is worried that their pirate allies may not be able to operate as successfully as earlier this year, impacting the financial income that the Islamist group garners from piracy.

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