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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Somali dhow catches fire, sinks in Omani port -

Somali dhow catches fire, sinks in Omani port -

A Somali-flagged dhow caught fire and sank while anchored in the Port of Salalah in Oman in the early hours of Wednesday, port officials have said.

Shortly after midnight, the Al Yaasiin burst into flames after offloading livestock at the port in Dhofar Province, a statement said.

An investigation is ongoing by the port to determine the cause of the blaze and to work with the owners of dhow boats to prevent such incidents from being repeated.

The port's firefighting tub boat team and the Omani Coast Guard were immediately deployed to the site and were able to safely evacuate all of the 15 crew members to a nearby fishing vessel.

The fire was contained to the single vessel and was fully extinguished by 6am, the statement said, adding that the damaged vessel was towed to a shallow area away from the port, secured and marked for future salvage operations.

"There was no direct impact on the operations within the Port of Salalah and there were no injuries or loss of life as a result of the blaze, the statement said.

The Port of Salalah caters to more than 45 wooden traditional dhows from East Africa each month providing a crucial link for East Africa to the Omani Market via the Dhofar province.
The dhows typically bring livestock from East Africa to Oman and take back many essential consumer items from the local Omani market.

The port said in the statement that it remains dedicated to servicing this emerging market and facilitating the economic ties between Oman and East Africa.

(Source Arabian Business)

Anti-Terror Police Arrest Woman At UK Airport

Anti-Terror Police Arrest Woman At UK Airport

A 25-year-old woman has been arrested at Luton Airport on suspicion of Syria-related terror offences.
Detectives from the West Midlands counter-terrorism unit detained the suspect as she got off a flight from Istanbul in Turkey.
The woman, from Haringey in north London, was arrested at around 11.30am as part of a continuing intelligence-led policing operation.
She is being held at a police station in the West Midlands on suspicion of preparing for acts of terrorism.
The terror threat level in the UK was raised from substantial to severe earlier this year.
It came amid increasing concerns over hundreds of aspiring British jihadists travelling to Iraq and Syria to learn terrorist "tradecraft".
Fears of a terrorist attack on Britain's streets have heightened in the wake of the rise of Islamic State (IS).
The extremist group has taken over large swathes of Iraq and Syria and attracted thousands of foreign jihadists, including Britons, to its cause.

Drone Strike in Somalia Is Said to Kill Shabab Leader -

Drone Strike in Somalia Is Said to Kill Shabab Leader -

An American drone strike in Somalia has killed the chief of intelligence for the Shabab, the Qaeda affiliate in that country, Somali officials said Tuesday.
Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said Monday that the United States had carried out an airstrike against a senior Shabab leader in the vicinity of Saakow, but American officials declined to identify the leader.
Somalia’s National Intelligence and Security Agency on Tuesday identified the Shabab operative as Abdishakur, also known as Tahliil, and said he was the chief of intelligence and the leader of a unit of the Shabab responsible for suicide attacks.
“With the help of the Somali national security and intelligence agency and its U.S. counterpart, an Al Shabab leader was killed last night,” the security agency said in a statement.
American officials stopped short of publicly seconding that assertion, waiting for other indicators to avoid the possible embarrassment of past airstrikes in which militants who were declared dead popped up very much alive some time later.
After his predecessor was killed in a strike this year, Abdishakur took over as intelligence chief. American officials said a drone fired several Hellfire missiles at a convoy in which the Shabab leader was traveling.
Last week, the Shabab’s former chief of intelligence, Zakariya Ismail Ahmed Hersi, a leader with a $3 million bounty on his head, turned himself in to the Somali authorities, according to The Associated Press. Shabab officials said he left the group over a year ago after a falling out with insurgents loyal to the group’s top leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, who was killed in an American airstrike in September.
At that time, President Obama drew a direct link between the killing of Mr. Godane, who turned an obscure local militant group into one of the most fearsome Qaeda affiliates in the world, and Mr. Obama’s plans for the leaders of the Islamic State.
The president vowed to hunt down those leaders “the same way” the United States had found Mr. Godane.
Despite setbacks in the past few years that have driven the Shabab from strongholds in Somali cities like Mogadishu into rural areas, the group has continued a string of lethal attacks.
The Shabab — who once ruled large expanses of Somalia — have been in retreat for months, pushed back by African Union peacekeepers and an increasingly hostile populace and weakened by defections. The airstrike that killed Mr. Godane left the group in further disarray.
But the Shabab remain dangerous, unpredictable and bold, and are known for audacious and chilling attacks. Their fighters routinely target the Somali government and international peacekeepers in Mogadishu.
A Christmas meal at the African Union peacekeeping base in Mogadishu was ambushed Thursday by Islamist gunmen and suicide bombers, including some dressed as Somali soldiers. At least three soldiers, one civilian and five attackers were killed, and three attackers were captured after the gunfight at the Halane base camp near the airport in Mogadishu.
This month, Shabab attackers also seized dozens of Kenyan miners, separated the Christians from the Muslims and executed the Christians, the Kenyan authorities said.
And last year, the Shabab massacred dozens of shoppers at a mall in Nairobi, Kenya.

Missing AirAsia Plane: Search Teams Use Sonar In Hunt For Doomed Flight In Java Sea

Missing AirAsia Plane: Search Teams Use Sonar In Hunt For Doomed Flight In Java Sea

Indonesian rescuers believe they have found the wreck of a crashed AirAsia plane on the ocean floor off Borneo, after sonar detected a large, dark object beneath waters where debris and bodies were found floating.

Ships and planes had been scouring the Java Sea for Flight QZ8501 since Sunday, when it lost contact during bad weather about 40 minutes into its flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore.

Indonesian rescuers have recovered various bits of debris, including luggage, and seven bodies floating in shallow waters.

"It's about 30 to 50 meters (100 to 165 feet) underwater," Hernanto, head of the search and rescue agency in Surabaya, said of the object on the sea bed.

Authorities in Surabaya were making preparations to receive and identify bodies, including arranging 130 ambulances to take victims to a police hospital and collecting DNA from relatives.

"We are praying it is the plane so the evacuation can be done quickly," Hernanto said.

Most of the people on board were Indonesians. No survivors have been found.

Officials said waves two to three meters (six to nine feet) high and winds were hampering the hunt for wreckage and preventing divers from searching the crash zone.

Among the bodies found on Wednesday was a flight attendant.

The fully clothed bodies could indicate the Airbus A320-200 was intact when it hit the water and support a theory that it suffered an aerodynamic stall.

"The fact that the debris appears fairly contained suggests the aircraft broke up when it hit the water, rather than in the air," said Neil Hansford, a former pilot and chairman of consultancy firm Strategic Aviation Solutions.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo said his priority was retrieving the bodies.

"I feel a deep loss over this disaster and pray for the families to be given fortitude and strength," Widodo said in Surabaya on Tuesday after grim images of the scene in the Java Sea were broadcast on television.

Widodo said AirAsia would pay an immediate advance of money to relatives, many of whom collapsed in grief when they saw the television pictures from the search.

AirAsia Chief Executive Tony Fernandes has described the crash as his "worst nightmare."

About 30 ships and 21 aircraft from Indonesia, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and the United States have been involved in the search.

Singapore said it was sending two underwater beacon detectors to try to pick up pings from the black boxes, which contain cockpit voice and flight data recorders.


The plane, which did not issue a distress signal, disappeared after its pilot failed to get permission to fly higher to avoid bad weather because of heavy air traffic.

It was traveling at 32,000 feet (9,753 meters) and had asked to fly at 38,000 feet. When air traffic controllers granted permission for a rise to 34,000 feet a few minutes later, they received no response.

Online discussion among pilots has centered on unconfirmed secondary radar data from Malaysia that suggested the aircraft was climbing at a speed of 353 knots, about 100 knots too slow, and that it might have stalled.

Investigators are focusing initially on whether the crew took too long to request permission to climb, or could have ascended on their own initiative earlier, said a source close to the inquiry, adding that poor weather could have played a part as well.

A Qantas pilot with 25 years of experience flying in the region said the discovery of the debris field relatively close to the last known radar plot of the plane pointed to an aerodynamic stall. One possibility is that the plane's instruments iced up, giving the pilots inaccurate readings.

