Tuesday, December 30, 2008
MOGADISHU, Somalia – Ethiopian troops who are propping up Somalia's government will leave the country within days despite the turmoil caused by the Somali president's resignation, an official said Tuesday.
Wahide Belay, a spokesman for the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry said he did not want to discuss a specific date for the departure, which many fear will create a power vacuum and allow Islamist insurgents to take over Somalia.
"We are leaving at the end of December," Wahide said. "Give or take a couple of days." The plan to pull the troops from Somalia had been announced earlier. Belay's statement was confirmation that the withdrawal will proceed in spite of the fresh political uncertainty.
Somalia's president, Abdullahi Yusuf, resigned Monday. During his four-year term, his Western-backed government failed to extend its power throughout the country, which is crippled by infighting and a strengthening Islamist insurgency.
Yusuf's resignation could usher in more chaos as Islamic militants scramble for power. The government controls only pockets of Mogadishu, the capital, and Baidoa, the seat of Parliament.
For two decades, Somalia has been beset by anarchy, violence and an insurgency that has killed thousands of civilians and sent hundreds of thousands fleeing for their lives. Some of the insurgents are alleged to have ties with al-Qaida.
"Most of the country is not in our hands," Yusuf told Parliament Monday.
In Washington, the U.S. State Department supported Yusuf's decision to resign and praised his efforts to bring stability to Somalia. The statement by Gordon Duguid, a department spokesman, urged officials in Somalia "to intensify efforts to achieve a government of national unity and to enhance security through formation of a joint security force."
The last time Yusuf lost his grip on the nation to the insurgents, in 2006, he called in troops from neighboring Ethiopia to prop up his administration. The call backfired — many Somalis saw the Ethiopians as "occupiers" and accused them of brutality.
The insurgents have used the Ethiopian presence to gain recruits even as the Islamists' strict form of Islam has terrified many Somalis.
Parliament must elect a new president within 30 days; in the meantime, the Parliament speaker will serve as acting president. Many believe Yusuf's absence will allow moderate Islamist leaders into the government.
The most aggressive Islamic insurgency group, al-Shabab, has taken control of vast amounts of new territory in recent months. The United States accuses al-Shabab of harboring the al-Qaida-linked terrorists who blew up the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Many of the insurgency's senior figures are Islamic radicals; some are on the State Department's list of wanted terrorists.
Thousands of civilians have been killed or maimed by mortar shells, machine-gun crossfire and grenades in fighting in this arid country. The United Nations says Somalia has 300,000 acutely malnourished children, but attacks and kidnappings of aid workers have shut down many humanitarian projects.
Rights groups have accused all sides in the conflict — Islamic insurgents, the government and Ethiopian troops — of committing war crimes and other serious abuses.
Monday, December 29, 2008
By Abdurrahman Warsameh
MOGADISHU, Dec. 29 (Xinhua) -- Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed announced his resignation on Monday, ending a long-time power struggle with his Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein which has almost brought the Somali transitional government to the brink of collapse. But analysts here say the political crisis and violence in the Horn of Africa country are far from over.
Yusuf made the announcement of resignation in the parliament based in the southern town of Baidoa after days of speculations following his meeting with U.S. Under Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer on Dec. 22.
Yusuf said "If I was unable to fulfill my duty I will resign."
"I said I will do everything in my power to make government work across the country. That did not happen either," Yusuf told the parliament.
"I asked the leaders to cooperate with me for the common good of the people. That also did not happened," he added.
"As I promised when you elected me on Oct. 14, 2004, I would stand off if I failed to fulfill my duty. I have decided to return the responsibility you gave me," he added.
Yusuf said he had handed over his letter of resignation to Speaker of parliament Sheik Aden Madoobe and the speaker would take the presidency in accordance with the transitional federal charter.
The two senior Somali leaders have been in deep disagreement over a variety of issues including the way the Somali national reconciliation is being handled.
The bicker between Yusuf and Hussein surfaced late in July after Hussein sacked the powerful major of Mogadishu who is a close ally of the president. The ties between the two leaders were deteriorating after Yusuf made the decision to sack the prime minister mid this month.
Yusuf sacked his Prime Minister Hussein on Dec. 14, accusing him of incompetence, embezzlement and mismanagement.
The Somali Parliament, one day after the sacking of the prime minister, voted to endorse Hussein and his government, overturning Yuruf's decision.
In a vote in Parliament, 143 out of the 170 lawmakers voted for the government, 20 rejected and 7 abstained.
"143 of the 170 parliamentarians present voted in favour of the prime minister and his government while 20 voted against and 7 abstained," Sheik Aden Madoobe, parliament speaker, said after the vote.
"So the prime Minister and the government can continue serving the nation and the president's decision is null and void," the speaker said.
Rejecting the vote of parliament, Yusuf named Mohamed Mohamoud Guled Gamadere as new prime minister to replace Hussein the following day.
Gamadere, a long-time close ally of President Yusuf, served in the government of the former Prime Minister Ali Mohamod Gedi, in which he held two different ministerial portfolios as minister of Public Works and Housing and Interior Minister.
But the newly-appointed prime minister announced his resignation Wednesday. He was quoted as saying that he made the decision after looking into the situation in the country.
Yusuf's moves to fire the prime minister and appoint a new prime minister also angered the Somali Parliament.
Somali lawmakers tabled a motion days ago, seeking to impeach the president who they have accused of "violating the national charter" and alienating some of Somalia's communities.
The two leaders also sharply differed on holding peace talks with Islamist opposition parties.
While Prime Minister Hussein was seeking to hold peace talks with Islamists, President Yusuf termed them as "terrorists", said Muhyadeen Dahir, a political researcher in Mogadishu.
The Somali Parliament fully endorsed the UN-mediated power sharing agreement struck in Djubouti between the transitional government and the opposition coalition, the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia, early in the year.
"The resignation no double opens new chapter for Somali politics and may introduce new faces but I am not sure that will solve all the myriad of conflicts between numerous factions in Somalia," Dahir told Xinhua.
Violence and inter-factional fighting have continued in central Somalia between rival Islamist factions at a time when Ethiopia is preparing to withdraw its troops from Somalia by the end of the month.
