NATO COE-DAT Defence Against Terrorism Analysis – Quarterly

“Al-Qa’ida is in a battle, and more than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media. Al-Qa’ida is in a media battle for the hearts and minds of the ummah”

Ayman al-Zawahiri

The first issue of NATO Centre of Excellence Defence Against Terrorism (NATO COE DAT)’s new publication, Defence Against Terrorism Analysis – Quarterly is out. It includes excellent articles on the need for caution in the handling of far right extremists and the calculated abuse of children by terrorist groups, as well as Our Man on the Horn’s thoughts on communications around a terrorist incident, ‘Crisis Communications during Terrorist Incidents: The Somali Experience ‘.

WELL WORTH A READ: A new NATO compendium on Good Practices in Counter Terrorism

NATO’s Centre of Excellence in Defence Against Terrorism in Ankara, Turkey, has just published the first of a series of volumes entitled ‘Best Practices in Counter Terrorism.

Chapter II, ‘Hard Power, Soft Power & Smart Power in Counter Terrorism’ is particularly good…

NATO Strategic Direction & Krypteia – South: The Spread of al-Shabaab

NATO’s Strategic Direction – South in Naples, in conjunction with Krypteia, an East Africa-based research company, and Dr Harmonie Toros of the University of Kent, has published a fascinating new paper on al-Shabaab’s international agenda.

The paper can be downloaded here

Krypetia is a Somali woman owned business that was set up in 2014 and originally focused on translation between Somali, Swahili and English. Since then the company has expanded its activities significantly and now provides a range of services including media production, facilitation across East Africa and the Horn and specialist insight, with a particular focus on gender and CT & P/CVE. Client include the UN, the EU, the British Embassy Mogadishu, academia and the private sector, including private security providers. Krypteia recently provided two chapters (‘Women in al-Shabaab’ & ‘Negotiations with al-Shabaab’) in the UN’s War and Peace in Somalia collection.

Contact Krypetia on

Al-Shabaab Claims Attack in Nairobi on Anniversary of El-Adde Attack

Al-Shabab movement claim to be behind an ongoing heavy attack in Nairobi

An official statement has just been released by the movement of the Al-Shabaab martyrs says that there is an ongoing attack in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

Al-Shabaab said that the attack was a complex attack which was initiated with a powerful explosion which was then followed by heavily armed infantry men who then gained access to a hotel in downtown Nairobi

‘Martyr forces who are members of the movement of the Al-Shabaab martyrs have conducted an operation in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Firsthand reports from the scene of the attack indicate that the martyr forces have entered a hotel,’ says the statement.

This attack comes exactly three years after the attack which targeted the Kenyan troops in El-Adde in Somalia. In this attack of El-Ade over 200 Kenyan soldiers were killed.

NOTE: al-Shabaab is a terrorist organisation and often claims attacks it did not commit and also inflates or misrepresents attacks it did commit.

That Was The Month That Was – December 2018

l-to-r: supporters of Mukhtar Robow protest in Baidoa; the new President of SW State visits Hudur town; the aftermath of an aS car-bombing in Mogadishu; and journalist Awil Dahir, who died in the attack

DECEMBER marked the conclusion of the tempestuous SW State Electoral Process with the election of a pro-FGS candidate, Abdicasiis Mohamed ‘Lafta Gareen’. The month began with the fourth delay of the vote, this time to December 19th, which sparked accusations of exploitation of the Festive Season exodus of international community for nefarious ends. The popular former aS commander, Mukhtar Robow was then arrested by Ethiopian forces, sparking days of rioting that saw at least ten people killed including a member of the SW State parliament.

The election went ahead in spite of protests from both local and international commentators. An international NGO, Sahan, was banned from operating in Somalia, possibly because of scathing comments made in the international media by a senior figure in the group and former head of the UN SEMG, Matt Bryden. But it seemed that the FGS and the new administration had managed to white-knuckle it out – until the UN SRSG sought answers to questions around Robow’s detention and the subsequent violence in SW State in a letter to the Minister of Internal Security (that was duly leaked to the news media).

