By Nega Zeru
Tigrai Onlne - June 19, 2014
The fact that East Africa is a region of crisis and conflict is obvious for everyone to see – although currently there are some relative changes seen in the region. The crisis that erupts within the region at various times, either way, will have a negative impact on the positive results our country is garnering on peace, development and democracy. This is because it’s a fact that a crisis or conflict that erupts in a certain country will have damaging consequences for that country’s neighboring countries.
The only hope of development for the Ethiopian people, one part of the East Africa region, is attached to the peace, development and democracy building process the country is currently undergoing. And the biggest challenge in the life and death fight to defeat poverty, which has shamed our people for years, is the volatility of our region. For this, the terrorism threat that emanates from the countries of the region should be mentioned. We’re seeing how much threatening and atrocious the threat is, not only to our country but to the region and to other countries as well.
If the truth is this, expanding and strengthening positive experiences on one side, and working cooperatively to lower and weaken harmful practices on the other hand is the best option out there. I don’t think it goes without saying that Somalia has been a safe haven and retreat for terrorists; making the country a threat to the region’s countries and especially to our country – which ranged from the former warlords to the current Al-Shabaab. In this article, I will try to walk my dear readers through the terror group’s fall and last ditch effort to survive, in light with historical backgrounds and the recent arrest made by the National Intelligence service and Federal Police anti-terror joint task force on 25 individuals suspected of having close ties to Al-Shabaab.
Chapter 1: The Close Relationship of the Two Countries’ People
The region known as the Horn of Africa includes Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea and Djibouti. When the Somali territories that were under the colonial rule of Britain and Italy declared their independence in 1960, the Northern and Southern Somalia that were under the colonial rule of Britain and Italy joined to establish Somalia. After the establishment of Somalia, it was the Siad Barre government that ruled the country the most. His fantasy of creating ‘Greater Somalia’ engulfing him, he worked to forcefully incorporate Somalis residing in Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti, instead of working for the growth and prosperity of Somali people. As a consequence, his government, first at the time of Emperor Haileselassie in 1964 and later during the tenure of ‘Derg’ in 1977, waged war on Ethiopia both times - though our army forced the Somali forces to retreat. Following his hawkish adventures, the Siad Barre’s government spiraled into a huge economic mess. As a result, the country became pretty much stateless following the rise of rival warlords. According to some information, our country started facing a terrorist threat after the expulsion (demise) of Siad Barre’s Government.
As its known, Ethiopia and Somalia are sister countries that has historical and cultural ties that spanned many years. Their people are tied with history, culture, language and religion. They have interbred, and have created close ties with each other. And this close tie hat exists between the two country people cannot be easily be broken. In addition to this, as the countries share a large border and the favorable way their landscape is put will make business relation between both countries easy. Seeing as how the Somali people chose Ethiopia to be their save haven and shelter in their dire moment of need, seven year ago when their country was a failed state for twenty years, shows the deep relation that exists between the two countries’ people.
Chapter 2: The Former Somalia and its ‘live-by-the-gun-and-die-by-the-gun’ Mantra
The former Somalia which used to be a failed state, has been a shelter for terrorists as it used to lack peace and stability – although there’s relative stability currently following the attention given by the international community. Fundamentalists and terrorists that have taken refuge in the country, coming from various parts of the world, have inflicted terror attacks not only on Somali people but also on the region’s people as a whole. They have also carried out repeated heinous terror attacks on Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Ethiopia. As a result, many Somalis losing safety and security in their own country, forced to live under ‘live – and – die – by – the – gun’ mantra of the warlords and clan politics; they have been forced to exodus, torture and death.
In addition to this, the former Somalia by being a safe haven for fundamentalist terrorist groups has been a place where arms are traded like crazy, drugs deals are done without any control and a main hub for contrabandists. There was no stone left unmoved by the terrorist groups, which took shelter in the country, to expand Islamic fundamentalism and religious government in the horn of Africa. The first group that started to operate by flaunting a clear terror agenda was “Al-Itihaad Al-Islamiya”. As it can be recalled, this terrorist group used to be such a dangerous terrorist for both the region and our country.
“Al Itihaad Al-Islamiya’ was a group established in Bura, Somalia, by the merging of two groups that have an anti- western inclination, namely ‘Wahdat Al Shabab (Unity of Islamic Youth)’ and ‘Al Jama'a Al Islamiya (Islamic Association)’. Although the group’s establishment was based on ‘Islamic unity’ or ‘Islamic union’, before too long the group took on the “Al-Itihaad” shape. The group’s main goal was to establish an Islamic government in the horn of Africa. Starting from its establishment as a fundamentalist until 1991, the group worked on carrying out attacks on Somali’s military and education institutions. Then, it took its terror exploits onto Ethiopia.
