News you may have missed #895: Africa edition

Hailemariam Desalegn►►South African security contractor faces spy charges in South Sudan. William John Endley, a retired South African Army colonel, works as a security contractor for former South Sudanese Vice President Riek Machar, who is now the leader of a rebel faction fighting the government of President Salva Kiir. Endley, who has been working as Machar’s bodyguard, was arrested in August 2016 in Juba. He is now facing charges of espionage and conspiracy to overthrow the government of Sound Sudan.

►►Somalia appoints new police, intelligence chiefs. The Somali government announced Monday it has appointed new police and intelligence chiefs, nearly four months after their predecessors were sacked following the deadliest ever terror attack in the war-torn nation. Former deputy health minister Hussein Osman Hussein has been named head of Somalia’s intelligence service, while deputy head of police Bashir Abdi Mohamed has been promoted to police chief. Their predecessors were sacked on October 29, a day after an attack that left 27 people dead, and just two weeks after 512 people were murdered in a truck bombing in Mogadishu on October 14.

►►Ethiopia bans protests, media criticism, under state of emergency. The government of Ethiopia has declared a six-month state of emergency that includes a ban on protests and publications deemed to incite violence. The measure was announced on Friday, a day after Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced his surprise resignation in a televised speech. In his resignation address, Desalegn said he resigned to “smooth the path for political reform”. But critics say that the purpose of the state of emergency is “not to protect the constitutional order but to silence the voices calling for change”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 20 February 2018 | Permalink

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Islamist gunmen who stormed Mogadishu hotel posed as intelligence officers

Mogadishu SomaliaA group of Islamist gunmen who stormed a well-known hotel in the Somali capital on Saturday, killing and wounding dozens, convincingly posed as officers of the country’s intelligence agency, according to officials. The attack began when a truck was driven in broad daylight through the front gate of Naso-Hablod, a hotel located a few blocks from the presidential palace in Mogadishu. Shortly after the hotel’s front entrance was demolished, five heavily armed men rushed to the scene and entered the building. They told police forces and the hotel’s private security guards that they were officers of the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) of Somalia. According to police reports, the men wore uniforms displaying NISA insignia and displayed NISA identity cards bearing their photographs and names.

But the men were members of al-Shabaab, a Somali-based Sunni insurgency group that claimed responsibility for the attack on the Naso-Hablod less than an hour after the truck bomb exploded. After gaining entrance into the hotel, three of the heavily armed men fought back attempts by Somali police and security forces to enter the building. The remaining two Islamists entered guest rooms and shot guests, ultimately killing 30. The killings continued for 12 hours, until three of the five attackers were shot dead. Two more were captured alive, still dressed in NISA uniforms with what appeared to be NISA-issued identity cards pinned on them. Government officials told local media that the uniforms and identity cards worn by the attackers did not differ from those issued to actual NISA employees.

On Sunday, the government of Somalia announced the firing of NISA’s Director-General, Abdullahi Mohamed Ali. The head of the federal police, General Abdihakim Saeed, was also dismissed at the same time. According to reports from the Somali capital, the government is concerned about a possible NISA connection to the Naso-Hablod attack. There are fears that al-Shabaab may have systematically infiltrated the intelligence service, or that the group may have sympathizers within the ranks of the agency. Two weeks ago, the Somali capital witnessed the worst terrorist attack in its recent history, when a massive bomb killed over 350 people. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but most observers believe that al-Shabaab was behind it.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 October 2017 | Permalink

France seizes ship with ‘hundreds of weapons’ heading for Yemen

Combined Maritime ForcesThe United States says a ship carrying hundreds of weapons, which was captured by the French Navy in the Indian Ocean, originated from Iran, and that the cargo was destined for Yemeni rebels through Somalia. The ship was seized on March 20 by a French warship patrolling the Indian Ocean as part of the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF). The CMF is a multinational naval fleet that aims to implement United Nations sanctions on Somalia. The sanctions are designed to frustrate the activities of al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda-linked Somali militant group, and to put an end to maritime piracy in the Horn of Africa.

The ship carrying the weapons is believed to have been initially spotted by a French helicopter that was conducting surveillance flights in support of CMF’s mission. Soon after boarding the ship, French forces discovered large amounts of weaponry. A statement posted on the CMF website said that the ship was found to be carrying “several hundred AK47 assault rifles, machine guns and anti-tank weapons”. The French Ministry of Defense said that the vessel was not registered to any country and that the crew of 10 was multinational. All crew members were released after being questioned by their French captors.

An assessment of the ship’s capture by the US Department of Defense states that the arms shipment probably originated in Iran and that it was heading to Somalia. However, the most likely final destination of the cargo was not al-Shabaab, but Houthi rebels in Yemen. Iran is known to be supporting and funding Houthi rebels, who are Shiite and are fighting a bitter civil war against the country’s Saudi-supported Sunni government.

