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Somalia has seen many of its senior officials killed by unidentified gunmen, suicide bombers and armed men during daylight hours and with no retribution or justice. The campaign of murder against officials and well-known figures is clearly designed to intimidate and decimate the leadership of Somalia.
Assassinations against top government officials by suicide bombers and improvised explosive devices began in 2006 after the Ethiopian forces invaded Somalia to ouster the then powerful Union of Islamic Courts that were led by the current President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.
The killings targeted Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and Ethiopian officials, which were accused of bringing foreign troops into Somalia.
No arrests have ever been made often because the assassins also die in their fatal mission or because the gunmen escape without incident.
These deadly scenarios have been well captured in a music video done by a Somali music group Qeylodan.
It is reported that the al-Shabaab group has well trained professionals who help in setting up bombs and landmines, as well as teachers who train potential suicide bombers.
The death toll associated with the suicide attacks is viewed by some as a major blow to the TFG leadership, with al-Shabaab boasting of having systematically succeeded on its war against the TFG, especially in the capital Mogadishu.
Apparently, based on recent attacks, the assassins seem to target only ministers of National Security and Internal Affairs.
Assassinations of top TFG heads begin
A car bomb targeting the immediate former Somalia president, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, missed its target killing eight people on 18th September 2006 outside parliament buildings in Baidoa town.
‘‘At the time of the attack, the former president was inside the parliament building when the car bomb detonated in a nearby compound. He was not harmed,’’ Hassan Noor, a former TFG MP told Somalia Report.
Nine people, including the former president’s brother, were killed and all the vehicles were burned beyond repair forcing the president to walk to his home. ‘‘That was the closest attack ever aimed at Abdullahi Yusuf while serving as a President,’’ Noor added.
Al-Shabaab dominance increases assassinations
The al-Shabaab’s dominance began in 2007 when Ethiopia had a year ago rolled hundreds of its troops in armored vehicles rolled into Somalia to crush the then emerging powerful Islamic militants who controlled the capital Mogadishu.
In 2007 to 2009, the country saw the assassinations of Ethiopian security officials some of whom were lured to their death by women who led them into traps.
‘‘We lured many, including commanders into our suburbs and then we would call the ICU who broke their heads; we later dragged their bodies into the streets as a sign of solidarity and victory,’’ Layla Elmi, a former supporter of the Islamic Courts Union told Somalia Report.
Somalia Report has learned that the Somali wing of al-Shabaab have little knowledge of bombs but have basic skills in setting up landmines and use of hand grenades.
‘‘The Somalis cannot do anything apart from shooting and digging trenches, they lack the latest fighting tactics,’’ Yunis (not real name), a former al-Shabaab commander, told Somalia Report.
‘‘The Pakistanis, Syrians, Afghans and Yemenis brought the new breed of improvised explosives devices into the al-Shabaab war strategy that was highly welcomed,’’ Yunis added.
An African Union peacekeeper in Mogadishu told Somalia Report that the explosive vests, belts and the car bombs are man-made and fall under the category of IEDs.
TFG officials and MP’s assassinations begin
The assassinations of top TFG officials was first witnessed in 2009 when Ahmed Issa Abtidoon, a member of parliament, was gunned down by masked gunmen. The incident took place in the government administered side of Wardhigley as the MP was walking towards his home at around 2pm local time (0200 GMT).
The incident caused panic inside the capital and the Somali MPs were put on high alert with most of them changing their homes for fear of a similar attack.
‘‘Most of the MPs feared for their lives and were only seen around the presidential compound,’’ a veteran journalist with Radio Mogadishu at that time told Somalia Report.
The then Somali Interior Minister Sheikh Abdikadir Ali Omar narrowly escaped an assassination attempt from the al-Shabaab in the densely populated Bakara Market that left two of his aides brutally killed. The incident put Sheikh Sharif and Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmake, the then premier, on high alert that saw security boosted for the government ministers.