The Puntland Electoral Process, due in mid-January 2019, seemed to progressing more smoothly. The Puntland Authorities declared that the FGS were excluded from engaging in any way and the Puntland Parliament, which would vote in the President, was appointed, although sadly only one of the 66 MPs was female.

A group of MPs moved to impeach the President but the motion failed to garner the necessary level of support to proceed to a vote. The possibility of a return to the old ways of high-level spats loomed, although this time with the President and the Prime Minister against the Speaker (in the past it was usually the President against his Prime Minister), More members of the judiciary were replaced, prompting accusations of stacking those institutions with supporters. Anti-Corruption legislation was passed into law but Transparency International, an INGO that produces a yearly ‘Corruption Perception Index’ (and has governments at the bottom of the index spitting tacks), once again declared Somalia the most corrupt country in the world (in perceptions at least). The 2019 budget was approved on New Years Eve.

The African Union met to discuss the transition of AMISOM forces in 2020 and there were accusations of sexual exploitation around MIA. Turkey and Qatar met to discuss their future engagement in the security of Somalia. Kenyan Airways continued to ponder a route to Mogadishu while Qatar Airways announced its intention to begin flights in July.

aS continued its campaign of assassinations in and around Mogadishu, a notable success being the killing of two senior officers in the security forces, mixed with the occasional ‘spectacular’ (complex attacks based around car-bombs). An example of the latter resulted in the deaths of at least two dozen people near Villa Somalia including a film crew from Universal TV – this marked the culmination of a bad month in a bad year for journalists in Somalia.

In the hinterland, Gofgadud in SW State once again flip-flopped back and forth between aS and government control. But aS also continued to suffer from Somali Special Forces strikes (supported by US ‘advisors’), even in Jilib, its hub in Middle Jubba. A home-grown, clan-based group called the Macawiisleey (named after the Somali kilt) sprang up to resist taxation and press-ganging, although the group eschewed openly allying itself with the FGS.

aS battled with the ever-strengthening Da’esh element in Puntland (where the faction sprang up) but also in the south of the country. The FGS discouraged the population from using aS’s alternative justice system and continued to capture and execute high profile members of aS, prompting expressions of concern from the international community – but in a country where justice is still perceived as something that can be circumvented, even by convicted terrorists, capital punishment remains one of the clearest indicators for an insecurity-weary population that something like justice still exists (albeit in a form that is deeply unpalatable to western sensibilities).

That Was The Month That Was – November 2018

l-to-r: HE the Pres addresses the Blue Economy Conference in Nairobi and receives the credentials of the the new US Ambassador; Elmi Yare, the controversial cleric killed by aS; and the headquarters of Hormuud Telecoms

NOVEMBER saw the continuation of the Southwest State Presidential Election process, although all did not go to plan: the first of a number of delays was prompted by the resignation of the Electoral Commission in protest at alleged FGS interference; then another delay pushed the election into December, allegedly because of attempts to exclude some candidates; and, at the end of the month, a further delay, with the justification this time being the need to train up the new Electoral Commission. A number of candidates withdrew, again citing interference, and pledged their support to the former aS leader, Robow. The incumbent SW State President even withdrew from the process and resigned from his post, once again seeming to transfer his support to Robow. It seemed unlikely that the remainder of the process would run smoothly and there was a general consensus that whoever eventually won would have to deal with a process that deeply compromised.

The President spent much of the month travelling to South Sudan (where Somalia announced that it would soon be deploying a small contingent of peacekeepers), Turkey (where good relations seemed to have resumed), Italy (where he may or may not have met the Emir of Qatar), Uganda and finally Kenya (where the President spoke strongly about illegal fishing and toxic waste dumping, and where Somalia might have signed a regional intelligence sharing deal, or it might not). Both Ethiopia and Kenya’s national carriers announced their intention to join Turkish Airlines operating international routes into Somalia, although Kenya Airways paused its plans when the Somali government applied additional insurance conditions. The new US Ambassador arrived and Somali reiterated its call for international NGOs to relocate to Somalia or lose their operating licenses.