According to some information gathered, “Al Itihaad” was forced to turn its terror acts to our country after it suffered defeat at Punt land. The group was able to enter into Ethiopia, following the unstable conditions of Ethiopia when EPRDF first came to power and the easy access it got to enter the country together with Somali refugees that were fleeing away from their country’s civil war. So, at the time the terror group was able to control most of the Ethiopian-Somali state In Addition to this, at the end of 1992 where the group started carrying out attacks in Ethio-Somali Region, it also carried out heinous attacks on civilians in Addis Ababa (from 1993-1996). However, following the heavy response of our military forces, the group fled from the Ethiopia – Somali Region to the then stateless Somalia.
Its Somalia stay wasn’t the best either. As any force that doesn’t have public (popular) support (eventually) crumbles, the fate of this terror group was to be marginalized by the Somali people and get splintered into two tiny groups. The first of those fundamentalist groups was the self – proclaimed ‘Union of Islamic Courts (UIC)’, which waged Somalia was to be governed by an Islamic government and Shari ‘a law. The second group is the terror group by the name of “Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen”, or shortly known as “Al-Shabaab”. As I will come back on discussing Al-Shabaab, first let me take you to the first group.
Chapter 3: “Union of Islamic Courts”
The “Union of Islamic Courts”; which used to be led by the recently captured Sheikh Dahir Aweys, had the objective to establish Islamic government on the other Horn of Africa countries after it fully controlled Somalia. As it can be recalled, this terror group, through Sheikh Dahir Aweys, had declared Jihad on our country. It had bloated itself by talking about taking control of the holy ‘Anwar Mosque’’ that’s found in Addis Ababa, within seven days – though the propaganda didn’t materialize into anything other than just being a cheap talk.
There were strong efforts put to establish its own government in Somalia by overthrowing the internationally recognized transitional government of Somalia. However, the terror organization that split from “Al- Itihaad”, which has also been suspected of having strong ties to Al-Qaeda, met the full opposition of the international community. And later it was defeated by our defense forces and the Somali’s transitional government army.
At the time, from 1999 to 2001, when our defense forces were in Somalia, not only the terror forces were weakened and marginalized from the public, but it was also a time when the people’s desire for peace was growing and gaining momentum. It was a time where the terror group’s effort to antagonize the public against our forces failed; and instead ripe conditions for change were blossoming. As the Somali people began to enjoy some peace air after our forces neutralized the terrorists, it did not fall to the terrorist propaganda and bogus stories. Our forces’ strong effort to establish and build security forces for the transitional government, on top of its success in pushing the terrorists back, has garnered it great admiration from the international community. After our defense forces got back home after carrying out its mission of thwarting the clear and present danger posed on our country in an amazing and disciplined manner, it was replaced shortly afterwards by the peacekeeping force that’s to take over the peace mission of the African Union.
Although the effort put by Uganda and Burundi peacekeeping forces in bringing peace and stability to Mogadishu and some areas is commendable, due to the personnel shortage of the peacekeeping mission and lack of strong support given from the international community (for Somalia’s peace and stability) the expected outcome was not acquired; creating tension in the region again.
So, after half of “Union of Islamic Courts” force and leaders went into hiding in Eritrea following their defeat, “Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen”; the second splinter group of “Al Itihaad”, which is still operational, came into the picture.
Chapter 4: “Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen”
And this group, like the other terror groups, not only tortured the Somali people living under its controlled areas, but it has also waged a jihad war on our country. Nevertheless the effort of the terrorist to get into the hearts of the people by simply changing their names was futile – though this did not stop them from terrorizing of the public.
What should be mentioned here is the fact that its only after its efforts of peaceful solutions was exhausted that the FDRE government decided for our troops to get into Somalia, following the clear and present danger posed by the terrorists and fundamentalists that took shelter in Somalia. Declaring itself as a (East African) faction of Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab has once again disturbed the stability that was progressing in that country. As a result, following the calls of the transitional government made to our government to lend a hand, our defense forces again entered into Somalia in 2003 and punished Al-Shabaab severely. In order to pacify the turmoil that was created by Al-Shabaab, and to bring (relative) peace to our Somali brothers and sisters and to neutralize the regional threat, our troops have spent two years in the country.
Our defense troops have been able to weaken Al-Shabaab in their second stint in Somalia, whilst strengthening the transitional government of the country. And it had an immense role in the establishment of a government that came to power by winning the public election. And this commendable act has led the international community to give attention to Somalia’s peace and stability. It has also enabled African countries that pledged to send their troops in to Somalia to step up to the plate. The outcome was the joining of Djibouti, Kenyan and Sierra Leone forces in to AMISOM in order to help the Ugandan and Burundian peacekeeping forces. And this peacekeeping force is carrying out its mission to bring lasting peace to Somalia.