"The resignations of the new prime minister and the president pave the way for the implementation of the Djibouti Agreement that promise the formation of a new leadership for Somalia but that alone will not end the violence in the country," said Isse Mire, apolitical commentator in Somalia.
"The political crisis and deadly violence in Somalia are far from over, " Mire said.
Monday, December 29, 2008
Sara A. Carter (Contact)
The FBI is expanding contacts with Somali immigrant communities in the U.S., especially in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, fearing that terrorists are recruiting young men for suicide missions in their homeland.
FBI Special Agent E.K. Wilson, spokesman for the Twin Cities FBI field office, described the effort as community outreach. Many members of the Somali community are concerned over disappearances, he said.
Officials would not provide the exact number of missing, but about 20 men in their late teens and early 20s have disappeared in recent months and are thought to have joined Islamist rebels who are on the verge of overthrowing the U.S.- and U.N.-backed government in Somalia.
Most were from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, the site of the largest concentration of ethnic Somalis in the U.S., but other Somali communities have had young men go missing as well.
The FBI assisted in returning the remains of one Somali man, Shirwa Ahmed, a naturalized U.S. citizen killed Oct. 29 in a suicide bombing in northern Somalia.
The FBI would not say whether Mr. Ahmed was a bomber or victim in the attack, in which five terrorists killed themselves and 29 others.
In another incident, U.S. officials confirmed that a missile strike in Somalia had killed a Seattle man suspected of being an Islamist radical working with an al Qaeda-affiliated group.
Ruben Shumpert, a Muslim convert who changed his name to Amir Abdul Muhaimin, had been wanted on federal gun charges. He was killed in Somalia sometime before Oct. 1, said U.S. officials who described the strike as part of anti-terrorist military operations carried out in recent months.
"The FBI is aware of the issue," said Richard Kolko, an FBI spokesman in Washington. "We know many in the Somali community are concerned about it."
Mr. Kolko declined further comment.
Ahmed Elmi, chairman of the Washington-based Somali-American Community Association (SACA), said he knew of no one in the Washington area's relatively tiny Somali community who had disappeared or of any recruitment here of would-be Islamist fighters.
"I want to have my antennae out," Mr. Elmi said. "If there is a practice like that, I need to know."
He said about 10,000 Somalis live in the Washington area, spread out over Maryland, Virginia and the District, among the estimated 200,000 nationwide.
SACA and other Somali groups in the U.S. have regular contacts with the Department of Homeland Security and the director of national intelligence going back two years, Mr. Elmi said.
Earlier this month, Mr. Elmi said, he participated in a conference call with the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Homeland Security that included a half-dozen Somali community leaders from throughout the U.S.
Mr. Elmi helps run a school every Saturday for more than 30 Somali-American children at the community center in Takoma Park. All were born in the U.S. and attend the local elementary school during the week.
Saturday, one group of boys and girls sat cutting and pasting pictures from a supermarket advertisement as part of a lesson on nutrition.
Asha, age 8, who like other girls in the classroom wore a loose-fitting pastel head scarf, had pasted images of cherries, celery and carrots on a paper plate.
"Cakes and pies are bad, because they have sugar," she explained. "I can have them after dinner for dessert."
The school has its own fingerprinting kit and sends the prints of everyone who volunteers to the FBI.
One group of volunteers that serves as the school's board urged the FBI and other agencies to publicize their contacts with Muslims in the U.S.
"The FBI, the whole homeland security structure, needs to explain what they know and what they've found out, to separate rumors from facts," said Munin Barre, an insurance-claims specialist who serves on the school's board.
"It's important to know that they can contact us anytime," added Khalif Hired, who works with the D.C. Department of Transportation.
A third volunteer, Yusuf Aden, who also works for the D.C. government, explained that the group's biggest concern is preventing Somali youth from joining gangs, committing crimes and winding up in jail.
A senior U.S. intelligence official said authorities were looking at terrorist recruitment.
"We are taking this very seriously," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity owing to the sensitivity of the subject and ongoing operations.
On Nov. 4, a group of Somali teens and young adults fled the Twin Cities. According to law enforcement officials, the young men included Mohamoud Hassan, 18; Abdisalam Ali, 19; and Burhan Hassan, 17.
"We're aware, and we're acknowledging that they left," the FBI's Mr. Wilson told The Washington Times. "We're reaching out to leaders, family members and the community as a whole."
A second U.S. intelligence official, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the young Somali men are suspected to have fled to Somalia, where they are training in making weapons and bombs at terrorist camps.
"This is not just happening in Minneapolis, but we've seen it across the country," the official said.
A European intelligence official said young Somali men are lured into either criminal behavior or extremism at an early age.
"Some of these young men have been raised in such horror that it is only natural for them to seek refuge in it," he said. "What is happening in the United States and Europe as far as recruitment is something we must be mindful of, and certainly, if we don't try to stay ahead of it, it will come back to haunt us."
Zoltan Grossman, a scholar who specializes in inter-ethnic conflicts, said that in terms of history, the recent departure of some Somali men to their homeland to fight in a civil war should not necessarily raise suspicion.
Mr. Grossman, a professor at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., said that during the Balkan war many young Albanian- and Croatian-Americans returned to their homeland to fight.
"For the Somalian people, there is a great tie to their homeland and a deep interest in war and peace," said Mr. Grossman, who has done extensive research on the Somali community in Minnesota.
He added that "war in Somalia isn't necessarily based on radical Islam," adding that there is a "real danger in identifying the Somali community with terrorism."
• Willis Witter and Bill Gertz contributed to this report.
The Bush administration has won a United Nations’ resolution that permits the pursuit of pirates inside Somalia. That document could provide the pretext for another disastrous slippery slope nation-building mission and the first geopolitical crisis for President-elect Obama. America should remain off shore and let those with stakes in Somalia wrestle the problem.
Last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice persuaded the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution authorizing international operations against pirates inside Somalia. Resolution 1851 authorizes for one year countries already involved in fighting piracy off Somalia to “take all necessary measures that are appropriate in Somalia” to suppress “acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea.” Rice would not speculate on whether American troops might go ashore to join a UN force in that failed country.