A running theme of corruption and general jiggery-pokery ran throughout the month. A number of government and security forces personnel where convicted as part of a government anti-corruption drive. The UN SEMG published its annual report, notable highlights being allegations of UAE interference, aS attackers bribing their way through Kenyan border checks in the run-up to a foiled attack on Nairobi and claims that the FGS was struggling to track weapons effectively (two FGS-issued weapons being found in the possession of the interdicted aS terrorist cell in Kenya). The Parliamentary Finance Committee published a report accusing both the Ministry of Finance and Banadir Regional Authority of financial mismanagement: the claims were vigorously refuted by both institutions and the committee disbanded amidst claims that the report was politically motivated.

aS was subjected to nigh-on daily strikes up and down the Jubba River Valley but predominantly in coastal Mudug, where commanders seem to have dodged the lesson on How to Counter Enemy Airpower through tactics such as dispersal and emission control: AFRICOM claimed to have killed over 30 fighters in a single attack. But aS, like all terrorist organisations, is built to be flexible, scalable and survivable, proven by a continuation of car bombings and assassinations in the city of Mogadishu including notable attacks on the Sahafi Hotel (again) and a miraa market that was regularly frequented by members of the security forces (again). aS also found time to slaughter a controversial Sufi cleric along with his family and guards in Galkayo and to execute some foreign fighters.

Someone also seemed to havetheir sights set on employees of the telecoms giant, Hormuud: there was much speculation that it could be aS or the Da’esh faction conducting extortion operations but it was also possible that the attacks were the work of other nefarious actors or just random killings. The attacks were indicative of the depth and duration of the violence that has afflicted Somalia, and it was no surprise that there was renewed interest in trying to address the effects of trauma at the individual and collective levels; a colossal but also vital task if stability is ever to take hold in Somalia.

That Was The Month That Was – October 2018

l-to-r: the aftermath of an SVBIED attack on an EUTM convoy; Robow on the campaign trail; the October 14th bombing memorial; and the UN SRSG and AMISOM SRCC on tour around the FMSs

OCTOBER saw continuing non-cooperation between the FMSs and the FGS, barring HirShabelle, whose President had his own problems in the form of a no confidence vote (although a complete split into two factions within Galmudug State, complete with an alternative capital, did not have the same effect). In the middle of the month the CIC met and exacerbated the situation yet further by declaring their intention to set up their own national level security forces outwith the central FGS structure. (How this would be funded was unclear.) The Minister of Finance invited applications for bids for central funds from the annual budget but inadvertently reminded everyone of one of the roots of the current spat, a demand that FMSs account for funds received from the centre. Attempts at mediation failed until the new UN SRSG and the AMISON SRCC toured the FMSs with the aim of bringing everyone to the negotiating table: the FMS leaders agreed to talks in November.

In the FMSs, the SW State election moved along at a gentle pace with the Election Committee finally forming. There were accusations of meddling by the FGS that gained impetus when the former DG NISA arrived in Baidoa with an armoured vehicle and armed guards, presumably in anticipation of declaring his candidacy. The disbarring of the former aS commander, Robow, on the grounds that he had not completed the defection process, was dismissed by the popular candidate, who continued to campaign.

A joint Ethiopian/Eritrean delegation visited and flights from Ethiopia resumed. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation conference was held in Mogadishu but Turkey was notably absent, perhaps in response to Somalia’s declaration of support for Saudi Arabia’s stance on the killing of a journalist in its consulate in Istanbul (the declaration coming, coincidentally, just after the PM visited Riyadh). Somalia was not invited to the opening of Istanbul’s new airport and it seemed that Turkey was sending a message to its beneficiary.

Crime spiralled, insecurity rose: a Deputy Minister was arrested in connection with a dollar counterfeiting operation; two teachers were killed when they tried to prevent thieves stealing their school’s equipment; there were vicious clan clashes in Lower Shabelle and Lower Jubba; and more districts of Mogadishu reportedly fell under aS sway, not just at night but during the day as well.

