In the grip of terror: On al-Shabaab attack in Somalia

Islamist terror groups pose a threat not just to Somalia, but to the entire region

January 01, 2020 12:02 am | Updated 12:52 am IST

The massive truck bomb attack on December 28, 2019 in Mogadishu that killed at least 79 people and injured 149 points to a resurgent terrorist threat in Somalia. Al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group that was ousted from Mogadishu in 2011 by international forces, has claimed the attack. Shabaab, which still controls parts of the country, has carried out a number of suicide attacks in the recent past. In the deadliest attack in the country, truck bombs killed at least 600 people in Mogadishu in 2017. Shabaab is blamed for this attack too, though it never took responsibility. Early this year, Shabaab militants attacked a hotel complex in Nairobi, Kenya, killing 21 people. The latest assault comes barely two weeks after militants stormed a hotel in Mogadishu, killing five people. The growing number of such attacks, despite the U.S. steadily enhancing its air campaign against Shabaab and other militants in the country in recent years, have not only exposed the inability, if not incompetence, of the federal government in ensuring security but also sent a message to the government’s regional and international backers that their attempts to get a stable government in the Horn of Africa country are reaching nowhere.

Somalia has hardly been stable since the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. With different clans and militia groups vying for influence and power, the country plunged into a cyclical civil strife. The U.S. sent troops in in 1992 as part of an international humanitarian and peacekeeping mission, but it pulled out of the country in 1994 after 18 American soldiers were killed in the ‘Black Hawk Down’ incident. Shabaab rose from the anarchy that prevailed over the country. It spread its influence fast across Somalia, capturing even Mogadishu, until U.S. and African Union troops ousted it. Since then, the group has been attacking the internationally-backed federal government and the people residing in government-controlled areas through guerrilla and terror strikes. The original regional plan was to establish a government that will stabilise the country and take over the fight against terrorists. But the Somali government is accused of corruption, incompetence and infighting. While Shabaab exploits the chaos and lawlessness, other militant groups, including an Islamic State faction, are on the rise. Security is largely taken care of by the African Union Mission in Somalia, which has stated that it is preparing for “condition-based handover of national security responsibility” to the Somali government. So fragile is the security situation that it is doubtful whether the Somali government could hold itself together if the international troops pull out. To arrest the slide in security, the government has to first get its act together. The African Union should continue to back the government, as Shabaab poses a threat not just to the Somali government but to the whole region.

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