The Indonesian captain, former air force fighter pilot with 6,100 flying hours under his belt, was experienced and the plane last underwent maintenance in mid-November, said the airline, which is 49 percent owned by Malaysia-based budget carrier AirAsia.

Three airline disasters involving Malaysian-affiliated carriers in less than a year have dented confidence in the country's aviation industry and spooked travelers.

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 went missing in March on a trip from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew and has not been found. On July 17, the same airline's Flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.

On board Flight QZ8501 were 155 Indonesians, three South Koreans, and one person each from Singapore, Malaysia and Britain. The co-pilot was French.

The AirAsia group, including affiliates in Thailand, the Philippines and India, had not suffered a crash since its Malaysian budget operations began in 2002.

(Additional reporting by Cindy Silviana, Charlotte Greenfield and Michael Taylor in JAKARTA/SURABAYA/PANGKALAN BUN, Jane Wardell in SYDNEY; Writing by Mark Bendeich, Robert Birsel; Editing by Michael Perry, Nick Macfie)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

BBC News - Abdi and his Golden Ticket to the US

BBC News - Abdi and his Golden Ticket to the US

Abdi Nor Iftin fled Somalia only to land in one of Kenya's worst slums. When he won the US green card lottery his problems seemed to be solved - but it turned out to be the start of a whole new struggle.
In Somali slang, there is a special word for the daydream of starting a new life in a far-off land: it's known as a bofis. And for millions of refugees across Africa, there is one bofis that obsesses people above all - the idea of moving to the West, and in particular to the US.
For most, it remains an impossible dream. But there is one legal way in which even those without wealth or connections can do it - getting a lucky break in the US Diversity Visa Program, better known as the green card lottery. In 2013, nearly eight million people applied for just 50,000 winning tickets, which means that for every 1,000 applicants only six won the chance of a new life.
For the past year, I've followed the story of one of the winners - a young Somali refugee called Abdi Nor Iftin, living in the Eastleigh district of the Kenyan capital Nairobi. Known as Little Mogadishu, it's one of the country's toughest slums. And one thing I discovered is that becoming an American is not easy, even for those who do have a winning ticket.
There is no denying that there is something a little strange about the Diversity Visa Program. At a time when immigration to most Western countries is becoming ever more restricted, the US government still gives away 50,000 permanent resident visas each year to people chosen at random from across the world. Entries from most developing countries are permitted, and only a high school education, or a few years of work experience, are required. The stuff of a true bofis.

When I first contacted Abdi he had been living in Little Mogadishu for some time. He and all his friends had applied for the lottery together as a group, at a local internet cafe, but Abdi was the only one to be picked by the lottery computer. "We all cheered! We picked him up!" remembers Yunus, one of Abdi's best friends. "Everybody was holding him, we were shouting, 'You won it, you won it! You are going to America!'"
A remarkable stroke of good fortune? No, says Abdi, it was his fate.
"This was not just luck. My whole life I have been in love with America - the best country in the world, the dreamland, the land of opportunity," he says. "Ask anyone what they called me when I was a kid in Mogadishu and they will tell you. My nickname then was 'Mr America', or 'Abdi America'. Everyone used to joke about it."
Abdi spent most of his childhood in Mogadishu.
He dodged the bullets of Somalia's civil war, and survived famines. He coped with the suffering around him by watching Hollywood films, and using them to teach himself fluent English. "I was crazy about movies - watching Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis," Abdi remembers. "I liked the way they sounded; the way they talked. I wasn't learning how to speak English like that, with that American accent, from my school."
At a local cinema which showed Hollywood movies without subtitles, Abdi became the unofficial translator, explaining the plot and the dialogue to the rest of the audience as each film was screened. "People would listen to me, and wait for me to tell them what was happening," he says.
Some of the things he saw in those films fascinated him. Snow for example. And doughnuts. "In movies about the police they always talk about doughnuts!" I asked him what he thought a doughnut was. "I think it's something like a circle with a hole. With some juice in it maybe? It just looks tasty- it gets my saliva going! I want to try that thing!" he told me.
But being well known for a love of America and American culture can also be dangerous. As the Islamist al-Shabab rebel group took control of much of Somalia, Abdi was forced to follow his brother Hassan into exile in Nairobi.
By the time he applied for the lottery, he was considering any way to try and reach the West. Several of Abdi's close friends had tried to make it to Europe by boat from North Africa. A few had made it. Others had drowned in the attempt. Even more were planning to try it in the future.
Unfortunately for Abdi, being selected as a winner in the lottery is very far from being a guarantee of reaching the United States. Each person selected also needs to present lots of papers and pass a final interview at a US embassy. On that day, each applicant's entire future is decided.
A majority of applicants never successfully complete this process. In fact, the system is deliberately designed this way. The Diversity Visa Program has to distribute 50,000 visas each year, but to take account of interview failures and substandard applications, the number of randomly chosen applicants like Abdi is more than double that. In 2013, when he applied, approximately 105,000 hopeful applicants were picked by the system. Once the full quota of visas has been assigned, all remaining applicants are automatically refused.
The odds of success for Abdi were soon to get even worse. While he was waiting for his embassy interview, al-Shabab launched the horrific Westgate Shopping Mall attack in Nairobi, killing and injuring dozens of innocent people. Further terrorist attacks followed, and the Kenyan authorities responded with a huge police crackdown on Somalis in Eastleigh.

Although al-Shabab supporters were the official target, it felt as though every Somali refugee was at risk of arrest, deportation or internment in camps. Hassan, Abdi's older brother, was particularly concerned for Abdi at that time. "Being a refugee became a crime," he told me. "We would hide in our houses. And you could hear screams, children crying, women being hauled away on trucks. Being in that room, listening, waiting for someone to take us both away - can you imagine how that feels?"
For Abdi, it felt as though his entire dream of a better life in the states was being snatched away just when it was within his grasp. Any arrest, however unjustified, could have led to deportation or internment, making it impossible for him to attend his US embassy interview.
During this period, Abdi and Hassan went into hiding, but we continued speaking regularly on the phone and via Skype, recording our conversations. As a journalist working safely and comfortably in London this was often a strange and humbling experience.
On one occasion I spoke to him while the police were still in his building, having extorted a bribe from the neighbours. I would finish my day at the office, and call up Abdi to ask him how his had been. Abdi described the situation, then politely asked me how my work was going and how my family were. Fortunately, the police left without further incident.
Worse was to come. As the police operation went on, week after week, Abdi and Hassan began running short on food. So many Somalis in the area had either been arrested or fled that most shops in Little Mogadishu had been abandoned. Eventually, when the two brothers were down to just bread and tea, Abdi took a huge risk, and ventured out to central Nairobi, where life continued as normal. To his huge relief, he was able to make it back to their room safely carrying a few vegetables and tinned foods.

Residents of Eastleigh watch as a suspected roadside bomb is defused nearby

But another of our conversations took place a few hours after Abdi narrowly escaped a Kenyan vigilante mob armed with rocks and machetes. He had managed to dive through the gates of a local mosque, but another Somali man on the street had not been so lucky.

Had Abdi expected to die at that time, I asked? "I did, yeah. There was one moment, when I was thinking, 'OK, this is the end of it, man. They were coming…"'
The key documents required for a green card interview include a birth certificate, proof of education or work experience and a police clearance document (essentially a criminal records check). It was the last of these that was a particular challenge for Abdi. He had no criminal record with the authorities, but in order to prove this in writing he had to apply to the Kenyan police headquarters directly. Exactly the place in Nairobi where Somali refugees were least welcome.

Police arrest a young man in Eastleigh for lacking ID documents, in April 2014

The strain began to tell. In one conversation around this time, Abdi told me he had been watching National Geographic documentaries on YouTube - it is a feature of urban refugee life that wi-fi connections can persist even when food and water runs low. "Have you ever seen wildebeest?" he asked me. "Every year these wildebeest have to cross this big river, and the river is infested with crocodiles. So I think that these wildebeest are risk-takers. They have to cross to the other side or die trying. What I am saying is: we are now the wildebeest."