Over the past two months thirty vessels have been attacked by Somali pirates and 17 major ships are now in their possession, including an arms-laden Ukrainian cargo vessel and a Saudi supertanker carrying two million barrels of crude oil. The pirates have collected at least $30 million in ransom payments this year which was split among the pirates, the federal and regional government bosses and the Islamic militia.
Ban Ki-Moon, the UN secretary general, said “This lawlessness constitutes a serious threat to regional stability and to international peace and security.” Rice echoed that sentiment to warn “…if chaos reigns in Somalia” we may have “…to turn at some point to peacemaking.” Currently, the UN has 12 peacemaking missions on the African continent.
Rice’s view should worry the Obama camp especially if President Bush commits troops to the UN operation. A new UN mission to Somalia could end up following the precedent established by President George H. W. Bush. The elder Bush sent a humanitarian force authorized by UN resolution 794 to Somalia in December 1992, Operation Restore Hope, which ended ten months later in the tragedy known as “Black Hawk Down.”
Conditions in Somalia at the time weren’t that different from today. There was widespread fighting and 300,000 died of starvation in 1991-92. Vast amounts of food relief shipments were hijacked and exchanged with other countries for weapons. Once the UN arrived its mission quickly morphed into protecting humanitarian activities and then into peace enforcement. By summer there were 37,000 UN troops on the ground and “peace enforcers” were fighting rebels.
The mission climaxed on October 3-4, 1993 when U.S. forces were pitted against Somali militia fighters loyal to warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid. The Americans were out-gunned inside the capitol of Mogadishu until a multinational rescue operation evacuated them but not before 18 U.S. soldiers died and 73 were wounded.
Days later President Clinton directed the military to stop all actions and announced that U.S. forces would withdraw by March 31, 1994. The mission failed because it was ill-defined, had poor intelligence and lacked the necessary troops and hardware.
That failure was followed by years of sustained disengagement from Africa and a shift in American foreign policy that avoided intervention in third world conflicts peripherally related to its strategic interests such as the crises in Rwanda and Congo.
The rules changed after 9/11, however. American special operations forces became engaged in anti-terrorism operations in Eastern and Northern Africa and the U.S. trained thousands of Africans to fight insurgents at home. But these efforts have been limited in scope as not to take resources away from America’s main efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Today, conditions in Somalia are as chaotic as they were in 1993. The population is plagued by widespread famine, disease and 400,000 people are internally displaced. Pirates operate from Somalia’s shores because there is no effective government. The government, which came to power in 2004, controls little territory and provides little governance. It is severely threatened by an Islamist insurgency being waged by the al-Shabab militant group which is intent on installing the Taliban-like Supreme Islamic Courts Council.
Even though Somalia is seething with Islamists and pirates, it does not pose a strategic threat for America that justifies the use of American ground forces other than a few unannounced special operations personnel seeking high value targets. After all, Somali pirates are no more than a nuisance to our sea-based commerce and the majority of the Islamists are not as yet a threat outside that country.
But Secretary Rice appears to want American warriors ashore in anticipation that Somalia’s problems will spread. She explained “I would not be here seeking authorization to go ashore if the United States government … were not behind this resolution.” Rather than looking for another war for American soldiers to fight, Rice should push those closer to the problem to do the fighting.
Unfortunately, Somalia’s neighbors haven’t provided much help. In 2006, U.S.-supported Ethiopian troops with the help of the African Union (AU), an East African defense organization, marched into Somalia to replace the de facto government run by the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Courts Union in Mogadishu and reinstalled the secular transitional government. But now the Ethiopians have run out of money and patience and their repressive tactics have pushed many Somalis into the arms of brutal Islamists who are enforcing Sharia law and gaining in popular support. Ethiopia is leaving Somalia and the AU won’t be far behind.
President Bush could send American troops to Somalia as one of his final acts in office much as his father did in December 1992. After all, Secretary Rice said “No American administration is going to want to see chaos in Somalia.” But more likely any decision regarding Somalia will fall to the next administration.
But how will the newly-minted President Obama deal with the Somalia crisis? Respected Africa-experts such as Susan Rice, a former assistant secretary of state, and Samantha Power, author of a book on the Rwandan genocide, supported Obama’s candidacy and now may join his administration. Will these Africa experts counsel the new president to use the Somalia crisis as an opportunity to demonstrate Obama’s promised style of diplomatic engagement with rogues like the Islamist militant group al-Shabab? Or will they counsel the new president to join the UN peace enforcers to wade ashore Somali beaches in search of pirates and radical Islamists?
Likely, Obama won’t ignore Africa. The current situation in Somalia is neither easy nor new, but that should not stop Obama from trying to find a solution. He should opt for a diplomatic approach by America and more forceful action by the nations whose interests are directly implicated rather than committing American troops to another slippery slope mission that’s doomed to fail and presents zero strategic threat for the U.S.
By Abdi Aynte
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Burhaan Hassan was a fairly typical kid, the kind who asked his mother for $20 when he wanted to go see a movie on weekends. But on Election Day, while much of the world — including his single mother — was consumed by the historic election, he and a handful of Somali-American teenagers quietly boarded a plane to Kenya, en route to the front lines of a Jihad in Somalia.
Hassan, 17, wasn’t working and couldn’t afford the expensive airfare, said his uncle, Hussein Samatar, an immigrant from Somalia who now runs the African Development Group of Minnesota. “We believe someone — some group — has paid for his ticket,” he said.
Law enforcement agencies and community leaders fear that up to a dozen local boys have been conscripted by a radical group to fight a Jihad in Somalia, a lawless country in the Horn of Africa.
Special agent E. K. Wilson of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) office in Minneapolis wouldn’t confirm or deny the fate of the “missing boys,” as they are known in the community. He would only say that his agency is aware that an unspecified number of Somali youths have traveled from throughout the United States, including Minneapolis, to “potentially fight in Somalia.”
The lack of specificity in the case has jolted the Somali community in Minnesota, estimated at more than 70,000 — the largest in North America. The FBI would neither identify the missing teenagers nor give details of their trips, even though its agents have repeatedly interviewed family members, associates and travel consultants who may have unwittingly sold tickets to unscrupulous recruiters.
