News / Africa

Chastened by Islamists, Somalia Redraws Mogadishu Security Plan

People look at the scene of a suicide attack next to the gate of the Presidential Palace in Mogadishu February 21, 2014. Al Qaeda-linked militants al Shabaab attacked the Somali presidential palace compound on Friday, blasting through a gate with a car bo
People look at the scene of a suicide attack next to the gate of the Presidential Palace in Mogadishu February 21, 2014. Al Qaeda-linked militants al Shabaab attacked the Somali presidential palace compound on Friday, blasting through a gate with a car bo
Reuters
When Islamist militants blasted their way to within 50 meters of the Somali president's residence, they forced a sharp rethink of security in the capital Mogadishu.
 
The deadly Feb. 21 assault on the Villa Somalia compound was the closest al-Qaida-linked insurgents had got to President Hassan Sheik Mohamud.
 
The assault by al-Shabat the heart of government, and a bloody attack five months earlier on a Kenyan shopping mall, showcased the rebels' destructive reach at home and abroad and cast more doubt on Mohamud's pledge to improve security.
 
“The government's sugar-coated promises are the norm in Mogadishu. So too are bomb blasts,” said 30-year-old Samira Farah, echoing widespread skepticism that Mohamud is capable of quashing the seven-year-old insurgency.
 
Since February, Somalia's Western-backed government and security services have taken new steps to improve security and regain the confidence of their potentially most effective ally - the public.
 
Spy chiefs, military bosses and commanders of peacekeeping forces from other African countries have been headquartered in one building.
 
Cabinet ministers have been asked to go out into Mogadishu's 16 districts to get closer to communities and rebuild trust in government in the hope the public will expose suspected rebels.
 
“Before the ministers were just in Villa Somalia wearing ties. Now they will be closer to people and reality,” said former Somali cabinet minister Abdirashid Hashi, who heads the Mogadishu-based Heritage Institute for Policy Studies.
 
“The plan is one year late but it's never too late.”
 
Mohamud has replaced the city's mayor, giving the new man the job of implementing a security plan that urges residents to shop neighbors believed to be collaborating with al-Shabab.
 
“The attack on Villa Somalia was a wake-up call,” said one Western diplomat. “The president is now taking an active approach [to security], which I don't think was quite the case before.”
 
Infiltration
 
The Horn of Africa nation's poorly paid and ill-disciplined army remains more a collection of rival militias than a cohesive fighting force.
 
Mohamud's government depends on the 22,000 or so African Union peacekeepers to survive, and the country's intelligence services are struggling to stay ahead of the insurgents.
 
“We can get more manpower but the problem is training, equipment, transport, communication,” said Mohamed Ali Jama, director of the Ministry of National Security, who oversees Somalia's NISA spy agency and the national police.
 
There has been progress. In 2011, trenches running through Mogadishu marked the front line of al-Shabab's rebellion, while today Somalis returning home for the first time since civil war erupted in 1991 are financing something of an economic recovery.
 
The AMISOM peacekeeping force has scored successes driving al-Shababout of bigger cities and towns. But the militants still control rural areas and smaller urban centers from where they launch al-Qaida-inspired suicide attacks.
 
Somali security officials say rebel fighters are once again  infiltrating Mogadishu, a city of some 1.5 million, under pressure from a renewed military offensive by AU troops and Somali government forces across southern Somalia.
 
A new Mogadishu Security Strategy government paper says they are returning in search of hideouts and to “terrorize the civilians”.
 
One intelligence agent said al-Shababwere able to assemble car bombs and suicide vests inside Mogadishu, and smuggled pre-made explosives into smaller cities controlled by government and African Union troops.
 
The security gains of the past three years are under threat.
 
“I've not seen Mogadishu [security] this bad for some time,” said one Western security adviser who knows Mogadishu well.
 
Academic Ken Menkhaus said al-Shababwas “both weaker and more dangerous” than before. Its overall fighting force has shrunk while its expertise in guerrilla-style warfare had grown, he wrote in a U.S. military magazine.
 
Spy on your neighbor
 
The new security strategy for Mogadishu, drawn up just days after the Villa Somalia raid, hinges on obtaining more ground-level intelligence from Mogadishu's rubble-strewn streets.
 
Somali officials are confronted by a challenge they are reluctant to acknowledge: the infiltration of militants into government agencies.
 
Witnesses said the gunmen who raided the heavily guarded presidential complex in February, breaching checkpoints, wore military fatigues - a tactic used before by al-Shabab.
 
It prompted Somalia's prime minister to seek help from Western states.
 
“He asked if Somalia could be helped with a high-level criminal investigation, which needed to look at whether al-Shababreceived 'inside' support,” U.N. special representative for Somalia Nicholas Kay wrote to six Western envoys in a Feb. 22 e-mail.
 
Britain and the United States sent investigators to assist.
 
Kay told Reuters the U.N. had temporarily reduced the number of its staff in Mogadishu because of the deteriorating security. In another February attack in the capital, al-Shababtargeted a U.N. convoy with a car bomb outside the main airport.
 
Somali security chief Jama told Reuters the local population was the most effective weapon to dismantle militants' networks.
 
“They can spot new neighbors, the people who come into the city and the activities of those neighbors,” Jama said.
 
Locals are, however, wary about informing on insurgents to security forces, who have a reputation for taking bribes from detained Islamist fighters.
 
“We used to give the police information about where the fighters hid themselves. The police arrested the fighters but would release them hours later,” said local elder Bile Osman.
 
“I know many people who fled or were killed after fighters they identified were released,” he said.

You May Like

Taliban's New Leader Says Jihad Will Continue

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Video US Landmark Pushes Endangered Species

People gathered in streets, on rooftops in Manhattan to see image highlights that covered 33 floors of Empire State Building More

World’s Widest Suspension Bridge Being Built Over Bosphorus

Once built, Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge will span 2 kilometers with about 1.5 kilometers over water, and will be longest suspension bridge in world carrying rail system More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs