NAIROBI— The al-Qaida-linked group al-Shabab carried out an average of one deadly attack every seven weeks during 2013. At least 18,000 African Union soldiers are in Somalia attempting to crush al-Shabab and end more than two decades of conflict. But the militant group is still pushing to overthrow the internationally-recognized government. On Wednesday one of the top al-Shabab commanders in southern Somalia called on the locals to rebel against the government.
More than two years ago al-Shabab withdrew from the capital Mogadishu, and for the first time in decades the city was relatively safe from street battles. But the situation has remained fragile.
The militant group is still capable of carrying out deadly attacks on government facilities and public places. The government insists Mogadishu is safe and that it is doing its best to prevent terror attacks.
Somali government spokesman Ridwan Haji Abdiwali tells VOA the government is going to put more effort into training and bolstering the national army to provide security.
In 2014, he says, the government plans to strengthen the army, to provide sophisticated weapons and to train more soldiers and commanders. He says the government is also working on operations to take more territory from al-Shabab.
The group lost control of major cities in south and central Somalia in 2012 during a concerted military effort by African Union forces and Somali government troops. But al-Shabab continues to control parts of the countryside.
On Wednesday, the al-Shabab commander in Somalia's Lower Shabelle region, Sheikh Mohamed Abu Abdalla, called on locals to rebel against the Somali government.
He said, “Those people who live in areas where our enemy controls, this is the time to buy your weapons and fight against them, and we are ready to help you.”
The commander, speaking to pro-al-Shabab Radio Andalus, also accused the government and AU forces of committing crimes against the population in areas under its control - something the Somali government has strongly denied.
Analysts doubt Somalis are ready to rise up against their government. Emmanuel Kisiangani, a senior researcher with the Nairobi-based Institute for Security Studies, says it seems Somalis are tired of war and are ready to have a peaceful country.
“Now with people fatigued with war, I think the government has this opportunity and it does enjoy international credibility compared to some of the previous interim governments. So I think it's important the government manages to take over some of these regions and assert its authority,” he said.
He thinks the militant group still presents a major threat in neighboring countries. In September, the group attacked an upscale mall in Nairobi, killing more than 60 civilians.
Kisiangani notes al-Shabab's activities in neighboring countries are growing and that presents a problem to regional governments.
“From last year, we had several incidences, where we had people as far as from Western part of Kenya who were behind attacks. This is very dangerous, it’s a process of creating local fundamental individuals and that presents much bigger problems,” he said.
Al-Shabab has other ways of creating problems besides terrorist attacks. On Wednesday, it said it is banning the use of mobile Internet and fiber optic telephones throughout Somalia. The Somali government says the group cannot enforce the ban. But it could pressure or attack communications companies, further slowing the progress toward peace and normalcy in Somalia.