And then, unexpectedly, a further stroke of luck - or fate. After several terrifying visits to the police station, Abdi was told that yes, he would be issued with a formal police clearance letter, confirming his status as a valid applicant for a green card. That evening he told me he could not stop staring at his ink stained fingertips, still marked from the police fingerprint pad. He did not even want to wash them, he said, just to keep the ink there a little longer. Abdi was finally ready for his interview.

A Somali man in Eastleigh is taken away for questioning in April 2014

The evening before the interview, I wished Abdi good luck and made arrangements for us to speak as soon as he left the US embassy. Everyone who knew Abdi was quietly confident. With his love for America, his fluent English and his dreams of becoming a journalist in the US, he seemed like the ideal candidate. Abdi said that he could not wait to tell his parents and his friends that he had a green card.

Early on the the morning of the interview, I received a text message from Abdi while I was brushing my teeth. It was not what I was expecting. The interview had been a failure and his application had been rejected: "Today is my worst day on earth," he wrote.
It emerged that Abdi's police clearance letter was in order, but one of his university transcripts was a copy rather than a signed original. Any paperwork errors can be the kiss of death when so many candidates are applying. Hassan and all of Abdi's friends were heartbroken. Many of them had seen him as a role model for how to escape the grind of refugee life.
But Abdi had been overhasty in concluding that it was all over. In fact he had not been refused outright. Although it made his application less likely to succeed, there was scope for him to resubmit the papers he was missing, and ask for his application to be reviewed. He got the necessary document from the university in Nairobi and rushed round getting officials to sign it.
A few days later, the result came in. Abdi had been finally, accepted on to the Diversity Visa Program. As a refugee from a failed state, he had no passport, so the visa was printed loose-leaf for Abdi to take to the airport.

Abdi in America is now living legally and with his green card in snowbound Maine in the US. So far life in the States has lived up to his bofis. He has found work with an insulation installation company, and has sent his first instalment of cash home to his mother in Mogadishu. The appeal of snow has worn off, but his favourite doughnut at Dunkin Donuts is the classic glazed kind (without "fruit juice").
His diet is changing in other ways. "You know what I just love more than anything?" he asked me recently. "Ice cream! People say it will make me fat, but I want to be fat. I've been skinny my whole life, and now I don't care, Leo, I don't care!"

US launches airstrike on Somali militant leader – Pentagon — RT News

US launches airstrike on Somali militant leader – Pentagon — RT News

The US military has conducted an airstrike targeting a senior al-Shabaab leader in Somalia, according to Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby.
"The strike took place in the vicinity of Saakow, Somalia," the Defense Department has announced.
The military is still assessing the results of the operation, but at this time there is no reason to believe there were any “civilian or bystander casualties,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
Additional information will be provided “when appropriate, as details become available," it added.
Al-Shabaab, translated as the "The Youth," is an al-Qaeda-linked extremist group designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the US. Its basic goal is to create a fundamentalist Islamic state – a caliphate – in Somalia.
Last week, the group claimed responsibility for a Christmas Day attack on the main African Union (AU) base in Mogadishu, which killed at least three soldiers and two civilian contractors.
Al-Shabaab's terrorist activities most notably include coordinated suicide bombings in Uganda's capital in 2010 and a deadly raid on a Nairobi mall in 2013.
The US National Counterterrorism Center says that “Al-Shabaab is responsible for the assassination of Somali peace activists, international aid workers, numerous civil society figures, and journalists.”
According to the Council of Foreign Relations, Washington suspects that Al-Shabaab successfully recruited Somali-Americans to possibly orchestrate strikes on American soil.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Sir Winston Churchill 's family feared he might convert to Islam - Telegraph

Sir Winston Churchill 's family feared he might convert to Islam - Telegraph

The discovery of a letter to Sir Winston Churchill from his future sister-in-law has thrown new light on his fascination with Islam and Muslim culture

Sir Winston Churchill (centre) sitting with his son Randolph (left), brother Maj. John Churchill (right) and nephew John.
Sir Winston Churchill (centre) sitting with his son Randolph (left), brother Maj. John Churchill (right) and nephew John Photo: The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
He is indelibly associated with the fight to preserve Britain and its Empire from Nazi invasion and his subsequent denouncement of Soviet totalitarianism’s Iron Curtain.

In the public eye, Sir Winston Churchill’s long political career earned him a place among the greatest of Britons.
But what may come as a surprise is that he was a strong admirer of Islam and the culture of the Orient — such was his regard for the Muslim faith that relatives feared he might convert.
The revelation comes with the discovery of a letter to Churchill from his future sister-in-law, Lady Gwendoline Bertie, written in August 1907, in which she urges him to rein in his enthusiasm.
In the letter, discovered by Warren Dockter, a history research fellow at Cambridge University, she pleads: “Please don’t become converted to Islam; I have noticed in your disposition a tendency to orientalise [fascination with the Orient and Islam], Pasha-like tendencies, I really have.”
Lady Gwendoline, who married Churchill’s brother Jack, adds: “If you come into contact with Islam your conversion might be effected with greater ease than you might have supposed, call of the blood, don’t you know what I mean, do fight against it.”
In a letter to Lady Lytton in the same year Churchill wrote: “You will think me a pasha [rank of distinction in the Ottoman Empire]. I wish I were.”
Churchill’s fascination led him and his close friend Wilfrid S. Blunt, the poet and radical supporter of Muslim causes, to dressing in Arab clothes in private while in each other’s company. Dr Dockter said of the letter from Lady Gwendoline: “Churchill had fought in Sudan and on the North West frontier of India so had much experience on being in 'Islamic areas’.
“But during this period Churchill was in the Liberal phase of his career, having switched to the Liberals in 1904.
“He often came to loggerheads on imperial policies with hard-line imperialists such as Frederick Lugard, the High Commissioner of Northern Nigeria. Churchill was opposed to Lugard’s punitive expeditions against Islamic tribes in northern Nigeria.”
The letter was discovered by Dr Dockter while researching his forthcoming book, Winston Churchill and the Islamic World: Orientalism, Empire and Diplomacy in the Middle East.
He points out that Lady Gwendoline’s concerns may not have been so wide of the mark. Not only did Churchill appear to regard Islam and Christianity as equals – a surprisingly progressive notion for the time – but he also admired the military prowess and history of expansion of the Ottoman Empire.
In October 1940, as Britain faced its darkest hour against Nazi Germany, Churchill approved plans to build a mosque in central London and set aside £100,000 for the project. He continued to back the building of what became the London Central Mosque in Regent’s Park – which he hoped would win support for Britain in the Muslim world at a crucial moment – even in the face of public criticism.
In December 1941, he told the House of Commons: “Many of our friends in Muslim countries all over the East have already expressed great appreciation of this gift.”
Churchill’s attitude may appear hypocritical, given his forthright defence of the British Empire – which at its height ruled over millions of Muslims across India, Egypt and the Middle East.
In his book The River War (1899) – his account of the frontier wars of India and Sudan – he was scathing of the fundamentalist, ultra conservative Mahdiyya form of Islam adopted by the Dervish population of North Africa.
He states: “How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries ... Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce ... The influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it.”
But Dr Dockter says a closer examination of Churchill’s attitude to the wider Muslim world reveals it to be “in stark contrast to the purely imperialistic and orientalist perspective of many of his contemporaries”.
In his book, he states: “His views of Islamic people and culture were an often paradoxical and complex combination of imperialist perceptions composed of typical orientalist ideals fused with the respect, understanding and magnanimity he had gained from his experiences in his early military career, creating a perspective that was uniquely Churchillian.”
The revelation that Churchill had a close affinity for Muslim culture comes at a time when tensions between the three great monotheistic faiths, Christianity, Judaism and Islam are greater than they have been for centuries.
Ironically, many of the fault lines between Islam and the West have their roots in the world Churchill helped shape after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the redrawing of the Middle East at the end of the First World War.
The settlements between the region’s colonial powers, brokered by Churchill, with T E Lawrence – “Lawrence of Arabia” – as an adviser, gave birth, in Dr Dockter’s words, to “the Middle East we know, warts and all”.
Dr Dockter, who assisted Boris Johnson on his book The Churchill Factor, said: “Not many people are aware that Churchill and T E Lawrence were friends or that they worked together to solve the riddles of the Middle Eastern settlements. Understanding these settlements is paramount to understanding the legacy of Britain in the Middle East.”
Of course, Churchill did not convert to Islam, and Dr Dockter concludes that his fascination was “largely predicated on Victorian notions, which heavily romanticised the nomadic lifestyle and honour culture of the Bedouin tribes”.
Such was his limited understanding of Islam that as colonial secretary during the early 1920s he had to ask what the difference was between Shia and Sunni Muslims, the two major groupings whose long-standing animosity is currently playing out in Syria and Iraq.
As Dr Dockter points out, at least he had the good sense to ask the question in the first place, regarding an issue which bedevils the West’s involvement in the region to this day.

