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
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.”
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

Syrian Rebels Poised for Anti-Russia Collaboration

Forty-one insurgent groups issue joint statement vowing retaliation for Russian air offensives More

Political Maneuver Revives Export-Import Bank's Chances

Parliamentary tactic gets bill out of committee, but it faces opposition in the Senate More

Beijing Warns US on S. China Sea Patrols

Warning follows news reports Thursday that US military is planning to sail warships close to artificial islands Beijing has been aggressively building More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs