“Below the waters, you will find Iranian clandestine operations that are not always easy to detect,” an Ankara-based African ambassador told me in confidence recently while discussing the terrible killing spree by militants belonging to the terrorist al-Shabaab organization that killed at least 72 people in a Nairobi shopping mall.
“The Horn of Africa is kind of a launching pad for Iran to maintain its disruptive campaign on both the Arabian Peninsula and in Sub-Saharan Africa in a bid to destabilize existing regimes,” the same diplomat added.
For evidence, you just need to glance at numerous reports from one monitoring group on Somalia and Eritrea, set up by the UN Security Council (UNSC) Committee following resolutions 751 and 1907. There is an overwhelming body of evidence indicating that Iran has been providing direct and indirect military assistance to extremist groups in Somalia for years. The incidents mentioned in the UN reports represent only the tip of the iceberg, as most went unreported and undetected. Still, the ones that made it into reports from the monitoring committee are enough to give us a fair understanding of the dirty picture of Iranian efforts to destabilize countries in the Horn of Africa.
Iran uses various routes and brokers to provide weaponry and funds to extremist groups operating in Somalia and its neighborhood in order to evade detection. It only uses direct aid when absolutely necessary. For example, in a July 2013 report, UN experts were able to trace newly seized RPG-7-type launchers from al-Shabaab militants to an Iranian manufacturer, even though they were modified and the serial numbers were stripped off to prevent tracing. The UN experts were also able to trace some of the guns and ammunition provided to Somali militants to Iranian manufacturers. For example, the Ammunition and Metallurgy Industries Group (AMIG) in Iran supplied MGD 12.7 mm heavy machine guns, which can be mounted on trucks, to a militia in Somalia. This gun is a Cold War-era relic but is still manufactured in Iran.
Most arms flowing to the al-Shabaab organization enter via Eritrea, a close ally of Iran in the region. The UN's latest report identified Mohamed Mantai, Eritrea's ambassador to Sudan and non-resident ambassador to Iran since December 2012, as a contact of al-Shabaab. According to UN intelligence, he is “a central figure in Eritrea's regional intelligence machinery.” Mantai is a former operative of Brigade 72, the military intelligence wing of the Eritrean army. He was deported from Kenya following a September 2009 visit to Somalia, where he met with members of al-Shabaab. In Khartoum, he has been busy recruiting Somalis while maintaining close links with Iranian diplomats. Based on UN interviews from February 2013 with two former Eritrean officials who worked in Sudan, experts verified that Mantai has had regular contacts with the Iranian ambassador to Khartoum.
Iran forged diplomatic ties with Eritrea in 2002 through its contacts in Khartoum. The relations were strengthened in 2007 when Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki made a deal with then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to use Eritrea as a strategic backwater and transit point in exchange for financial assistance. The UN investigators identified a man known in Sudan as Amr al-Musawi, a former cultural attaché to the Iranian Embassy in Khartoum and now believed to reside in Tehran, as the key figure coordinating Eritrean-Iranian relations since 2007. Al-Musawi makes frequent visits to both Sudan and Eritrea.
“The Monitoring Group has also obtained further information on increasingly close links between Eritrea and the Islamic Republic of Iran in support of its regional intelligence structures,” the UN report concludes. Despite UNSC resolution 1907, which imposed an arms embargo, travel bans and an assets freeze on Eritrea in 2009, military cooperation between Eritrea and Iran has continued unabated.
Iran's interest in Somalia is not new. Tehran had also supplied arms and munitions to the late Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed, a notorious warlord who escalated a power struggle that helped to accelerate Somalia's descent into chaos, in the early 1990s, in clear violation of the UN sanctions regime. Tehran later provided funds and weaponry to Somalia's Islamic Courts Union (ICU), the godfather of the al-Shabaab militia, which pushed US-supported Somali rulers out of the capital Mogadishu in June 2006 and ruled for six months before Somali and Ethiopian forces ousted the movement.