Murky Arms Traffic Plagues Somalia - WSJ

Murky Arms Traffic Plagues Somalia - WSJ

SINCE leaving Somalia in the 1990s, Musa Haji Mohamed Ganjab has been a landlord and entrepreneur, and served as a representative of the Somali government, which the US is backing to fight the jihadist group al-Shabaab.
He also has ordered that arms intended for Somalia’s government be delivered instead to an al-Shabaab commander, a confidential United Nations report alleges.
This is just one of the discussions, the report says, that Mr Ganjab has had about illegally arming groups in Somalia, including the government.
The report shows the complexity of the struggle against extremism in Somalia, a country that is a national security concern for the US because of its local al-Qaeda-linked group.
Al-Shabaab recently launched two attacks just across the border in Kenya in which it slaughtered all non-Muslims, including killing 36 at a camp of quarry workers early this month and more than two dozen in an attack on a bus in November.
On Christmas Day it attacked an African Union base in Mogadishu, killing three soldiers.
US President Barack Obama has cited the US antiterrorism approach in Somalia as an example of how to battle Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, a strategy combining US air power with supporting local ground forces.
The confidential UN report — now in the hands of the Security Council, and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal — shows how murky relationships among politicians, clans and militia leaders can complicate the effort.
For example, South African security officials were involved in some of the discussions Mr Ganjab had about arming Somali factions, according to UN documents and people familiar with the matter.
Mr Ganjab, who lives in South Africa, denied he has dealt in arms.
"Not even a Kalashnikov," he said in an interview near his home in Johannesburg.
He said some e-mails the UN relied on were faked, including one linking him to arming al-Shabaab, and some were hacked.
He called himself a victim of a conspiracy by inspectors monitoring an arms embargo on Somalia that has been in place for two decades.
Somalia’s government didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Its state minister of defense, Mohamed Ali Haga, in a recent interview labelled UN arms-embargo inspectors as obstacles to the fight against al-Shabaab who want to "tie the government’s hands behind their back".
The UN report comes as US relations with Somalia are under some strain.
Although the US in October went along with an embargo exception that lets the government import certain weapons, Washington last month pulled senior diplomats out of a Somalia aid meeting after Somalia’s president objected to US criticism of his government, said people familiar with the event.
Spokesmen for President Hasan Sheikh Mohamud did not reply to requests for comment.
A US State Department spokesman said that "because Somalia’s leadership is distracted with political division, the US did not see the utility in sending a delegation" to the aid meeting.
In recent months President Mohamud has been at odds with various officials in his government over who would occupy certain official roles.
As for the UN report, a US State Department official familiar with it said US diplomats find it credible.
Since a civil war broke out in Somalia in 1991, thousands have left the country for the US or Europe.
Mr Ganjab said he lived in Romania and Canada before settling in South Africa, where he acquired an office building and set up an investment fund.
"I’m a businessman," he said in the interview, dressed in a blazer and plaid shirt.
"It’s businessmen who bring together the world."
Al-Shabaab sprang up in the early 2000s and later began imposing Taliban-style rule in areas where it gained control.
The US deemed it a terrorist organisation in 2008.
A peacekeeping force sent by the African Union then created enough stability to revive some business-minded expatriates’ interest in the country.
Mr Ganjab became an official Somali "liaison" to South Africa in 2010, according to a Somali government document sent to a South African diplomat.
Mr Ganjab initially denied having been a Somali government representative, but when shown the document said he used to be but was no longer.
"To represent the Somali government is a crime?" he asked.
Mr Ganjab said he was close to President Mohamud and once started a now-closed business with a presidential adviser.
The adviser, Abdullahi Haider, said they were not business partners because the business never took off.
Mr Ganjab also has worked with a Maryland law firm that has been trying to recover for Somalia assets frozen by foreign countries, according to a separate UN report as well as to the law firm and to Mr Ganjab.
The recent confidential UN report linked him to other ventures.
It said that in a September 2009 e-mail, Mr Ganjab and another man discussed moving "several tons of ammunition and weapons" to militia commanders affiliated with Mr Ganjab’s Somali clan.
At the time, arms shipments to anyone in Somalia, including the government, were prohibited by the embargo.
Also in the UN report are e-mails purportedly showing that two al-Shabaab commanders e-mailed Mr Ganjab on October 8 2010 about meetings in Malaysia discussing aid for al-Shabaab.
The e-mails referred to a supposed deal for "medicine of various types" and one said that "the support you give us today will be recorded in history".
Mr Ganjab declined to comment on the authenticity of the 2009 and 2010 e-mails.
One of the 2010 e-mails indicates Mr Ganjab forwarded it to a South African diplomat, Fury Malebogo.
Mr Malebogo wouldn’t comment on that but said Mr Ganjab worked with him as a link to South Africa’s Somali community.
On December 7 2012, according to the UN report, Mr Ganjab discussed Somali arms at a meeting with a South African private security company and a onetime mercenary.
The latter is a South African former soldier named Eeben Barlow, according to two people with knowledge of the meeting.
Mr Ganjab said he was working for Somalia’s president to obtain "secret military support to the Somali government", including guns and guerrilla-warfare training, the report said.
Mr Barlow told Mr Ganjab that would require UN certification that the shipments were legal, said a person familiar with the meeting.
This person also said a South African government official brokered the meeting and attended it.
Spokesmen for South Africa’s government didn’t respond to requests for comment.
It wasn’t clear from the UN report whether the plans cited in the 2009, 2010 and 2012 e-mails were carried out.
Mr Ganjab said he was never involved in any talks on arms for Somalia but had meetings in 2012 about starting a security company to work there.
"I am a businessman. I can meet with a security company," he said.
Last year, the UN Security Council modified the embargo to legalise the sale of certain weapons to Somalia’s government.
Legitimate shipments quickly began being diverted to armed factions, diplomats said.
The UN report said Mr Ganjab discussed diverting a shipment last year.
In e-mails in October 2013, it said, he ordered a brother of his to take part of an arms shipment to the government and distribute a portion to a onetime militia leader named Abdi Hasan Awale Qeybdiid, who is now a regional government official, and a portion to an al-Shabaab commander called Sheikh Yusuf Isse.
The report said UN investigators confirmed the distribution of weapons to Sheikh Isse, also known as Kabukadukade.
He couldn’t be reached for comment.
UN investigators also confirmed that Mr Qeybdiid received guns from the shipment, the report said.
Mr Qeybdiid, a Somali provincial leader who two decades ago fought US troops, said in a telephone interview he had not received any arms from outside Somalia.
Mr Ganjab called the October 2013 e-mails fakes.
His brother, Abukar Ganjab, hung up on a reporter.
The UN investigators gave their report to the UN Security Council in October.
A few days later, it voted to continue the embargo exception that lets the government import some weapons. The US joined in the vote.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Kenya's new anti-terror laws target Muslims | Africa | Worldbulletin News

Kenya's new anti-terror laws target Muslims | Africa | Worldbulletin News

In recent times the Somali rooted Shabab has been increasing their attacks to civilians and as a result the government has passed new anti-terrorism legislation, approved by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. Many were against the new law especially those from Muslim countries and civil society organisations with the Kenyan government taking into account the criticism but making great effort to pass the legislation. It has reneged on the laws that were made in 2010, and has pulled back on the rights that it gave Muslims back then.