Chapter 5: The Splintered Al-Shabaab
Its blood stained history shows us that Al-Shabaab; which is made up of the remnants terrorists of the self-proclaimed “Union of Islamic Court” extremist group after it was annihilated after it took a heavy blow from brave men of our troops in 1999, is a peril and threat to the Somali people and to the East Africa countries. This terror group; which worked tirelessly to seize political power by massacring innocent people, gets or used to get its financial and logistical supplies it needs for its “operation” from Eritrea government, various contraband trades, and from forces that want to impose their own will on Somalia.
This terror group; which gets a monthly salary of 80 thousand dollars from Ato Isaias’ payroll, which used to collect 70 up to 100 million dollars from port levy, tax and from various other sources, and also which racks up millions of dollars monthly from its coal and sugar sales, is also known for taking the lives of many innocent Muslims through suicide bombings and attacks. By crossing its borders, the group kills the people of the region by terrorizing them – (note here the 76 innocent civilians that were killed two years ago through its terror exploits took place in Kampala, Uganda). Although it hasn’t worked out for them, they have declared a jihad war on our country.
This is only a hint of its total exploits, as it would take much more time and space to cover all its evil deeds. Nevertheless, I believe these “small” antics of the terror group can give us a picture of its inner workings. It will also offer us a path to move into the other questions.
At the time, although there were some clan related altercations, it didn’t went as far as splitting the group into two like it has recently. They were busy trying to come up with a new name for the group. This is how it happened in detail … It was Tuesday afternoon, November 26, 2004. This terror group which goes by the name “Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen” was at that day on the eve of holding a meeting on its “name change” and its fate, at the port city of Baidowa. The who’s who of terrorist was all there for this meeting. The terrorist Sheik Dahir Aweys; who at that time was based in the capital of East Africa terrorists Asmara after the terror group “Union of Islamic Courts” which he also used lead was dismantled by our troops, was at the meeting as a moderator of the meeting.
So, at that time, “Al-Shabaab” was gushed with weeklong altercation between its bloodthirsty leaders on its “name change”. After many squabbles, the group came up with a new name to be flaunted when it kills its own people through bombs and grenades, and when it poses threat on neighboring countries. The self-proclaimed “Abu Mensour” and the PR of this blood-spilling group Sheikh Mukhtar Robow stated “we, the joint arm of Al-Qaeda and Ato Isaias Afwerki, shall be called from now on as ‘Imrah Islamia’; and if there shall be anyone who opposes this, he/she can present its complaint at my headquarter which is situated in Asmara.” At the time, forces that are concerned for their national and regional peace and security asked the question, “What is the reason for the name change?”
According to “Abu Mensour” statement delivered to Somali journalists, “Al-Shabaab means ‘youth’. However, as most of us including the leadership are growing old the name doesn’t fit us. So, we have changed our name to ‘Imrah Islamia’ (Authority of Muslim)”. At the time, peace forces who heard about the terror group’s bogus propaganda tried to dig their way to the truth by raising questions like, “Does Al-Shabaab really thinks itself as the authority of Muslim?” and “Why does the group worked around the clock to change its name?” Of course answering this question means exposing the Sheik Robow statement for what it exactly it is – a bogus propaganda.
First of all, Al-Shabaab hasn’t shown any hint (shred) of change for it to be a ‘Muslim authority’ – even today. As it’s known, the terror group is killing brutally the Somali people who are Muslims. Even on the day it announced itself as ‘Muslim authority’, it killed four Somalis in Mogadishu through suicide attack. So according to the believe of the writer of this article, claiming to be an authority of Muslim while killing its own citizen that follow the same religion is the same as making fun of the public’s religion.
Although Al-Shabaab blabbers that it stands for the Muslim, the killing and misery it unleashes on the people affirms that it’s a terrorist faction and not a religion group. This is also because Islam is religion of peace and love, and it does not teach to kill or bring misery on people. As it’s clearly put in the holy Quran, Islam is a peaceful religion that prays for the wellbeing of the world. And this truth is so much different to what the terrorist group that masquerade under the guise of religion is doing.
When we pierce through the reason behind the group’s desperation to change its name, it will take us to the other question, “Why did (the group) worked around the clock to change its name?” …“Why does it want to change its name, while not having any change in its character?”… “How can Sheik Mukthar Robow turn into an elderly within five years since his ‘Youth’ days as Al-Shabaab?”
Dear Readers! I will try to show you on the next part of the article about the real reason behind the “name change” and the group’s failing in carrying out their dream attack on our country.