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August 23, 2010

Former Ambassador Calls Al-Shabab Attack in Mogadishu Abhorrent

by Joe DeCapua

A former U.S. ambassador says Tuesday’s suicide bombing attack on the Muna Hotel in Mogadishu is “another sad day for all Somalis.”  Over 30 people were killed in the attack.

David Shinn, adjunct professor of international affairs at George Washington University, says, “These suicide bombings in particular, which have become a hallmark now of the al Shabaab organization, are tactics that are abhorrent to essentially all Somalis, except for the leaders of al-Shabaab.”

Al-Shabaab recently used similar tactics in attacks in Kampala, Uganda.  Uganda’s been targeted by the militia because its troops are part of the AU force in Somalia.  They were also used last December in a bombing that killed many graduating students at Benadir University in Mogadishu.

“And they’ve done them numerous times before inside Somalia,” he said.

Shinn recently traveled to East Africa and says he spoke with many Somalis, who were now living in Kenya.

“I didn’t encounter anyone who approved of this kind of a tactic, even though some of them may have had some mild sympathies for al Shabaab.  They just saw this as something that was totally un-Somali,” he said.

The former ambassador to Ethiopia goes on to say the attack “shows the… corruption… of Islamic values as it’s being carried out by al Shabaab.”

Young recruits

Nevertheless, Shinn admits that the militant group is successful in recruiting people willing to carry out suicide attacks.

“They tend to be young people, very young people,” he said, “who are very impressionable and very malleable and manipulable (sic), and convincing them that this is something that is good for them personally and perhaps even good for the organization.  And they’ve obviously had considerable success.  That’s very scary that they’re able to do that,” he says.

Shinn says the reason for the success may be due to young Somalis being very poor and unemployed.  “They have no future.  They have nothing,” he said.

Weak Government

The Transitional Federal Government (TFG), the target of Tuesday’s attack, controls very little territory in Somalia.  Many analysts believe the TFG is very weak and would collapse without the support of AU forces.  But Shinn believes al Shabaab has suffered, too.

“These kinds of things I think have had a very negative blowback for al Shabaab,’ he said.  Most Somalis, he says, do not support the group.

“The support for al-Shabaab is quite weak," he said. “The TFG is equally weak, if not weaker.  And as a result, al Shabaab is operating in many parts of the country in something of a vacuum because there is no TFG presence there.”

Shinn says the TFG has failed to convince Somalis that it actually has a “vision” for the country, which it can implement.  Unless it’s able to do that, he says, it will fail to attract the support it needs.

“But to suggest that significant numbers of Somalis approve of al Shabaab I think is just plain inaccurate,” he said.