It is worth noting that the recent capture of the unregistered vessel is the third such seizure of a large cache of weapons heading for Yemen through Somalia since September. In the previous most recent case, an Australian Navy ship sailing off the coast of Oman intercepted a large cache of weapons being transported to Yemen. US sources speculated that the intercepted ship originated from Iran and was heading to Yemen.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 31 March 2016 | Permalink

Somali officials divert arms to al-Qaeda-linked groups, UN says

Al-Shabaab militants in SomaliaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A confidential report by United Nations monitoring experts warns that senior members of Somalia’s federal government are systematically diverting weapons to al-Qaeda-linked groups operating in the country. In 1992, the United Nations Security Council imposed a weapons embargo on Somalia, in an effort to prevent weapons from reaching a multitude of warring tribes that had plunged the country into a bloody civil war. Last March, however, the Council agreed to ease the embargo following persistent appeals by the Federal Government of Somalia. The latter argued that the two decades-long arms embargo prevented it from adequately defending itself and its population from al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda-linked militant group that controls large swathes of the Somali countryside. The easing of the embargo, which was supported by the United States, has allowed the government in Mogadishu to import much-needed military hardware such as rocket-propelled grenade launchers and automatic assault rifles. But a recent report from the UN’s Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group has found that a significant portion of the advanced weaponry imported by Somalia following the relaxation of the embargo rules is ending up in the hands of paramilitary groups, including al-Shabaab. The confidential 14-page report, which has been seen by Reuters, was authored by a team of independent experts who are tasked with evaluating the extent to which the government of Somalia complies with weapons sanctions. The report concludes that the UN should restore the full weapons embargo in order to prevent advanced weaponry from falling into the arms of al-Shabaab. Read more of this post

US regular troops enter Somalia for the first time in 20 years

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.orgAl-Shabaab militants in Somalia
For the first time since 1993, when American troops left Somalia following the infamous ‘Black Hawk down’ incident, the US army has secretly stationed a group of regular troops in the troubled African country. The last time United States troops were in Somalia, in support of a wider United Nations stabilization operation, the administration of US President Bill Clinton decided to abandon the operation. The decision has been largely attributed to an incident known as “The Battle of Mogadishu”, in which nearly 20 American soldiers were killed. Images of their bodies being dragged by Somali militiamen through the streets of the capital resulted in major policy shift in Washington, with successive US administrations avoiding prolonged military engagements in Somalia ever since. In the post-9/11 era, American military and intelligence planners have deployed Predator drones against Somali targets from a US base in neighboring Djibouti, while rare cases have involved US Special Forces entering the country for a few hours at a time. Washington has also spent hundreds of millions of dollars to fund the nascent Somali military. But American Presidents have avoided any long-term military or civilian presence on the ground; Washington does not even maintain an embassy in Mogadishu —though most observers agree that the Central Intelligence Agency has operated a base there for years. On January 12, however, The Washington Post published a statement by US Africa Command (AFRICOM) spokesman Army Colonel Thomas Davis, in which he confirmed that the Pentagon recently established a “military coordination cell” in Somalia that “is now fully operational”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #847

Abdel Baset al-MegrahiBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Secret letter shows arms deal behind Lockerbie bomber release. An email sent in 2008 by Sir Vincent Fean, the then British ambassador in Tripoli, details how the release by Britain of Lockerbie air disaster bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, was linked to a commercial deal. According to The Daily Telegraph, the email specifies that al-Megrahi would be released once Libya “fulfilled its promise” to buy an £400 million air defense system.
►►Is the US ramping up a secret war in Somalia? The US has expanded its secret war in Somalia, stepping up assistance for federal and regional Somali intelligence agencies that are allied against the country’s Islamist insurgency. It’s a move that’s not only violating the terms of an international arms embargo, according to UN investigators, but it also shows that Washington’s signature victory against al-Qaeda’s most powerful African ally may be in danger of unraveling.
►►Indonesian government ‘angry’ at alleged Western spying. The Indonesian government has reacted strongly to revelations in the Australian media that the country’s President and senior diplomats were spied upon during the 2009 G20 conference in London. The revelations appear to be based on leaks on intelligence-gathering techniques by US whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Comment: Are Somalia’s militant Islamist ‘defectors’ genuine?

Al-Shabaab militants in SomaliaBy IAN ALLEN| intelNews.org |
During the past two years, the once powerful influence of Islamic militancy in Somalia appears to be steadily declining. Not long ago, much of the country was firmly controlled by al-Shabaab (The Party of Youth), formerly the youth wing of the Islamic Courts Union, which ruled Somalia until 2006. The group, which is thought to have approximately 5,000 armed members at its disposal, emerged as a powerful force in Somalia in 2009. Three years later, in 2012, it formally announced its operational alignment with al-Qaeda. Its power began to wane, however, once the Western-backed Somali government decided to confront it militarily, with the support of the United States Central Intelligence Agency and several European-funded private security companies. A major indicator of this optimistic trend seems to center on the unprecedented numbers of al-Shabaab members who are defecting –apparently en masse– and joining the ranks of the Somali armed forces. Many of these defectors are trained by private security companies employed by the European Union before being sent to the front to fight against their former comrades. Read more of this post