The security laws in particular rather than give security are restricting freedom. The law that gives police broad powers appears to be turning the state into a police state. By law the police can arrest anyone that they “suspect” without charge for 300 days, and raids be done without court permission by the police. Those who resist police authority will be sentenced to a jail sentence ranging from 14 years to 30 years.
The new law also restricts religious freedom and will limit the time given for the sermon andn that no social, political or economic references must be made. If there is a suspect “terrorist”, then the mosque can also be shut down, and if the mosque representative is suspected of being a “terrorist”, they can serve 20 years in prison.
In regards to religious publications, all suspects can be held for investigation. The countries' leading Muslim scholars must not make any negative speech against the government, and such meetings regarding this must be held. Any gathering that criticises the government will be considered a terrorist supported meeting.
Immigrants will also be now limited to 150,000 especially the flow of refugees from Somalia. There are nearly 2 million Somali refugees in the country with no identification and as a result have no access to education or health services. In this regard there is a difference between the agreement made between the UN and Kenya, which brings to mind the question, “what will happen to the 2 million refugees?”
Articles by journalists, critical of the governments attitude towards terrorists is also being banned. Journalists can only report news given to them by the police, and are forbidden from using suspects photos or those who have been arrested without permission. If journalists forbid to abide by these rules, a minimum three year jail sentence will be given.
With the new legislation, the Kenyan government has divided Muslims and non-Muslims in a legal way, reminiscent of apartheid in South Africa, 20 years ago. These news laws will in particular affect Somali Muslims, labelling them as potential terrorists. The anti-terror laws instead of preventing the actions of Shabaab will pave the way for further Shabaab action, and so will be centre of attraction for Muslims, a way out and supportive of them, although it was the Muslims who had first put a distance between themselves and the violence that had occurred.
In a special television interview, a police officer said that the Kenyan government were not a legal entity and that they had been advised by Israeli and British experts. NGO's working in Kenya have said that within the government there is a secret state and that in the past year, it had been responsible for 20 executions. Within this law, a “reasonable” terror suspect can now be executed and that arbitrary arrests will increase in the country.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

New generation of Somali women is on the rise in Minnesota | Star Tribune

New generation of Somali women is on the rise in Minnesota | Star Tribune

Sahra Noor made the rounds at People’s Center in Minneapolis on Monday, a daily ritual that keeps her in touch with patient care. Photo: RENEE JONES SCHNEIDER

By Mila Koumpilova
Saturday, December 27, 2014
When Sahra Noor first visited People's Center Health Services, she was a harried college freshman and the single mom of a toddler. She had arrived in the United States two years earlier after spending most of her teenage years in Kenyan refugee camps.

She returned to the center last summer as the chief executive of what is now a network of clinics headquartered in the Minneapolis’ Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.

In the 15 intervening years, Noor earned a graduate degree and rose rapidly in health care leadership. But she says she will draw heavily on her back story as a patient — at a time when the pressure is on for safety-net clinics to better track patient results and cut costs. The proud Somali community of Cedar-Riverside has high expectations of Noor, as well.

“I see myself as a cultural broker, someone who understands the American health care system and the needs of low-income and immigrant communities,” said Noor.

Over the past decade, a growing number of Somali-American women have launched successful professional careers. Now, some are aiming higher, eyeing new roles as decisionmakers.

On a recent morning at People’s Center, Noor stepped out of her uncluttered corner office for a twice-daily ritual. She strode briskly through the clinic’s ground floor, pausing to chat casually with patients in the waiting room and peeking into the new pediatric wing. A welcome sign in a dozen languages and a sign-up sheet for an immigration lawyer are posted on the pastel walls.

The ritual is an antidote to Noor’s biggest fear — that marooned in her office upstairs, she might lose touch with the front lines of patient care.

“We are dealing with people’s lives, and we need to think like a patient,” said Noor, who started in August.

The center opened in 1970 as an all-volunteer operation with limited hours. By the time Noor became a patient in 1998, it was a full-fledged community clinic.

It was among a growing number of providers that rely largely on publicly subsidized coverage such as Medicaid as well as state and federal grants, but also aim to save taxpayer money by warding off costly emergency room visits and hospital stays.

Once Noor rushed in as her 2-year-old daughter cried in pain from an ear infection. The young mom had lapsed health insurance and no appointment. The nurse practitioner who treated her daughter gave the young family free medication and that ineffable “reassurance everything would be OK.”

Noor had arrived in the United States at age 18 and squeezed a high school career into two years at a Virginia alternative high school. In Minnesota, Noor and her daughter moved into a Cedar-Riverside high-rise apartment so Noor could attend nursing school at St. Catherine University.

Noor had wanted to work in health care since she experienced firsthand the shortage of care at Kenyan refugee camps. Months after her extended family arrived there, relieved to have survived the fighting back home, tragedy struck: A pregnant aunt died of a treatable illness while Noor battled malaria.

Those early experiences fueled Noor’s resolve when she arrived in Minneapolis. She juggled college, motherhood and a part-time job: in a nursing home, a call center and later as a medical assistant at Hennepin County Medical Center. All along, she says, “I felt I had

to be the best at everything I did. Being a single mom, I wanted to make sure I did not become a statistic.”

She got up at 3 a.m. to study before dropping off her daughter at day care and heading to an 8 a.m. class. She was overwhelmed — and determined not to show it.

“She didn’t want anyone to cut her any slack,” said Noor’s sister, Ilhan Omar, now a Minneapolis City Council senior policy aide. “Her daughter was never going to be an obstacle or an excuse.”

After graduation, Noor worked as a nurse at Hennepin County Medical Center. Dr. Osman Harare, a Somali patient advocate at the time, remembers her explaining carefully how immunizations, insurance and appointments work to patients. Noor remembers working with people on dialysis and with pacemakers, and yearning to be a leader who championed prevention.

Sahra Noor’s job is demanding — compliance deadlines, leadership meetings, new projects, all under the watchful eye of a patient community that sees her as one of its own. ELIZABETH FLORES

Rising in leadership

From there, Noor’s career picked up speed. She got a job at the Community-University Health Care Center, a safety-net clinic in the Phillips neighborhood, as a health educator and later an assistant clinic manager. During that time, she also got a master’s in nursing and health systems administration at the University of Minnesota.

Next, she landed a management position spanning eight states with insurer UnitedHealth Group. Friends joked she had crossed over to the “dark side,” but as a supervisor of case managers for Medicaid beneficiaries, she saw herself as a patient advocate. Later, she took over the language services and community health department at Fairview Health Services, with a staff of interpreters who spoke 16 languages.

At the time, she launched the Health Commons in Cedar-Riverside, an innovative bid to bring health care to patients’ home turf. There, walk-ins could take wellness classes and get free consultations with volunteer physicians and nurses.

Cawo Abdi, a University of Minnesota sociology professor, says for years now Somali-American women have launched businesses and pursued professional careers, defying more circumscribed gender roles mothers and grandmothers might have hewed to in East Africa. Now, Abdi predicts, more of them will rise to leadership positions, challenging an expectation — in the society at large and within the Somali community — that “women should not be too loud or too assertive.

“Young Somali women are becoming much more visible,” Abdi said. “They are a part of the landscape now.”

Coming full circle

Stephen Blair Venable, a People’s Center board member who led the search for a new leader, says Noor had it all: She is a seasoned health care leader, a former nurse with an intense focus on the patient experience, and a warm, personable presence. She also happens to be a trusted member of the Somali community, which accounts for 70 percent of the patients at the Cedar-Riverside location.

In the community, Noor’s hire made a splash on social media. Somali leaders hosted dinners in her honor. Abdirahman Ahmed, the owner of Safari Restaurant in Minneapolis and a friend, held one of them. The dinner was emotional and celebratory, says Ahmed, but the guests also took the opportunity to give the new CEO a piece of their minds. Ahmed urged Noor to think big. He pitched a collaboration with the Mayo Clinic, with Mayo visiting hours at the center.

Noor has heard much more since. Omar, her sister, passed on feedback from several patients who thought the clinic could change its scheduling to make short-notice appointments easier and ensure that calls from patients did not go unreturned. “Oh my god, we pay consultants for that kind of feedback,” Noor told her sister. “Give these patients my phone number.”

Since, Noor has launched a call center that tracks call waiting and response times.