The FBI wouldn’t even confirm if a teenager whose remains the agency returned to his family last month was one of five suicide bombers who attacked government and foreign installations in Somalia, killing 24. Yet almost everyone in the community believes that 19-year-old Shirwa Ahmed, a University of Minnesota student, was indeed a culprit in those attacks.
Still, an eerie question — how could this happen to us? — has rattled the Twin Cities Somali community for the past few weeks. While virtually no one denies that the community has been infiltrated by jihadist recruiters, exactly who is to blame for the missing boys is a matter of considerable controversy.
Some activists blame Abubkar As-Saddique Islamic Center (AAIC), located just of Lake Street in south Minneapolis, for preaching intolerance to vulnerable young men. In addition to being the largest mosque in the Twin Cities, some of the missing teenagers, including Hassan, frequented its after-school and youth programs.
Earlier this month, law enforcement officials blocked AAIC’s imam and a youth coordinator from boarding a flight to Mecca for pilgrimage. This intensified the cloud of suspicion hovering over the center.
AAIC officials declined to be interviewed for this story, but released this statement:
“The AAIC does not engage in any political activity. It has not, and will not, recruit for any political cause. There has never been, nor will there ever be, any support of terrorists, their radical philosophy, or their acts by the AAIC. The Center unequivocally condemns suicide bombing and all acts of indiscriminate violence.”
“We needed leadership from them,” said Samatar referring to the AAIC. He says his nephew Hassan memorized the entire Quran at AAIC. A pious young man who reportedly felt a sense of belonging at AAIC, he was a senior at Roosevelt High School, where his academic excellence earned him advance admission to the University of Minnesota.
“He had all the qualities to succeed,” said Samatar wistfully. “Everybody assumed he would grow to become an amazing man.”
Other community leaders call for a nuanced look at the situation. Abdisalam Adam, director of Daral-Hijra Center, a mosque in Minneapolis’ Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, said the whole ordeal should prompt introspection in the community.
A member of a community panel established in the wake of the boys’ disappearances, Adam said young Somali men are in a “disjointed state from the rest of the community,” and in desperate need of emotional anchors.
“Some join gangs,” he said, while “others fall prey to cyber recruiters.”
A United Nations investigation recently uncovered evidence that extremist groups in Somalia have ratcheted up their online recruiting and fundraising capabilities. Among other things, the U.N. Monitoring Group, which is tasked with monitoring weapons flowing to Somalia, found that members of Al-Shabaab (”The Youth”), a Somali group designated by the U.S. as a terrorist organization, have “intensified their cyber activities.”
The U.N. report notes that, unlike more moderate Islamist groups in Somalia, Al-Shabaab has relatively young leaders, some from Western countries, in its ranks. Obscure young jihadists with foreign passports have greater mobility — a key advantage over more well-known leaders, experts believe.
Ken Menkhaus, a Somalia expert at Davidson College in North Carolina, said recruiting Somalis with foreign passports would have “some advantages if [Al-Shabaab] intends to attack sites outside Somalia.”
So far, the group hasn’t carried out attacks beyond Somalia, though it has issued threats. Still, young people with foreign passports also pose a risk to Al-Shabaab, said Menkhaus.
“They have an exit option if they get scared or have doubts … and could turn to law enforcement in the West and expose Al-Shabaab,” he said.
Before these teenagers went missing, youth programs at mosques went minimally scrutinized, complained some community leaders. To address this, Adam, the Daral-Hijra Center director, urges mosque leaders to introduce greater oversight on youth activities.
“Our image as a community is tainted,” he said. “Instead of pointing fingers at our mosques and religious leaders, we need to repair our image. We need to minimize the influence of external factors by increasing oversight.”
Meanwhile, concerned Somali parents are keeping their teenage boys on shorter leashes to prevent them from leaving. Ahmed, a 16-year-old high school student who didn’t want his last name to be used, said his parents no longer allow him to ride the school bus. They personally deliver him to and from school.
“I’m under 24-hour surveillance,” he quipped, noting that his parents also confiscated his passport. “It’s fine with me, though — whatever makes them feel good.”
Abdi Aynte, a former fellow at The Minnesota Independent, is Washington correspondent for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) World Service.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Sunday, December 21, 2008; B03
In 1999, when I was touring the United States to promote my book "Black Hawk Down," the story of an ill-fated U.S raid against a rebel warlord in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, I was often invited to college campuses, where I was fond of asking audiences whether there were any anarchists among them. Occasionally a scruffy student or two would raise a hand.
"Good news," I'd tell them. "You don't have to wait. Go to Somalia. Check it out."
When I was last there in 1997, Somalia had already been rudderless for six years. During the lengthy civil war that followed the downfall of longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, the country had been sacked. Mogadishu lay in rubble, like a city hit by a natural disaster. Telephone poles stripped of wires leaned at eerie angles. Every wall was pockmarked with holes from bullets and cannon blasts. Makeshift tents crowded open spaces. The few tall buildings still standing were windowless and had been stripped of all metal. At night, squatter campfires glowed from every rooftop and floor. Flimsy bags of translucent blue plastic floated in the breeze and clung in indestructible clumps to bushes, stunted trees and jagged heaps of refuse. Gunmen in pickup trucks terrorized the streets.
Unbelievably, in the decade since then, it has only gotten worse. While the world has largely stood by, the Horn of Africa has served as a laboratory for anarchy -- and the results aren't pretty. Somalia today is teetering on the edge of becoming an Islamist state while harboring terrorists who export its chaos to its neighbors. When I recently talked to a number of aid workers and international officials who work there, they offered the country's fate as a cautionary tale for those who believe that a single collapsed nation can be left to stew safely in its own pot.
"Here we have a country that has been in crisis for nearly twenty years," Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the U.N. special representative for Somalia, said to me by phone from Nairobi. "And we say, well okay, we'll chase down some pirates and send some bags of rice. It is not enough."
Today 3 million Somalis, half the country's population, rely on food handouts from the United States and Europe, delivered by increasingly harassed humanitarian organizations. Somalia has one of the highest infant-mortality rates in the world. Millions who could afford to have fled.
Meanwhile, Islamist terrorist groups train and hatch plots against targets in neighboring countries: The al-Qaeda cell that bombed the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998 was and still is based in Somalia. Since then, the same group and another have successfully bombed a Mumbai resort, attempted to shoot down an Israeli passenger jet and carried out a number of assassinations and other killings, including that of an Italian nun in the town of Elwak, near the border with Kenya. Local mullahs enforce horribly brutal penalties for acts that most of the world doesn't even consider criminal.
And now, pirates -- nothing more than the general criminal chaos spilled from land to sea -- ply the waters off Somalia's thousand-mile coastline, so threatening international shipping that they have driven up the price of food and other products throughout the region.
A flimsy "transitional" authority, a coalition of warlords supported by the United Nations, ostensibly governs the country, but it spends most of its time arguing from the safety of neighboring capitals over power it doesn't have. The warlords banded together after Islamist forces chased them from Mogadishu in 2005, and with the help of Ethiopian troops (backed by the United States), chased the Islamists out in turn the next year. But there is little popular support for the warlords or their Ethiopian allies, who are no doubt counting the days until their promised withdrawal at the end of this month. And it appears likely that when the Ethiopians leave, the transitional authority will collapse and the armed Islamist insurgents who now control most of the country will move back in to Mogadishu.
The Islamists were already running schools in the capital when I was there in 1997. One Western-educated lawyer, who made a few pennies sweeping floors at local hospitals, told me that he sent his children to the madrassa in the mornings -- "because they are the only schools here" -- and then spent the afternoons "unteaching most of the things my children were taught."
Back then, few Somalis believed that the world's cold shoulder would endure. People would line up in the street outside the gates of the compound where I stayed while researching my book to see me. Sightings of Americans were then so rare that most people refused to believe that I was just a writer. Many preferred to believe that I was on a secret mission for the United Nations or the United States, that I was laying the groundwork for the return of nation-building, for the restoration of law and order, basic services and sanity.
They are still waiting for that. More than $900 million will be needed next year just to avoid famine and disease, according to Mark Bowden (no relation), the U.N. humanitarian and resident coordinator for Somalia. The European Union and the United States have begun to chase pirates more aggressively, but that's like swatting at bees while ignoring the hive.
Meanwhile, because there is no government, there are no public schools, no universities, no courts, no trash collection, no electrical grid (Mogadishu nights are filled with the steady hammering of generators) -- none of the basic services of a civil society. This means that there is no employment for most educated Somalis -- lawyers, teachers, administrators, etc. The only professionals with steady jobs in Mogadishu when I was there were doctors, because there's no shortage of fighting along the perimeters of turf claimed by competing groups.
Owning anything of value in Somalia means having to arm yourself, because someone more powerful will eventually try to take it away. Small armies form around businessmen who deal in the mild narcotic khat or import guns or clothing or fuel or electronics to sell in Mogadishu's thriving markets. You can tell a person's relative importance by the length of his armed entourage as he moves through the streets. Young men with nothing else to do are lured into these private armies by promises of food, money, shelter and a steady supply of khat. For an ambitious young man in Somalia, there's little else in the way of opportunity, and there's no shortage of demand for gunmen. The pirates and mullahs and warlords are always hiring.
So is the United Nations. "We have to employ Somali contractors to protect our people and food shipments," said Bowden.
Right now, the religious zealots appear to have the most guns. Most Somalis so devoutly desire law and order that even secular citizens supported the Islamist courts when they seized power in 2005. Many, albeit with mixed feelings, will undoubtedly welcome them back from the hinterlands, where they never really lost power after the Ethiopian invasion. Even harsh religious government, it seems, is preferable to no government at all.
Ould-Abdallah was still hopeful when we spoke that some sort of meaningful power-sharing arrangement will be worked out among the warlords and moderate Islamists before the Ethiopians leave. He said that he had been heartened by the participation in ongoing talks of Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, the former commander of the Islamist courts, though the sheikh's willingness to talk has been denounced by many who once followed his lead. Ould-Abdullah said that although the compromise he is trying to reach will probably bear the label "Islamist," it doesn't necessarily mean the imposition of radical fundamentalism.
"The excesses that you hear about, like the 13-year-old girl who was stoned to death [she was accused of adultery], do not reflect the more moderate, better-educated leaders that we are dealing with," he said. "Without any central authority, decisions are made at the local level by uneducated imams who in some cases, as we have seen, can be quite harsh. These are accidents."
"Of course, what we cannot have are Islamist leaders who show one face to a foreign diplomat or U.N. representative, one of reassuring moderation, and then turn around to their own people and talk tough. They cannot have it both ways."
There is hope in the fact that whatever sort of central authority emerges, whether it is strictly Islamist or some U.N.-brokered coalition, will need substantial international help. The problems of food, shelter and basic health care are so pressing that without enormous humanitarian investment, Somalia will slip further into crisis.
When President-elect Barack Obama takes office, he can help greatly simply by putting a stop to U.S. missile attacks on suspected Islamist terrorists. Whatever is gained by eliminating one murderous zealot is lost by turning entire Somali communities against Western aid efforts.
"One missile attack turns an entire area of the country into a no-go zone for us," said Bowden. "All aid workers are viewed as spies for the U.S. anyway, and managing this humanitarian operation is fragile in the best of situations. If America would stop shooting missiles it would be the biggest single thing it could do to help."
One of the most surprising things about Somalia is that despite its broken-down state, some things do seem to work. Most people are not starving. Markets thrive. Ould-Abdallah told me he's always surprised that his cellphone works better there than in some far more stable and prosperous neighboring countries.
"In some ways they are doing better than Rwanda, Ethiopia and the Sudan," he said. "Maybe the question isn't so much how that is so, but how much better would things be if there was a functioning government, law and order, basic services and a civil society?"
Somalia has a lesson for the rest of the world. It's an old lesson, but one that we have yet to learn: Ignoring a problem does not kill it or contain it. A lawless zone soon enough becomes a danger to more than those trapped in its borders. We will have to engage with whoever comes to power in Somalia next, both for humanitarian reasons and in the best interests of the region and the world.
Mark Bowden is an author and national correspondent for the Atlantic.
By Stephanie McCrummen
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, December 22, 2008; A01
DADAAB, Kenya -- By the time Mohamed Abdi Ibrahim decided to leave Somalia, life in the southern city of Kismaayo had become, as he put it with consummate understatement, "complicated."