That said, an aS car bomb attack on an EUTM convoy (which might have been the target or might just have been passing by) marked the beginning of a lull in attacks in Mogadishu. Outside the city, however, aS shrugged off the continuing campaign of strikes (including the loss of a reported 60 fighters in a single attack in Mudug), briefly seizing two villages, Gofgadud and Doynunay, in SW State. (There was some speculation that aS was exploiting frictions between FMS and FGS elements of the security forces that paralleled the political frictions between the two). aS also launched concurrent suicide attacks against a hotel and a restaurant in Baidoa which it portrayed as targeting the security forces but which might well have been linked to the SW State elections or perhaps even directly targeting Robow. But aS also showed its softer side with a distribution of zakawat just outside Mogadishu and a critique of the FGS education system in comparison the aS alternative.

The first anniversary of aS’s greatest atrocity, the October 14th bombing in Mogadishu, was marked with the unveiling of a monument at the scene. It was ironic that the heroes of the day, Aamin Ambulance Service, now faces a critical shortage of funding: it was also telling that aS could signal its continuing ability to operate with the Baidoa bombing on the anniversary without challenge since the FGS and FMSs were too busy quarrelling.

That Was The Month That Was – September 2018

l-to-r: the President meets a member of the Communist Party of China in Beijing; the new UN SRSG, Nicholas Haysom; the PM visits an injured MP; and 9 year old Deqa Dahir, shot dead by security forces

SEPTEMBER began with the President in Beijing for a major international conference on cooperation where he met, amongst others, his Egyptian counterpart. Later in the month the World Bank resumed grant aids to Somalia and the EU and others announced major funding commitments.

But corruption remained, with a Ministry of Finance project halted and the Permanent Secretary to the Minister of Petroleum suspended. Germany also suspended its support to a road-building project in Puntland, citing not just corruption but also incompetence, or its more polite cousin, non-delivery. The response was less polite.

Elsewhere in the international community, the UN SRSG, Michael Keating, was replaced by a South African, Nicholas Haysom. In the absence of the President or the Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs represented Somalia at the UN General Assembly and called for an end to sanctions.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the FMSs, the Speaker of Galmudug was ejected and a by-election resulted in a fraternal handover to the former Minister of Immigration and DG NISA, Gafoow. In Mogadishu the former Deputy DG NISA was stripped of all his rights after expressing some forthright views in a local radio interview. Robow returned to SW State but did not yet declare his candidacy for the Presidential election in NOV18.

The major event of the month was the meeting of the Council for Inter-state Cooperation (CIC), which ended with a call for non-cooperation with the FGS. FMS Presidents refused to attend the National Security Council and many MPs boycotted the re-opening of parliament. That said, the posture of the FMSs was not consistent at either the Presidential level or elsewhere, with SW State President giving contradictory statements, HirShabelle apparently relenting and other members of the State Authorities (and citizens) disagreeing with the move. Delegations were dispatched to the FMSs in attempt to divide and conquer the non-cooperationists.

aS continued to be the subject of strikes, be they by drone, air or Special Operations Forces, but seemed to get the hang of countering these operations, claiming that one strike against an aS commander in Saakow in Middle Jubba damaged a school and a hospital. aS launched its own operations, of course, targeting government buildings in Mogadishu with apparent ease and encroaching slowly on the capital’s environs. aS also continued its campaign of assassinations, including car-bomb attacks on an MP and a well-known academic – many interpreted these attacks as aS being used to do other’s dirty work. Kenya sought to fill a gap by offering an amnesty to Kenyan nationals fighting with aS (a group that includes Somali and non-ethnic Somali Kenyan citizens, as well as a number of female camp-followers).

Somalia’s shame, FGM, continued to grab the international headlines, with two sisters dying during the botched vandalism of their genitals, followed by another young girl a few days later. Being female in Somalia continued to be a broadly negative experience: two women died as a result of domestic violence and then a 9 year old girl was shot dead and many of her classmates injured when off-the-lead members of the security forces hosed a school bus with small arms fire under the guise of ‘traffic control’.