“In the Somali community, Sahra is family,” said Omar. “People are comfortable giving her criticism and opinions. That also creates a lot of pressure, but she excels in pressure.”

Noor already has a lengthy to-do list. She’ll work to deepen a partnership with nine community clinics that banded together into an “accountable care organization” under the Affordable Care Act. Under the model, the state rewards clinics for patient results and Medicaid savings.

She’s also gearing up to launch a new initiative to integrate the services the center offers, which include dental and mental health care. The idea is that if a busy mom comes in for a child’s checkup, the center would also seamlessly fit in a dental exam and, if needed, face time with a social worker.

In returning to the center, Noor once again finds herself juggling a lot. Noor, who married six years ago, has a toddler and a new college student at home. The job is demanding: compliance deadlines, leadership meetings, new projects, all under the watchful eye of a patient community that sees Noor as one of its own. “It’s OK to say no,” Denise Ryan, Noor’s assistant, told her recently.

But Noor feels a sense of purpose and, as her sister puts it, “a sense of homecoming.”

“I am impressed,” Venable said. “Sahra is rising to the challenge — as I expected she would.

A Boy in ISIS. A Suicide Vest. A Hope to Live. -

A Boy in ISIS. A Suicide Vest. A Hope to Live. -

Before war convulsed his hometown in Syria, Usaid Barho played soccer, loved Jackie Chan movies and adored the beautiful Lebanese pop singer Nancy Ajram. He dreamed of attending college and becoming a doctor.
His life, to say the least, took a detour.
On a recent evening in Baghdad, Usaid, who is 14, approached the gate of a Shiite mosque, unzipped his jacket to show a vest of explosives, and surrendered himself to the guards.
“They seduced us to join the caliphate,” he said several days later in an interview at a secret Iraqi intelligence site where he is being held.
Usaid described how he had been recruited by the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State from a mosque in his hometown, Manbij, near Aleppo. He said he joined the group willingly because “I believed in Islam.”
“They planted the idea in me that Shiites are infidels and we had to kill them,” he said in the interview, which took place in the presence of an Iraqi intelligence official.
If he did not fight, he was told, Shiites would come and rape his mother.
In the same video in which Usaid re-enacted his surrender, the mosque where he gave up is shown.

He soon found himself in Iraq, but he quickly had misgivings and wanted to escape. His best chance, he decided, was a risky deception: volunteer to be a suicide bomber so he could surrender to security forces.
The wars in Syria and Iraq have set grim new standards for the exploitation and abuse of children. Thousands of them have been killed or maimed through indiscriminate bombings, in crossfire and, in some cases, executions. Young girls from minority groups, especially Yazidis in Iraq, have been captured as sex slaves by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. Young boys have been given rifles and told to staff checkpoints or patrol neighborhoods — or have been recruited, as Usaid was, to become suicide bombers.
In the areas it controls in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State has established centers for the military and religious training of children, in an effort to indoctrinate them and build a new generation of warriors.
One of the group’s videos, depicting a camp near Mosul, in northern Iraq, calls the children the “cubs of the caliphate.” At the camp — named for the brutal leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed by an American airstrike in 2006 — children are shown doing physical fitness exercises and reciting the Quran, while an instructor explains that they are being trained to fight “hate-filled Shiites.”
The United Nations wrote in a report last month that “ISIS prioritizes children as a vehicle for ensuring long-term loyalty, adherence to their ideology and a cadre of devoted fighters that will see violence as a way of life.”
The United Nations has released a catalog of horrors inflicted on children by the Islamic State. In Raqqa, Syria, the militants’ de facto capital, the group has gathered children for screenings of execution videos. It has forced children to participate in public stonings. And in many of the group’s grisly execution videos, children are seen among the audience. (Usaid said that his parents did not allow him to attend the public executions in his town, typically held after Friday Prayer.)
In the aftermath of one videotaped beheading in Deir al-Zour, Syria, children are seen playing with the victim’s head and mocking the corpse, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors the communications of extremist groups.
Referring to past wars and the role of children, Laurent Chapuis, the regional child protection adviser for the Middle East and North Africa for the United Nations Children’s Fund, or Unicef, said: “When it comes to recruitment, in the past, kids were predominantly supporters — messengers or spies. It seems now they are pushed to take a more active role.”
Mr. Chapuis said that all parties in the wars, including pro-government militias in both countries, were guilty of abuses of children. What sets the Islamic State apart, he said, is how “public and aggressive” they are in their exploitation.
Usaid’s account of how he went from a Syrian childhood that he said was not particularly religious to become a jihadist held in an Iraqi cell is one of the few firsthand accounts from an Islamic State child soldier turned defector.
The Iraqi authorities have increasingly showcased Islamic State detainees to the public, as part of a strategy to demonstrate  that the government is making progress in the fight, although they have not typically made detainees available for interviews with journalists. The details of Usaid’s personal background could not be independently verified, but his surrender at the mosque gate was captured on cellphone video by a bystander.
First, after the Islamic State took control of his town, Usaid was drawn to the local mosque. “We started being taught that Shiites were raping Sunni women, and that Shiites were killing Sunni men,” he said.
He now says he was brainwashed. But he admitted that he willingly ran away from home one morning on his way to school and joined a training camp in the desert. For about a month, he was put through military training, and he was taught how to shoot an assault rifle and how to storm a building. He had two meals a day, mostly cheese and eggs.
Soon, though, he said, “I noticed things I saw that were different from Islam.”
Back home he saw the group inflict severe punishments on men who were caught smoking cigarettes, yet in the camp, he said, he saw fighters smoking. He said he saw men having sex with other men behind the tents in the desert night. And, he said, he was increasingly put off by “the way they are killing innocent people.”
At the end of the training, he was told his trainers wanted him to go fight in Iraq. He was driven, with other new fighters, in a minibus to Mosul.
There, the recruits were given a choice: be a fighter or a suicide bomber.
“I raised my hand to be a suicide bomber,” he said. That, he figured, would give him the best chance at defecting.
“If I were a fighter and tried to surrender to security forces they might kill me, with my gun in my hand,” he said.
Within a few days, he was taken, along with a German volunteer, on a circuitous journey to Baghdad. He said he was passed from one Islamic State operative to another and stayed at various safe houses along the way — including a photography studio and a house covered by reeds. He spent a week in Falluja, waiting. Finally, he arrived in the early morning at an apartment in Baghdad, where he had tea and kebabs for breakfast.
He was shuttled to another apartment, where he took a nap. Two hours later, he was shaken awake.
“Wake up, wake up, it is time to put your vest on,” he was told.
He was given his target: a Shiite mosque in the neighborhood of Bayaa.
A few hours later, at dusk, he walked up to the mosque gate.
“I opened up my jacket and said, ‘I have a suicide vest, but I don’t want to blow myself up.’ ”
The chaotic scene that unfolded, as a plainclothes officer snipped off the vest, was captured on cellphone video by a bystander and distributed over social media. “Keep the people away!” one officer yelled.
What happens now to Usaid is unclear. He said he wanted to be reunited with his family in Syria, but the Iraqi authorities have not tried to reach them. The intelligence officer who has been interrogating him said he needed more time to investigate the case.
During the interview, the officer playfully tapped Usaid on the knee and the top of his head, and urged him to eat baklava. “Eat more sweets, they are good for you,” he said.
Usaid said he still planned to become a doctor, and hoped to study in Turkey. He said that he missed his mother, and that the Iraqis had promised to return him to his parents one day.
Before the war, he said: “We were a normal family. It was just a normal life.”
Whether he has a chance at a normal life again depends, in part, on how the Iraqis treat him: as a terrorist or as an exploited child.
During the interview, Usaid was dressed in a gray sweatshirt and cargo pants, and he was not handcuffed. A few days later, though, he appeared on state television in handcuffs and a yellow prison jumpsuit. The television host labeled him a terrorist, and he was made to re-enact his surrender.
Yet Saad Maan, the spokesman for both the Interior Ministry and the Baghdad Operations Command, appeared on Tuesday on state television and described Usaid as a victim of the Islamic State.
And the intelligence officer who has been interrogating Usaid, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the secretive nature of his work, said he and other intelligence agents would oppose any efforts to prosecute Usaid.
“Even if he was brought to court, we would be on his side, because he saved lives,” he said.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Deaths in al-Shabab attack on AU Somali base - Africa - Al Jazeera English

Deaths in al-Shabab attack on AU Somali base - Africa - Al Jazeera English

Somalia's al-Shabab fighters have killed three African Union soldiers and a civilian after staging an attack on the force's heavily fortified headquarters in the capital Mogadishu.
The AU force, known as AMISOM, said troops regained control of the base in Mogadishu after Thursday's attack that left five of the assailants dead while three others were captured.
"Three AMISOM soldiers and a civilian contractor unfortunately lost their lives," AMISOM said in a statement, updating earlier information that said the four had been injured in the Christmas Day attack.
The statement did not mention the nationalities of the victims, but a contingent of Ugandan soldiers is in charge of the base. Burundi, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti have also contributed troops to the mission.
AMISOM said some of the attackers were wearing Somali national army uniforms when they "breached the base camp around lunch hour and attempted to gain access to critical infrastructure".
"AMISOM has regained control of the Halane base camp and restored normalcy," the statement added.
Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack almost as soon as the first shots rang out.
"Our fighters are inside the headquarters of the foreign troops in Somalia," Abdulaziz Abu Musab, the spokesman, told the AFP news agency earlier on Thursday, adding that several AU soldiers had been killed.
Maman S Sidikou, head of AMISOM, told Al Jazeera that the force would act "very quickly to the new tactics" being used by al-Shabab and take the measures required to prevent any such events happening again.
A Western security source said between 15 and 20 attackers were involved in the assault.
Paddy Ankunda, the Ugandan spokesman for AMISOM, told AFP the assailants "sneaked into the base camp near the airport... but our troops foiled the attack".
He added on Twitter that the "attackers sneaked in incognito".
Somali police official Abdi Ahmed said loud explosions had resonated at the rear entrance to the Halam base, where exchanges of gunfire were also heard.
The AU force headquarters is a fortified structure located on the grounds of the Mogadishu airport, which is also under high security.
The AMISOM force, deployed since 2007, currently has some 22,000 African Union troops.
They have managed to push al-Shabab out of the capital, but the fighters still hold large swathes of territory.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Somalia's new bank seeks to spur economic growth -

Somalia's new bank seeks to spur economic growth -

Since the first branch of the International Bank of Somalia (IBS) opened in Mogadishu in October, hundreds of Somalis have stopped in to open personal and business accounts, apply for loans, and transfer funds abroad, according to IBS chief executive officer Hassan Yusuf.
An employee of the International Bank of Somalia helps a new customer set up a bank account at their central headquarters in Mogadishu on November 16, 2014. [AMISOM Photo]

Opening the bank is a huge step forward for Somalia as it is beginning to bring the country's banking system in line with the international banking system and global transfer standards, he said.
Traditional banking collapsed in Somalia with the outbreak of civil war in 1991, leaving room for non-regulated money transfer companies, known as hawalas, to emerge and fill the void.
"The need that exists in the country encouraged us to open this bank," Yusuf told Sabahi. "During the last 23 years of war, Somalia has operated under its own [financial] system, while around the world there was an international standard of operation. Therefore, we must now abandon the previous system and comply with global standards."
To that endeavour, he said, the new bank applied for and was issued a SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) code, a unique identifier used to transmit messages and money transfers between financial institutions.
"We also have to change how the world perceives Somalia by making tangible progress, for example, by streamlining the financial sector and enabling the bank to directly deal with other global banks," Yusuf said.
To make it easier for IBS to transact with international banking institutions, the bank is strictly enforcing international recordkeeping regulations, he said.
"For example, anyone who is opening an account has to have an identification card and an address. An account will not be opened for an unknown person who does not meet those conditions."
Bank customers also will be able to apply for various loans to start businesses, he said. "A person who seeks financing can repay the money in a year, two years, ten years or however long he wants as we do not impose a time restriction," Yusuf added.

A boost to Somalia's economy

The bank is expected to make a big difference to the Somali economy, said Mohamed Abukar Abdirahman, a retired economist who used to teach at the Somali National University.
"If this bank works properly using the standards used by international banks, it can bring about economic changes that greatly benefit the country," Abdirahman told Sabahi.
The Somali currency is stagnant at the moment, as money is not in circulation and credit is difficult to obtain, he said.
"[IBS] can make the money work, resulting in credit circulation, and that circulation can make changes in the economy," he said, adding that facilitating business activity and monetary transactions would spur the creation of hundreds of jobs. "This will also prompt other business people to follow suit and open similar banks."
"The remittance system that Somalia used for a long time was dangerous because it was always stopped and was suspected of [supporting] terrorism," he said. "[Now] all of that will be history."
But Badri Ahmed Arab, who owns a pharmaceuticals import business in Mogadishu, said hawala providers offer fast money transfer services that cannot be matched by traditional banks.
"When you send money using a hawala service, the person you send it to can pick it within a minute, whereas when you send it using a bank it could take at least two or three days, and sometimes up to ten days," he told Sabahi, adding that the removal of hawala providers from the marketplace could slow down business operations for many Somalis and stifle the economy.
The two systems are also vastly different when it comes to the fees that are charged to customers for money transfers, he said.
"A hawala provider will charge $0.50 to $1 for every $100 sent, and when we send a lot of money we receive a discount on that rate. A bank on the other hand will take $20 to $60 even if you send $100," he said, noting the higher rates are not affordable to some customers.
On the other hand, Ali Sharif Mohamud, who trades in retail goods he imports from the United Arab Emirates, said he welcomes the new bank and has started to use it to transfer his money.
"The companies [we] deal with always used to ask us if we could send them the money or if they could send it to us using the SWIFT code, but unfortunately our country did not have such a bank," he told Sabahi. "Therefore, it was difficult for us to form business relationships with some companies."
"However, we now want to start using this new system so that it will be easy for us to transfer our money," he said.
Mohamud also welcomed the bank's loan offerings, saying they will provide opportunities to grow his business.

More accessible financing

IBS customers can establish deposit accounts in Somali shillings or US dollars, as well as apply for various types of loans including financing for cars, houses, farms and all kinds of businesses, said Yusuf, the bank executive.
In addition, he said, the bank is in compliance with Islamic financing regulations.
To qualify for a loan, customers must pass international criminal background checks and verify that they have collateral assets or a guarantor to repay the loans.
"Also, the person who wants funding for a business has to come up with a viable idea," he said. "For example, if he wants to build a hotel and there are 100 hotels in the city, we cannot accept that proposal."
The bank employs more than 50 people at the main branch operating in Mogadishu and there are plans to open five other branches in the city by March 2015, Yusuf said. Later in the new year, he said, the bank plans to expand to other parts of the country.

Institute for Vaccine Safety - Religious Approval for Porcine-containing Vaccines

Institute for Vaccine Safety - Religious Approval for Porcine-containing Vaccines

A letter written in July 2001 by the Regional Office of the World Health Organization (WHO) for the Eastern Mediterranean reported on the findings of more than one hundred Islamic legal scholars who met to clarify Islamic purity laws. The scholars met in 1995 at a seminar convened by the Islamic Organization for Medical Sciences on the topic "The Judicially Prohibited and Impure Substances in Foodstuff and Drugs."
The topic is of interest to the immunization community because some vaccines contain pork gelatin. In Islamic law, pork and pork products are impure, and observant Muslims do not consume them. Quoting from a statement issued by the scholars, the letter states the following: "The seminar issued a number of recommendations, included in the attached statement, stipulating that 'Transformation which means the conversion of a substance into another substance, different in characteristics, changes substances that are judicially impure . . . into pure substances, and changes substances that are prohibited into lawful and permissible substances'."
Consequently, the scholars determined that the transformation of pork products into gelatin alters them sufficiently to make it permissible for observant Muslims to receive vaccines containing pork gelatin and to take medicine packaged in gelatin capsules.