Young men there had long shouldered AK-47 assault rifles and joined clan militias. But as an Islamist militia known as al-Shabab took control this year, it had become a place where boys were paid $50 to throw bombs, soccer fields served as militia training camps, and Islamist leaders walked into classrooms to take names of potential recruits.
Ibrahim and two friends fled several months ago, just after the Shabab began beating people not attending Friday prayers and just before the group publicly stoned to death a 13-year-old girl it had convicted of adultery.
The options for young men like them, it seemed, had narrowed to two: sign up or run.
"For us, it was not good to join," said Ibrahim, a lanky 22-year-old who fled to this overflowing refugee camp across the Kenyan border. "Because if we join one side, the other side will hunt us and kill us."
The scenario now unfolding in Somalia is the one a U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion nearly two years ago had been intended to thwart: a takeover by radical Islamists.
At the time, Ethiopian forces ousted a relatively diverse Islamic movement that had briefly gained control of the capital, Mogadishu. In its place, they installed a transitional government headed by a warlord who allowed the United States to launch counterterrorism operations in the moderate Muslim nation.
But the policy backfired, inspiring a relentless insurgency of clan militias and Islamist fighters that has left Somalia's first central government since 1991 near collapse. On Sunday night, advisers and supporters of President Abdullahi Yusuf -- who has been accused of obstructing a possible political compromise to help end the insurgency -- said that he would resign Monday, although as with everything in Somalia, the situation remained fluid.
The two-year insurgency has energized the most radical Islamist faction, the Shabab -- "youth" in Arabic -- which the United States has designated a terrorist organization.
Rallying young men with anti-Ethiopian rhetoric and a promised ticket to paradise, the group advanced this year across much of southern Somalia, including the capital, Mogadishu. Analysts predict the Shabab will extend its control after the Ethiopians withdraw, which they have promised to do within weeks.
The United States and the United Nations are now supporting a political settlement that shifts power from Yusuf and his circle to an opposition coalition that includes some of the Islamist leaders cast as extremists two years ago, as well as clan leaders who had been excluded by Yusuf's government. Backers of the Djibouti agreement hope that the Ethiopian withdrawal, along with the political deal, will rob the Shabab of its cause.
But the situation on the ground -- and in swelling refugee camps such as this one -- suggests that the group is only gaining strength.
"Young people, our age mates, were joining [the Shabab] every day," Ibrahim said. "They would tell them to fight for your religion, fight for your land, and they'd also give them money -- they were difficult to resist."
It was morning in Dadaab, and Ibrahim was standing with his two friends, Mohamed Shuep, 25, and Hussein Hassan Adan, 16, in a huge, sweaty crowd -- the same sort of exhausted, frustrated crowd that gathers every day at the barbed-wire perimeter of the camp.
Their growing number is a testament to what Somalia has become: a place from which to escape.
Out of a population of about 9 million, more than 1 million people have fled their homes, preferring drought-stricken regions of the country to the crossfire of militias battling for control of Mogadishu and other areas. Attacks on aid workers -- most likely carried out by the Shabab, who equate them with foreign interference -- have made humanitarian assistance almost impossible to deliver.
Hundreds of thousands more people have abandoned the country altogether. At least 20,000 have taken their chances this year aboard rickety boats bound for Yemen, and many more have traveled on foot or in stifling smugglers' trucks that bring about 5,000 people to this camp each month.
Built in 1991 to accommodate 90,000 people fleeing Somalia's last civil war, Dadaab is now a sprawl of more than 220,000 refugees -- a desert limbo land of rounded stick huts and overburdened water taps emblematic of more than a decade of failed governments and peace initiatives.
Ibrahim and his friends arrived a few months back.
Like many young men, they left extended families behind and began their journeys alone, walking and hitchhiking toward Kenya. They became friends in the Somali border town of Dobley, where they worked in a restaurant and shared scraps of food and the shelter of a tree at night. Pooling their money, they eventually paid their way onto a smuggler's truck crowded with people and goats.
It took four nights and one shakedown by bandits to reach Dadaab.
It took about four months of waiting for the three young men to reach a pre-pre-registration area, where they were standing on a recent day, hands pressed on each other's shoulders.
"Sit! Sit!" an overwhelmed U.N. worker yelled at the crowd through a megaphone. "The first family size to be registered will be family size 4, then 3!"
Mostly, people here wait. They wait to be registered, for food, for their leaders to stop fighting so they can go home. A bus that comes and goes from here has the word "wait" painted on its side like an omen.
There is a straw-roofed shelter inside the camp where men have passed years waiting -- playing cards, arguing over politics, and following the rise, fall and rise again of the Islamists on the BBC.
"There is no hope for Somalia," said Abdi Ahmed Mohamed, who was 23 when he arrived here in 1991 during the civil war. "All the people who could do something for their country are here as refugees. Pretty soon, they're going to be fighting over empty land."
About 10 a.m., Ibrahim, who said he wants to be a doctor; Shuep, who wants to be an engineer; and Adan, who doesn't know what he wants yet, jostled their way forward in the pounding sun. They walked beyond a fence and joined another long line of young men leading to a single desk under a sheet-metal shed.
"We have no relatives here," Ibrahim explained to the registration worker, Austin Amalemba, who handed him an appointment slip for the next day. "Our only relationship is we are friends. We want to be considered as one family."
Amalemba said the request is common these days.
"Most are young men, and they decide to group together as a family," he said.
There was also the family of Mohamed Mahamoud, Said Mohamed and Harat Ismail, three unrelated young men who fled Kismaayo in September.
"We have feared for our life there," said Mohamed, 26. "There is no freedom for young men there because of the Shabab. Even prayer is not optional. They make you cut your hair, and you can't wear tennis shoes. I used to have a very interesting haircut, but they made me change it. Most young people, they hate the Shabab."
Nearby was 20-year-old Mohamed Ibrahim Mohamed. He had fled Mogadishu, where government forces were battling the Shabab. The situation is so violently polarized in the capital that women selling tea to one side or the other risk execution.
Mohamed's father was killed in front of him when the first Islamist movement took over two years ago; he had worked in the previous government and was considered an enemy.