As a result of the incident the question of impunity arose, and then grew legs when members of a major clan burned a member of the oft-persecuted minority Bantu alive because his nephew had married one of the major clan’s womenfolk: while outrage was forthcoming, justice did not seem to be, nor did societal progression.

Off to Somalia? Here’s Yet More Preparatory Reading

2018 has been a good year for both Somalia-focussed fiction and non-fiction. Here’s what you should be spending your Amazon vouchers on:


‘Inside al-Shabaab’

VoA’s Harun Maruf, along with Dan Jospeh, provide a deep and insightful analysis of aS: where it came from, where it is now and where it might go next.


Michael Taarnby’s very readable account of his involvement with the Serendi Defector Rehabilitation Centre – and also a very good insight into the broader challenges facing anyone working in Somalia (including Diaspora returners)/.

‘War and Peace in Somalia: National Grievances, Local Conflict and Al-Shabaab’

Former UN SRSG’s wide-ranging collection of essays on Somalia.


‘North of Dawn’

The latest novel from Somalia’s greatest living novelist, Nuruddin Farah.

Missed the original prep list? Here’s the link:

That Was The Month That Was – August 2018

l-to-r: participants at the Mogadishu International Book Fair and a discussion of security and AMISOM hosted by Hiraal on the back of the event; aS’s Eid al-Adha celebrations in Jilib; and Mohamed Sheikh, the Diaspora entrepreneur killed by unknown assassins

AUGUST began with Somalia caught up in two major regional issues: the change of regime in the ethnically Somali region of Ethiopia (the reverberations of which always offer a potential threat to the stability of the homeland); and Somalia’s intervention in relations between Eritrea and Djibouti, which caused the Djiboutian authorities to spit tacks. To the south, Kenya was the primary subject of aS’s activities as fighters crossed the porous border to launch attacks against the Kenyan security forces while the Kenyan forces attacked cellphone towers and harassed the population (according to the Gedo authorities).

A newswire article on the poor state of the Somali security forces that happily blended fact with rumour stated what pretty much everyone knew already but also managed to libel Hormuud (claiming the cellphone provider colluded with aS) and prompted justifiable outrage over a comment attributed to an AMISOM officer comparing Somalis to ‘dirty pigs’. There was some (unrelated) discussion of extending the AMISOM mandate.

The new US ambassador stated his commitment to holding the Somali government accountable and the UK announced a succession of supportive efforts including a programme to counter female suicide bombers while concurrently raising gender awareness and commitments to more funding for stabilisation activities (made by the UK Defence Secretary during a visit to Mogadishu and then the UK PM herself during a visit to neighbouring Kenya).

There were a succession of reshuffles across the FGS and the security forces, notable being the promotion of the first female officer to the rank of general in the SPF and the movement of the controversial Office of the President Chief of Staff, Fahad Yassin, to NISA. Changes in the judiciary (which some labelled a purge and others a power grab) continued, as did a campaign against corruption, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs being a notable target. The FGS once again expressed its intention to target foreign organisations and foreign workers for taxation, which was unlikely to encourage more engagement by international actors.

In the FMSs Jubbaland rejected the FGS appointee to head NISA in the state and there were protests against alleged heavy-handed governance in some of the regions in the state. Southwest State continued its preparations for elections amidst the obligatory claims of electoral jiggery-pokery.

The 4th Mogadishu International Book Festival was a notable success and Eid al-Adha went off without incident. Even aS showed its softer side through a series of jolly media releases to mark the occasion.

The pace of aS attacks remained steady and low: ominously, the ISIS/Da’esh Faction increased its claimed attacks. The US continued to pepper south-central Somalia with strikes. The popular Diaspora founder of Start-Up Grind Somalia and owner of the Mogadishu’s only florist shop and dry cleaners was killed, prompting consternation (especially amongst his Diaspora chums) which manifested itself in protests and the hashtag, #wearenotsafe. The apparent lull in attacks, along with the month of August, ended with a major attack in Afgoye in Lower Shabelle.