UN monitors identified at least three separate consignments of arms and ammunition sent by Iran to ICU militants in 2006. One was a flight dated July 25, 2006, which carried cargo from Iran, including machine guns, grenade launchers and shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles. Another one was recorded in August, when military cargo and millions of dollars in cash were sent to Somali militants. When the UN asked Iran about the shipment in August 2006, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran's then-representative at the UN and current foreign minister of the Rohani administration, lied through his teeth in a letter to the UN the following month, denying that his government had any knowledge of the flight. More worrisome news came when the UN documented the same year that two Iranians were located in Dhusamareb, the capital of the central Galguduud region of Somalia, trying to offer arms in exchange for uranium.
In addition to Eritrea and Sudan, Tehran also cultivated ties with al-Shabaab and its parent, the ICU, through its proxy militia group Hezbollah in Lebanon. Tehran masterminded plans to recruit Somali militants from the ICU to fight alongside Hezbollah guerrillas in the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War. According to the agreement, an approximately 720-person military force, hand-picked by the ICU's Hizbul Shabaab leader Aden Hashi Farah, was sent to Lebanon to fight with Hezbollah against the Israeli military.
In fact, the Iranian plane that Zarif denied ever existed actually transported some 40 wounded ICU militants who fought in this war back to Somalia in addition to the arms consignment. In the same year, according to UN findings, a large dhow containing Iranian arms, including 80 shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles and rocket launchers destined for Somali militants, arrived in El-Adde seaport, Mogadishu. Hezbollah not only procured arms for Somali militants from Iran, Syria and other countries but also provided training to these terrorists.
According to the UN, Somali fighters were offered the following incentives to join Hezbollah: $2,000 for the families of individual fighters to use while the fighters were in Lebanon; in the event that a fighter was killed, between $25,000 and $30,000 would be given to the fighter's family; and upon return to Somalia from fighting in Lebanon, a fighter would receive “hero money” of $100 per month for an unspecified length of time. I wonder what kind of deal Iran struck with Hezbollah to fight in Syria in support of embattled President Bashar al-Assad, a close ally of the Tehran regime.
Another route for Iran's link with al-Shabaab and other militant organizations in Somalia is Yemen, where al-Shabaab forged a formal alliance with al-Qaeda. Using hundreds of fishing boats operated by Iranian businessmen, Iran has been funneling arms to both Shiite rebels in Yemen and al-Shabaab militants in Somalia. For example, Yemeni authorities seized an Iranian ship called Jihan 1 off the coast of Yemen in January 2013 that was carrying a large quantity of explosives and portable surface-to-air missiles. UN investigators believe the consignment was most likely bound for delivery to al-Shabaab in Somalia rather than rebels in Yemen.
I would not be surprised if investigators somehow trace the explosives and bombs used in the attack on the Turkish Embassy in Mogadishu in July 2013, which killed three people, including a Turkish policeman, back to Iran. The same can possibly be said for the recent mall attack in Kenya as well. Iran wants to keep Somalia as a failed state and hotbed of radicals and extremists so that it can continue to contract terrorists for its own bidding to bother countries in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Al-Shabaab may have a shared strategic interest with Iran in trying to force both Turks and Kenyans to flee Somalia because Turkey and Kenya are among the nations that are actually making a difference in turning Somalia into a viable state.
Looking at the announcements from both Turkish and Kenyan officials in the aftermath of the al-Shabaab attacks targeting their citizens, I would say these terrorist attempts will eventually fail to achieve what they hoped to accomplish in the first place. It will actually bolster the resolve of these countries that want a strong and prosperous Somalia. Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ, who is in charge of Somalia in Turkey, stated after the July attack that there are those who are uncomfortable with Turkey's humanitarian aid to Somalia, aiming to push Turkey out of the country. “These efforts are in vain. They still don't know us,” he said. Echoing similar remarks, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta also said Kenyan troops fighting alongside African peacekeepers against the militants in Somalia would not leave, despite the terrorist attack in the mall. That is the message the world community should send to terrorists and their patrons in Iran...via TZ
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
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