More recently, Mohamed's best friend, Abdugadir, was shot in front of him. His crime: "He greeted a government soldier, and when the government soldiers departed, the Shabab came and shot him in the head," Mohamed said.
Mohamed estimated that about 80 percent of his friends had relented and joined the Shabab, some because they were "seduced" by religious ideology, he said, and others because they felt they had no other choice.
The rest attempted to survive by banding together in small groups, he said. When the Shabab took over southern Mogadishu, they fled to the northern part of the city. When it took over the north, they fled south again.
And so it went until Mohamed heard, a few months ago, that the Shabab was coming after him. "That was when I decided to leave," he said.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
By PAM LOUWAGIE, Star Tribune
December 15, 2008
On a cold December morning five years ago, FBI agents knocked on the door of a basement apartment in northeast Minneapolis, and Mohamed Abdullah Warsame answered.
He let the agents in to talk, and later they took him to another location to talk more. He hasn't been home since.
For five years, Warsame, now 35, has been awaiting trial on charges that he provided material support to Al-Qaida. A Canadian citizen of Somali descent, he has done most of the waiting alone in a jail cell, under special restrictions that limit his contact with the outside world.
His pretrial detention is one of the longest for a terrorism- related case since Sept. 11, with the delays stemming from a variety of sources.
Authorities have needed extra time for security clearances. Attorneys have argued over Warsame's detention conditions and debated access to facts and witnesses. Some information is classified by the federal government, and defense attorneys have no legal access to it. An appeals court is also considering whether some of Warsame's statements to authorities, thrown out by the district judge, should be allowed to be used against him.
Warsame was one of 46 still awaiting trial as of mid-2007, among the 108 charged since Sept. 11 with providing material support to a terrorist organization, according to one analyst who tracks such cases.
The length of Warsame's case raises questions about how the courts handle terrorism cases.
The federal courts are "being used the same way that the prosecutions in Guantanamo are being used ... based on the accusation of terrorism, the normal rules don't seem to apply," said Peter Erlinder, a professor at the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul and who has been involved in Warsame's defense and at least one other terrorism-related case. Some Guantanamo detainees are being released in less time than Warsame has been held, Erlinder said.
Others point out that Warsame and other defendants in terrorism cases present unusual circumstances.
"Some harm to civil liberties seems to be endemic to war situations and you know, at the end of the day, if we win this war against terrorism, we and the whole world will be more free and our rights will be more secure, but along the way, there may be some situations and some individuals who will have the opposite," said Joshua Muravchik, a resident scholar at American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank. "And it's a shame, but nonetheless, if there's a strong reason to believe that this man was involved with terrorists, I wouldn't want him out on the streets."
Warsame's case may be cited as the debate rages about what to do with detainees if Guantanamo closes, said Robert Chesney, a Wake Forest University professor who compiled the data on 108 defendants. Warsame's is the longest pretrial detention of the post-9/11 terrorism prosecutions that Chesney has found.
Some question whether federal courts are equipped to handle such cases or special courts should be set up.
Those against setting up special courts argue that defendants would be deprived of due process and a fair trial.
John Radsan, a former CIA attorney who is now a professor at William Mitchell, said the public will see more drawn-out court procedures if terrorism cases continue in federal courts. Rules have long been in place to handle classified information in federal court, he said, but few cases needed them.
Though Radsan said he favors prosecuting high-level terrorism cases in a separate arena, Warsame doesn't necessarily fall into that category, he said.
Nevertheless, Warsame's case highlights the difficulty of using regular courts. "If we're having this much trouble on Warsame, imagine what's in store if we try to handle higher-level terrorists in the regular courts," he said.
A dragged-out case
Warsame, who was a student at Minneapolis Community and Technical College at the time of his arrest, is charged with lying to federal agents about traveling to Afghanistan in 2000 and later sending $2,000 to an associate he met at a training camp there. Authorities contend Warsame once dined next to Osama bin Laden and fought on the front lines with the Taliban.
The U.S. attorney's office, which is prosecuting the case, declined to comment.
A defense attorney said early in the case that Warsame was searching for a Muslim utopia and went to training camps because he was out of money and needed shelter. The attorney said someone had lent Warsame money to get back to North America and the money he sent was repayment.
The latest delay in the case comes as the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals considers a district judge's ruling that statements Warsame made to authorities on his second day of interviews with FBI agents in 2003 cannot be used against him. U.S. District Judge John Tunheim found that Warsame was in custody that day when agents spoke to him without a Miranda warning at Camp Ripley, a National Guard base near Little Falls.
Prosecutors appealed that decision to the higher court.
Defense attorney David Thomas said he's been frustrated by the lack of access to information. "Most of the evidence is classified, so I can't see that," Thomas said. "I sit there and I watch. The government will make a submission to Judge Tunheim and then Tunheim will lob something back to the government and, you know, I don't see any of it. It's like sitting at a tennis match, watching the ball go back and forth."
'Give Warsame a chance'
Thomas said his client is "full of vim and vigor" and wants to keep fighting the charges.
Warsame's family in the Twin Cities declined to comment.
Talk of the case has been fading in the local Somali community recently, said Sharmarke Jama, a member of the United Somali Movement. Nevertheless, the length of the case helped feed skepticism, fear and mistrust of the justice system, he added.
The Somali Justice Advocacy Center's Omar Jamal said he plans to write a letter and "plead to the court to give [Warsame] a chance for his day in court and get over with this. He's been there suffering, not knowing his fate."
Pam Louwagie • 612-673-7102
© 2008 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.
On December 15th, there was an article titled, "Terror suspect's case drags on 5 years after arrest in Minneapolis" by Pam Louwagie on a Somali terror suspect, Mohamed Abdullah Warsame who has been awaiting trial for 5 years. The article can be read here.
As I read the article, and interacted with the Somali community I was wondering how to reconcile two voices of fear. Both are real and humane, but only one seems to be validated, understood and given space to articulate, define and refine itself. It is the fear of terrorism. That voice of fear is validated and articulated well. This voice also has a strong support group and strong defense. It can speak openly without fear of persecution and is open to criticism, growth, and enrichment from the greater community leading to self-understanding. From the article, regarding Warsame, one reads ...
