February 24, 2013: The Somali pirates continue to have a hard time. They have not captured a ship in nine months and only captured five last year compared to 25 in 2011 and 27 in 2010. The main reason for this lack of success is improved security (including armed guards) aboard the large commercial ships the pirates seek out and more aggressive methods used by the anti-piracy patrol. Pirate mother ships are almost always caught and destroyed if they try to take pirates far from the Somali coast. Currently the pirates are holding four ships and 108 sailors. Most of the pirate gangs have shut down, but several are still trying to find a solution to the current obstacles. It is still dangerous to take a ship near the Somali coast.
The defeat of al Shabaab in the last year has led several hundred foreign terrorists, who had earlier fled from defeat in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and elsewhere, to leave the country. Many are showing up in Yemen and Kenya, two places that are easy to reach. You can just walk across the lightly guarded Kenyan border and smugglers regularly, and largely successfully, move people from Somalia to Yemen. Yemen defeated an al Qaeda insurrection last year but the Islamic radicals sill have sanctuaries in some remote villages. About 11 percent of 43 million Kenyans are Moslem, and most live in coastal cities like Mombasa (where about a third of the population is Moslem). Most of those Moslems are ethnic Somalis and many have been in Kenya for generations. But several hundred thousand are Arabs. Inside Somalia, many of the al Shabaab deserters are going back to their clans and rejoining the clan militia. While some of these men were disillusioned with al Shabaab, many were not and are just biding their time, waiting for another opportunity to join an Islamic radical group. Some of these deserters, including those who joined the army as part of their rehabilitation, are now secretly carrying out or supporting terrorist attacks. Some of these men are still willing to be suicide bombers. Not a lot, but several times a month al Shabaab suicide bombers are in action, a reminder that al Shabaab is defeated but not destroyed. This has forced the Somali Army to become more accurate in screening al Shabaab deserters, especially those willing to join the military.
Few of the al Shabaab men went off to Mali, mainly because it is on the other side of the continent and expensive to reach from Somalia.
In the last year Kenya has suffered dozens of terror attacks by Somalis angry about Kenyan peacekeepers going into Somalia (to suppress al Shabaab attacks on northern Kenya). Kenya recently responded by ordering all Somalis out of the cities and forcing them to either return to Somalia (which many are doing) or to the Dadaab refugee camp (a much less popular destination). To speed this process the police have (unofficially) been permitted to harass, extort and plunder Somalis who do not leave. The government is planning to round up those Somalis who still refuse to leave and forcibly move them to the Somali border or Dadaab. That camp is itself being emptied out much to the consternation of foreign aid groups, who still do not feel safe operating in Somalia (where bandits and warlords see foreign aid workers are a source of plunder, not aid).
A recent investigation in Kenya revealed that Somalis had quietly moved over two billion dollars into Kenya over the last few years. That’s a lot of money for Kenya, a country with a GDP of only $40 billion. This new Somali money was largely used outside the banking system, for loans and other transactions that left no official records. Some of this money is known to have gone to al Shabaab (captured records in Somalia revealed this) and there is no easy way to stop that. Kenya is trying to round up and expel illegal Somali immigrants, but many of the wealthiest Somalis in Kenya have legal residency.
February 23, 2013: Outside Kismayo two pro-government militias fought each other, leaving at least 11 dead. These clan militias are at odds over who should get what in Kismayo. Even before al Shabaab seized Kismayo, the second largest port in the country, in 2009 rival clans fought to see who would control the docks area, and collecting fees for ships and trucks using that area.
February 21, 2013: The army executed three of its soldiers for murder. This is the traditional Somali warlord method of dealing with serious misbehavior by subordinates. The three were accused of murder. Rape and robbery are also common among Somali troops, but these are usually handled by tossing the offenders out of the military.
Seven people were shot dead in a Kenyan mosque near the Somali border and the Dadaab refugee camp. It’s unclear if this was connected with al Shabaab, a clan feud or some criminal dispute.
February 20, 2013: For the first time in nearly a decade there was a public performance of musicians in Mogadishu. Al Shabaab and other Islamic conservatives had forbidden musical as un-Islamic and imposed the death sentence on many violators. Before that, the city was too dangerous for such public gatherings.
February 18, 2013: The government offered a $50,000 rewards for information leading to the conviction of those killing journalists. One journalist has been killed this year, 18 were killed last year and 45 have been murdered since 2007. The likely suspects are al Shabaab and various political and clan leaders who do not like to see their misbehavior publicized and criticized.
February 16, 2013: In Somaliland the son of a prominent politician was arrested on terrorism charges. The prisoner had grown up in Finland, where he was apparently radicalized. Foreign intelligence agencies provided the proof and Somaliland investigators verified this and made the arrests. The terrorist attacks had taken place in neighboring Puntland. Islamic terrorists take advantage of bad relations (an unresolved border dispute) between the two statelets, and the subsequent lack of cooperation on terrorism matters, to use Somaliland as a refuge while planning attacks inside Puntland. Many wealthy Somalis have sent their families overseas during the last two decades of chaos. These cheapest destination is Europe, where refugee status and generous social benefits are available. The adult children are now coming back to Somalia bringing skills, and sometimes bad habits, with them.
In Mogadishu a car bomb went off in front of a beachside restaurant, killing a soldier and wounding three civilians. Al Shabaab was suspected although it may have just been criminals seeking extortion money.
February 15, 2013: Al Shabaab claims to have killed a missing Kenyan soldier. Al Shabaab demanded the release of all jailed Moslems in return for the soldier. Kenya refused. Al Shabaab never proved that they had the soldier.
February 14, 2013: A senior Moslem cleric was shot dead in a Puntland mosque. The killer and his accomplice were arrested. Al Shabaab is suspected.
February 13, 2013: Peacekeeper and government troops cleared al Shabaab from several towns south of Mogadishu. Al Shabaab still has hundreds of members living in dozens of villages and towns in central Somalia. The troops have to move in and drive them out and establish some government presence to keep them out.
Iran is denying accusations by UN investigators that Iran has been the source for most illegal weapons being smuggled into Somalia over the last few years. There is quite a bit of evidence for this, but Iran accuses the UN of fabricating a case against Iran.
February 11, 2013: In central Somalia an al Shabaab suicide car bomber attacked a police commander, but only killed himself and four civilians.
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Follow me on Twitter @terrorfreesomal