Somalia suspended top intelligence officials earlier this month and a new military unit took charge of the security of Mogadishu, as the government struggles to restore security in the capital. The changes follow deadly Al-Shabaab attacks, including suicide attacks at a military checkpoint near Villa Somalia, Somalia’s presidential seat, and in the compound of the Ministry of the Interior. Twenty people were killed in the attacks. The government suspects these attacks were carried out with the aid of insiders.
On 16th July, the head of Somalia’s National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISAA), Hussein Hussein, suspended his two deputies, Abdalla Mohamed and Abdikadir Jama’a, with no reason being given for their suspension. Reports suggest they were linked with an Al-Shabaab attack on a checkpoint near the Villa Somalia a day before their suspension.
There are a number of Al-Shabaab defectors within the ranks of NISA. Former Al-Shabaab Amniyat officials (Al-Shabaab’s intelligence wing) now serve NISA after defecting but they are still suspected of colluding with their former “employer” and giving out state secrets. The government announced the arrest of close to 30 soldiers and officials in connection with the attacks near Villa Somalia and the Interior Ministry compound. One of the suspended officials, deputy NISA chief, Jama’a, once served as an ‘Amniyat’ official before defecting to the government.
This week, hundreds of soldiers from the October 14th Battalion were deployed across the capital, as ordered by President Mohamed Farmajo, replacing another unit known as “Stabilisation Force.” The new unit was formed and named after the October 14th 2017 attack carried out by the Al-Shabaab group, using a truck laden with hundreds of kilogrammes of explosives which exploded at a busy junction in Mogadishu, killing more than 500 people.
As Al-Shabaab has stepped up its attacks in Mogadishu so has the government’s operation to hunt down members of the group, which it believes to have infiltrated the army and the National Intelligence and Security Agency. More than 100 people were arrested in a security swoop across Mogadishu this week.
“Before last month and during last Ramadan, Al-Shabaab did not conduct attacks, so the government was taking responsibility for thwarting or preventing the group from carrying out attacks,” said Ali Jibril, an independent Somalia analyst. On the eve of last Ramadan, the government created what it called a “Stabilisation Force” drawn from the military, the police, and NISA, to prevent Al-Shabaab attacks during the Muslim Holy month of Ramadan. Al-Shabaab and other jihadi groups are known to increase their attacks during Ramadan.
“So, Al-Shabaab started to carry out deadly attacks in the city to show it is still capable of doing what it does best and to show the public that it was not government’s strategies and security plans that prevented the attacks, rather the group’s own strategy and tactics and that it strikes when it deems fit,” Jibril said.
Although Mogadishu is recovering from two decades of war it is still struggling to recover fully. Despite being driven out of the capital seven years ago, Al-Shabaab is still a serious threat to Mogadishu’s stability and security. Al-Shabaab, which announced it was formally linked with Al-Qaeda in 2012, is fighting to overthrow the Somali government and wants to enforce its own strict version of Islamic sharia across Somalia.
The Somali government needs to do more to secure Mogadishu and the country in general. It needs to reform its security sector and seriously vet members wishing to join the military and the intelligence agency. As long as Al-Shabaab has its “Amniyat” officials within NISA, no strategy to defeat the group will work.