"Some harm to civil liberties seems to be endemic to war situations and you know, at the end of the day, if we win this war against terrorism, we and the whole world will be more free and our rights will be more secure, but along the way, there may be some situations and some individuals who will have the opposite," said Joshua Muravchik, a resident scholar at American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank. "And it's a shame, but nonetheless, if there's a strong reason to believe that this man was involved with terrorists, I wouldn't want him out on the streets."
But there is another voice of fear and that is the voice of those who are weak and low in the land. That voice is more disoriented, chaotic and possessing mulitple personalities. This voice of fear lacks an open space to hear itself, to define itself and the room for it to benefit from criticism, enrichment or growth. It is invalidated and lacks the ability to articulate in words that it is even afraid, rather it just hides breeding anger and resentment within itself. It lacks power and the ability to defend itself. But how does it speak and grow and nurture itself to a higher understanding - if there are so many wiretappings in every corner waiting for a buzz word before coming with the swat team?
I was troubled by Muravchik words as it lacks depth in understanding and wisdom in truly solving the problem. Muravchik says, "if we win this war against terrorism, we and the whole world will be more free and our rights will be more secure." This is fantasy reasoning. Historically, when have Americans or the world been living in utopia? When I was growing up - we heard the same story regarding Russia. It is the same fantasy reasoning then and now.
There doesn't seem to be an explicit recognition of the need to really understand the problems of these young people who are easily recruited. There have been many Somali youth joining gangs, and engaging in Somali upon Somali violence. There are many in juvenile detention, disfranchised and lost. If we would look at this issue - in a less self-absorbed manner, we may see a pattern that is impacting the community. Studying the problem from its roots is a better approach than rushing into laundry listing solutions before we really know the in depth of the issues.
Journalist Abdi Aynte, who lived in Minnesota for seven years commented once on a story he was covering about the growing number of Somali kids in jail. Aynte said, "The City of Minneapolis actually commissioned its human rights division to do a study on this, and they found that, on average, 600 Somali kids transit in the jail systems of Hennepin County each year." Aynte added, "that there are at least three Somali gangs in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area."
I discussed this issue via email with Abdul-Lateef Abdullah, a social worker with experience in dealing with troubled youth. He has worked as a Program Assistant for the Academy for Educational Development (Washington, D.C.); a Social Worker at the Montefiore Medical Center (Bronx, New York); and the Director of Documentation and Evaluation at Community IMPACT! (Washington, D.C.).
He has also worked with the the Taqwa Gayong Academy (New Jersey, U.S.A./Penang, Malaysia) for troubled youth, both Muslim and non-Muslim. Abdallah suggested the following..
"What is being missed in this whole affair is the foresight to realize that the fear-based, over-simplistic approach of just lock 'em up more often than not breeds more hatred, frustration and desperation, which does nothing but make the problem more complex and more difficult - and expensive - to solve. But in the world of political sound bytes, it's an easier case to make to a public that is largely ignorant of the more subtle realities at play in this complex world. We, however, should have learned something by now with the war on terrorism going on its 8th year already, and that is that just throwing guns and money at the problem is not going to make it go away. Just as in the case of domestic crime, drugs, poverty and other social ills that we face, only concentrated efforts that target the sources of the problems we are facing -- ignorance, social and economic injustice, mis-education, poverty and the like - will bear fruit."
The law enforcement and the community must try to make some effort to first try to assess what is really happening in the community. Instead of looking to prosecute and lock up, it can best protect by working with the Somali community through building trust and understanding.
Abdallah suggests to the law enforcement and Somali community - some kind of assessment and ground work. It can use surveys or even informal focus groups and meetings, but there should be an effort to really understand what's happening. We need to find the courage to listen to them and talk to the young people, parents, community leaders, and 'experts' including social workers and counselors such as Abdallah to find out what are the real issues. Only then should there be an effort to draft programs to address the situation.
Perhaps they can work with a nearby social work school and even enlist students to help with the assessment. It could be a great resource as well as an educational/learning experience for all. But that's the high road. Whether the authorities are willing to take that road is yet to be seen.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
The rising violence in the Somali community in Minnesota
Somali immigrants reside in the metro area, with the greatest number in
Almost a third of
The increase in the Somali population in
The number of Somali-oriented businesses along
Sometime in 2005, in
Somali Gangs: Fact or Fiction?
Some people talking about Somali teenagers taken over
The Twin Cities authority considering Ground Zero located in and around a quintet of residential towers in the Cedar-Riverside community on the
Some Somali activists acknowledge that Somali youth gangs may exist. “There aren’t Somali gangs in the same sense as in other cultures,” they say, “but there are groups of youth who hang out together and commit crimes”. Some take names like the Somali Hard Boys and adapt the dress and language of gangs. The
The root causes of the Somali gang violence within the Twin Cities Somali community are hard to pinpoint and is complex to decipher. It is not isolated to Somalis in
Somali teenage boys are going crazy and most have guns with them. Random shootings have become the only way they settle score.
No one seems to know how to prevent more shootings to happen. There are some who are trying to come up with solutions and among them is newly formed Somali college student organization called the Youth against Violence Committee.
Somali Community in the Twin Cities is now challenged more than ever to find ways to deal with this gang violence phenomenon. A whole community plan to deal and address this gang violence among Somali youth is needed. Somali parents, families, community leaders, college students all have to come together, stop the blame and escape-goat game and act. A concerted effort is needed from everyone, especially families and community activists to mentor these lost and violent kids so that we can prevent the senseless killing of our youngsters and the grieving of Somali mothers.
There are some Somali activists that working hard to reduce the gang violence and make sure that more youngsters resist joining gang groups.
The phone call is abrupt and short on details. And then, nothing.
Breaking their monthlong silence, relatives of three teenagers said that they fear their loved ones are victims, brainwashed to return to Somalia to fight.
One Somali young man who disappeared from Minneapolis earlier is believed to have killed himself in an Oct. 29 suicide bombing that also took the lives of more than 20 people in northern Somalia.
It’s believed that the three teens knew one another and were friends, each teen contacted his family only once after disappearing, saying he was either in Somalia or in its capital city of Mogadishu. The teens haven't been heard from since.
The Somali population in Minnesota was more than 24,000 in 2006, according to the U.S. Census. Local activists claim the actual number is higher.