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

On Everest, Helicopters Rescue Stranded Climbers

Choppers transport some of more than 100 mountaineers trapped after deadly quake, avalanches More

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

In 2005, a Paris suburb exploded into violence after two teenagers were electrocuted as they hid from police; since then, somethings have changed, others not More

US, Japan Announce Historic Revision of Defense Cooperation Guidelines

Nations say new guidelines will be 'cornerstone for peace and security' in Asia-Pacific region while also serving as 'platform for a more stable international security environment' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europei
X
Henry Ridgwell
April 26, 2015 10:36 PM
Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video ‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europe

Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

January’s terrorist attacks and fears of more to come are casting a spotlight on France’s neglected suburbs. Home to many immigrants, and sometimes hubs of crime, they were rocked by rioting a decade ago. Lisa Bryant visited the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, where the 2005 violence first broke out, and has this report about what has changed and what has not.
Video

Video Gay Marriage Goes Before US Supreme Court

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether gay people have a constitutional right to marriage. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the case could lead to the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, or a continuation of the status quo in which individual states decide whether to recognize gay unions.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

VOA Blogs