UK Muslims face worst job discrimination - The Muslim NewsThe Muslim News

UK Muslims face worst job discrimination - The Muslim NewsThe Muslim News

Comprehensive research into figures by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has found Muslims are facing the worst employment discrimination of any group in the UK Labour market.
Using data from the ONS’ Labour Force Survey of more than 500,000 people the research published in the Social Science Journal study found that Muslims in the UK had the lowest chance of employment. Race made little difference to the figures.
The report found Muslims were the most disadvantaged in terms of employment prospects out of 14 ethno-religious groupings in the UK and that the “penalties” for being Muslim deteriorated when applying for professional jobs.
Researchers Dr Nabil Khattab and Professor Ron Johnston found Muslim men were up to 76 per cent less likely to have a job of any kind compared to white, male British Christians of the same age and with the same qualifications. And Muslim women were up to 65 per cent less likely to be employed than white Christian counterparts.
Dr Khattab, of Bristol University, said the situation was “likely to stem from placing Muslims collectively at the lowest stratum within the country’s racial or ethno-cultural system due to growing Islamophobia and hostility against them.
“They are perceived as disloyal and as a threat rather than just as a disadvantaged minority,” he added. “Within this climate, many employers will be discouraged from employing qualified Muslims, especially if there are others from their own groups or others from less threatening groups who can fill these jobs.”
For women, Muslim Pakistanis and a “Muslim other” group were 65 percent less likely to have a job, with Muslim Indians 55 percent, Muslim Bangladeshis 51 percent and white Muslims 43 percent less likely. For men, the “Muslim other” group was 76 percent less likely to be in work, followed by Muslim Bangladeshis (66%), white Muslims (64%), Muslim Pakistanis (59%) and Muslim Indians (37%).
White British men and women of no religion were, respectively, 20 and 25 percent less likely to have a job than Christians. Black Christians with Caribbean origins were 54 percent and 48 per cent less likely.
The only ethno-religious group with better work prospects than white British Christians were British Jews, with women and men 29 and 15 percent more likely to be employed.
Of those in work, the researchers found only 23 percent and 27 percent of Muslim Bangladeshis and Muslim Pakistanis, respectively, had a salaried job. White British Jews had the highest rates, with 64 percent in salaried jobs, followed by Hindu Indians and white Christian Irish on 53 and 51 percent respectively. White British Christians, white British of no religion and black Christian Africans were all above 40 percent.
Dr Khattab added: “The main components of this discrimination are skin colour and culture or religion. But colour is dynamic, which means white colour can be valued in one case, but devalued when associated with Muslims. Equally, having a dark skin colour – Hindu Indians, for example – is not always associated with any significant penalty.”
The latest research is supported by other investigations into Muslim discrimination in the market place.
A 2004 research by the BBC found that the white job candidates – John Andrews and Jenny Hughes – were successful in getting interviews 23 percent of the time while for Muslim applicants with the names Fatima Khan and Nasser Hanif, the success rate was just 9 percent.
In France, a Christian citizen is two-and-a-half times more likely to get called for a job interview than an equally qualified Muslim candidate, according to a 2010 research by political science professor David Laitin.
Laitin used the faux resumes to apply for 300 advertised job openings, making Khadija and AurĂ©lie compete for one set of positions and Marie and AurĂ©lie compete for another. For every 38 call backs received by Khadija, Marie got 100 call backs – two-and-a-half times more than Khadija.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Somalia Questions Deal Giving Ex-U.K. Soldiers Fish Rights - Bloomberg

Somalia Questions Deal Giving Ex-U.K. Soldiers Fish Rights - Bloomberg

Somalia is seeking to renegotiate an agreement that gives a company run by former British soldiers sole control over one of the world’s richest fishing grounds off the longest coastline in Africa.
The deal, signed on July 25, 2013 with Mauritius-registered Somalia Fishguard Ltd., provided the company with an “extremely high” share of the revenue compared with similar agreements and failed to detail its investment commitments, Somalia Fisheries Minister Mohamed Olow Barow, said in a Nov. 21 letter obtained by Bloomberg. Barow also questioned the length of the agreement.
The fishing contract adds to concern from United Nations investigators that the country is entering agreements that are largely unscrutinized or lack a competitive bidding process.
“The Somalia Fishguard deal is just one of several major contracts awarded by the Somali federal government without a transparent tender process and other forms of public scrutiny,” Matt Bryden, director of Nairobi-based Sahan Research institute, said in an interview on Dec. 19.
The Somalia government announced a few months ago it would be reviewing previously signed contracts to “ensure the interests of all parties is protected,” spokesman Ridwaan Haji said in an e-mailed response to questions yesterday. Haji said he was unable to comment directly on the Fishguard agreement.
At least two e-mails and five phone calls to Barow seeking comment went unanswered.

Valid Contract

The letter was addressed to Fishguard’s Chief Executive Officer, Simon Falkner, who said the contract remains valid, in an e-mailed reply to questions. The company will wait for the selection of a new cabinet following the appointment of Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke as prime minister, before commenting further, Falkner said. Somali lawmakers today voted to back Sharmarke, who said he would announce his cabinet team soon.
Somalia is trying to attract investors as its army, supported by African Union peacekeepers, pushes back al-Qaeda-linked militants from the country’s main urban areas. Somalia has been at war since the ousting of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and its institutions have largely collapsed.
The $920 million economy is being undermined by illegal fishing and underutilization of marine resources, limiting the country’s fish catch to an estimated 10,000 metric tons a year against a potential of 300,000 tons, Fishguard said on its website. The waters off its coastline, that runs 3,205 kilometers (1,991 miles), are rich in species that include yellowfin and longtail tuna, Spanish mackerel, sardines and lobsters, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

Sea Piracy

The country’s fishing industry has also been hurt by the lack of a central authority, which allowed piracy to flourish offshore. After the number of ship hijackings off Somalia fell to two last year from 14 in 2012 as a number of countries deployed warships to keep the shipping lane that passes the coast open, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud in June established an exclusive economic zone, or EEZ.
It gives the government maritime jurisdiction over its coastal waters as it seeks to accelerate commercial developments, including fishing as well as oil and natural gas exploration.
The government signed a number of “secret contracts” and cooperation agreements in 2013 and this year that may result in legal and ownership disputes and raise concern about a lack of transparency, the UN’s Somalia-Eritrea Monitoring Group said in a report in October. It includes the fishing deal in a list of contracts.

Terms, Tendering

Somalia’s World Bank-backed Financial Governance Committee has reviewed seven contracts, ranging from oil and gas to port and fisheries management deals, that lacked clear terms of reference and had no competitive tendering process, the UN said.
The Fishguard contract didn’t specify what equipment, training and personnel the company must supply or performance targets, and makes it responsible for both fishing licensing and conservation, which poses a “potential conflict of interest,” Barow said. A copy of the contract obtained by Bloomberg confirms that.
The Fishguard deal came with a 15-year exclusivity period, above the three- to five-year industry benchmark, tax breaks, which the minister who signed the deal didn’t have the authority to award, and unclear cost-sharing, he said in the letter.

Former Soldiers

The accord was agreed on by then-Natural Resources Minister Abdirizak Omar Mohamed, who was part of a former government. The Somali prime minister’s office said it couldn’t immediately provide contact details for Mohamed.
Fishguard is run by former British soldiers, Falkner and Chairman David Walker, founder of London-based Saladin Security Ltd., a security and risk management company that operates in Africa and the Middle East, it said on its website.
“The government believes it would be best for both parties if the service contract were replaced by a more tightly focused instrument,” Barow said in the letter, without giving more details. The government wants a detailed proposal from Fishguard for creating a Somalia Fisheries Protection Force, which is provided for in the contract, Barow said.
The Fishguard agreement should be independently scrutinized and re-examined in light of Somalia’s new Fisheries Law, which was approved by the country’s parliament in October, Steve Trent, executive director of the London-based Environmental Justice Foundation, said in an e-mail yesterday.
“There is a compelling and clear rationale for an open, independent, scrutiny of this contract before any part of it is ever implemented,” Trent said.
The government needs to bring more transparency into the award of all contracts intended to help rebuild the economy, Barnaby Pace, a Somalia researcher for Global Witness, a London-based anti-corruption group, said in an interview.
The deals “need to be conducted openly so that the Somali people can be assured that they will properly benefit from their natural wealth,” Pace said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Ilya Gridneff in Nairobi at
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at Sarah McGregor, Antony Sguazzin, Michael Gunn.