On June 18, 2009, Somalia plunged into sorrow after the al-Shabaab militia successfully killed the Minister of National Security Omar Hashi Adan in a car bomb explosion in Beledweyn, the capital of Hiiraan region. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack, with Mukhtar Robow Abu Mansoor, the former group’s spokesman commending the perpetrators, and stating that the war had officially started.
‘‘The infidels, the MPs and all those who work for the ‘enemy’ shall perish after the Mujahideen take over the country,’’ Robow said in a recorded audio obtained by Somalia Report.
The Somalia Ambassador to Ethiopia Abdikarim Husssein Farah was also killed in the same blast as he was accompanying the minister in his tour of the central region. A dozen other people were also killed in the explosion, among them clan elders and senior Somali security officials.
‘’We lost a very humble man, a courageous one for that matter. He was a man of the people and dealt with all issue fairly without leaning on tribal lines,’’ a close family member of the late minister told Somalia Report.
The death of the two men was a blow to the government, which had completely failed to provide the minister with adequate security, whereas the killings were a huge bonus for the militants and a clear sign to the whole world that assassinations in Somalia had officially started.
A day later Hussein Adow, a TFG Member of Parliament, was gunned down by the Islamists insurgents in Karan district located north of the capital Mogadishu with the al-Shabaab confirming to be behind the killing.
At this time the government had placed all top security officials on high alert over possible al-Shabaab attacks with AMISOM securing the presidential palace and the parliament to avert a suicide attempt in those areas.
Suicide bombers enter hotels and public centers
December 3, 2009, al-Shabaab attacks a graduation ceremony of journalists, doctors, engineers and lawyers killing cabinet ministers at once after a man of Danish and Somali nationality based in the hotel for a week dressed like a woman and detonated himself in the middle of the graduation ceremony.
The Minister of Education Ahmed Abdalla Wayed, Culture and Higher Studies Professor Ibrahim Hassan Adow, Health minister Qamar Adan Ali and Suleiman Olad Roble for Youth and Sports all lost their lives in the deadly attack.
Some 21 people died in the same attack as well with the graduating students, parents and other invited guests all perishing in the horrific suicide attack.
‘‘Whatever has befallen us is a painful thing, we have in our midst an evil person, a killer who kills innocent people without any mercy,’’ Habiba Mayow, a mother to one of the killed victims told Somalia Report at her home in Bondhere district.
‘‘We all know those who were killed; they were our future doctors, lawyers, teachers, journalists and many more; they were all innocent and may God bless them wherever they are,’’ Habiba added.
The deadly attack that took place at around 10 a.m. local time in the Shamow, a famous hotel that houses ministers and MPs in the capital. The incident sparkled unrest in the capital with the President touring the site where he saw the body of the bomber, a belt tied to the bomb and a veil that covered the face of the man.
The incident drew condemnation from all quarters with the TFG President, African Union, European Union and the United Nations condemning the attacks and blaming the al-Shabaab for the killings.
However, neither the al-Shabaab nor Hizbul Islam claimed responsibility over the attacks but the TFG President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed blamed the militant group of al-Shabaab with a Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidende confirming the man as a 23-year-old Danish national.
Eye witness accounts
‘‘I was there as it all happened and a day that was meant to be the happiest day of my life was ruined into a black day for me and my friends,’’ said Yasmin, a medicine graduate from Banadir University who escaped the attack unharmed.
‘‘May the good lord bless all the innocent souls that lost their lives in that barbaric and cowardly act,’’ she said.
Families of the killed students continue to mourn the death of their children whom they counted for to better their livelihood.
‘‘My son was to become a great doctor and he would have got me out of this poor financial state and he would have assisted the poor as well,’’ said Layla Aweys, a mother to one of the killed students.
On August 24, 2010, al-Shabaab attacked Hotel Muna killing four MPs and 30 other people who were at the hotel at the time. The al-Shabaab attackers dressed up in full TFG uniforms, launched a deadly assault on the hotel killing four MPs and wounding six others. The hotel is in Mogadishu's Hamar Weyne district, not far from the Villa Somalia and was widely known to house lawmakers and top TFG security officials.
‘‘They came and told us that they needed drinking water thinking that they were TFG forces, I gave them water and they opened fire at me and my colleague who died on the spot. I recuperated after a month but most of the hotel staff were killed in the daring attack,’’ Abdifatah , a hotel worker told Somalia Report.
‘‘The men began firing at anyone they saw in front of them and after they ran out of bullets they detonated vests killing dozens who were still in the hotel,’’ Abdifatah added.
The men came in a vehicle that is normally used by the TFG forces and neither the hotel staff nor the guards outside were able to identify them as al-Shabaab. The blame was shifted to the government for not providing adequate security to the legislators.
‘‘Most of the MPs began going to other countries, like Kenya and Uganda, fearing for their lives. The government was not ready to allocate enough security to them at that time,’’ a TFG MP told Somalia Report who chose not to use his name in this report.
‘‘The government was still struggling to provide better security to the few cabinet ministers and therefore was not able to issue security to the more than 550 legislators,’’ the MP said.
Speaker Hassan can be directly blamed for scuttling a professional personal security detail for the President and members of the TFG. A company named Saracen offered to provide a number of new Ford F350 armored gun trucks, armored Toyota Land Cruisers and a contingent of hundreds of western trained Somali's to allow the government to move around the country. The President's contract was deemed illegal but more because the President would have security and Hassan would not. Other programs designed to create security for the TFG members have caused controversy as well. Traditionally important Somalis have relied on clan members to provide security. Instead of having professional security, the TFG must rely on poorly trained guards with questionable ability to prevent attacks.
Security Precaution and government costs
Every minister is assigned four security guards, one a professionally trained bodyguard who carries a pistol, two rank and file soldiers who are advised to shoot any hostile person approaching the minister awkwardly, and a driver who is a soldier with driving skills.
The two soldiers are armed with AK-47 rifles and each of them is entitled to $150 as salary. A minister’s full security costs roughly stands at $1000 USD per month.
On Friday, June 10, 2011, the new administration under the leadership of the former Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed Farmajo suffered its deadly blow after a lady suicide bomber killed the Minister of Interior and National Security Abdishakur Sheikh Hassan Farah.
The ‘‘would be bomber’’ was confirmed to be the minister’s niece and was to leave the country soon for further studies as promised by the late minister. The female who was a welcomed member of the family used to live in the same house with the minister.
A week ago before his death, the minister called on all the Somali people to work jointly with the security forces in reducing the crime level in the city and report all suspicious looking characters more so those who have weapons in their possession.
The minister succumbed to the deadly wounds sustained from the attack, after being rushed to hospital. The incident took place at around 6pm local time (0600 GMT). Al-Shabaab later claimed responsibility of the attacks and vowed to continue using the same pattern. Habon Abdulkadir Khalif, the niece to the late minister, was later confirmed to have links with the al-Shabaab and more so the top foreign commanders. The incident was condemned by all quarters with the then Prime Minister Farmajo condemning the al-Shabaab for their evil attack and vowed to flash them out of Mogadishu.
‘‘Today we mourn the death of a beloved friend, workmate, hero, national killed in the hands of the al-Shabaab extremists. The enemy has shown his cowardly act and killed an innocent man working to better his country and people’’ Farmajo said.
“This attack must be condemned by all those who want to see Somalia back on track to peace and security,” said Augustine Mahiga, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia. “The violent minority who carry out such vicious attacks must not be allowed to disrupt the ongoing peace process.”
Dr. Mahiga conveyed his deep condolences to the bereaved family and to the Transitional Federal Government and wished all those injured in the attack quick recovery.
Conversely al-Shabaab and al Qaeda find their leaders under direct threat of assassination by U.S. drones, special operations forces and even infighting.
For now Somalia remains a very dangerous place for its government and leaders.