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A spate of assassinations in Puntland, which kicked off in 2009 and have gathered pace in recent months, have raised tensions in the relatively peaceful semi-autonomous region, but there appears to be no one clear guilty party.
More than 20 people government officials, civil servants and peace activists have been killed, alongside around 80 civilians caught in the crossfire, in attacks that took place mainly in Bosaso and Galkayo. Two attacks in the last week claimed the lives of a former Ethiopian official and a peace activist, following on from the assassination of prominent cleric Sheikh Ismael Hashi Hussein, Director General of the Ministry of Justice and Religious Affairs, and gun attacks on mosques in Galkayo that claimed six lives.
Despite the carnage, few significant arrests have been made and there appear to be no clear leads on exactly who is responsible for which attacks.
The usual supects
A group led by a criminal called Atam, based in the Galgala mountain range and with links to militant Islamist group al-Shabaab and pirates, is a prime suspect for involvement in some of the killings. Al-Shabaab is also believed to have been directly involved in several of the murders, carried out by masked men using guns or improvised explosive devices, while suspicion has also fallen on pirate groups, who are coming under increasing pressure from the Puntland authorities. Others believe tribal conflicts, with overtones of political machinations, are to blame for the attacks. Another theory is that some of the killings, such as those at the Galkayo mosque, were revenge attacks aimed at al-Shabaab.
“This question is what every Puntland citizen asks himself and it has been there on their minds repeatedly,” the new Minister for Justice and Religious Affairs, Abdi Khalif , told Somalia Report. “There has been no one arrested in connection with the killings, and that creates doubt in our society.”
However, Ajaayo believes the tactics used – remote controlled landmines, hand grenades, and assassination squads – point to al-Shabaab, whose insurgency is confined to south and central Somalia, as it looks to destabilize the northeastern region, which was formed in 1998.
“Al-Shabaab members are ... carrying out these operations of assassinating the leaders of Puntland,” he said.
Kamal Ahmed, an analyst who lives in Bosaso, says he believes the attacks are aimed at preventing Puntland from attracting international aid and developing into a prosperous, peaceful region.
Government not doing enough
“The rising number of killings and bomb blasts in Bosaso and Galkayo are being done by outsiders who don’t want the development of Puntland,” he told Somalia Report. “The community and government aren’t doing enough to tackle these brutal killings.”
The killings mainly take place in Bosaso, headquarters of Bari region, and Galkayo, which is the capital city of Mudug region. Bosaso is a big business center and hosts many visitors, while many pirates mingle with the crowds and are not afraid to tackle those who threaten their lucrative business of seeking massive ransoms. Galkayo, meanwhile, is divided between Puntland and Galmudug administration, making it easier for killers to strike and flee to another area as cooperation between the security forces is poor.
The killings have created a climate of fear, and the people of Puntland no longer want to speak openly on political issues for fear of becoming targets, particularly since the government appears unable to tackle the problem. The government in late 2010 promised to target Atam, but has not acted. According to Ahmed, the problem can only be solved by the community and security forces working together.
"For us to be successful in this war, we need to work with the security forces as a community, give information of the suspects and their hideouts, and the forces must reach the locations immediately and take the necessary steps,” he said.
In 2009, when President Abdirahman Mohamed Mohamud replaced General Mohamud Muse Hersi , the new administration prohibited the sale and circulation of weapons in Puntland districts. Security improved and Farole embarked on trying to develop the economic, education and health sectors. However, not everybody was happy with his efforts, as the following list of assassinations shows:
April 29, 2009: An explosion killed the commander of the security forces in Mudug province, Yasin Tolwaye.
August 5, 2009: The Minister for Information, Communication, Culture and Heritage, Warsame Abdi Shirwa (Seefta Banaanka) was killed by unknown gunmen in a broad daylight in Galkayo.
November 11, 2009: Gunmen killed Magistrate Sheikh Mohamed Mohamud Abdi Aware as he left evening prayers. Aware had sentenced dozens of pirates and al-Shabaab members to jail terms, according to his family. Lawmaker Ibrahim Elmi Gaab was killed in Garowe on his way home. Shortly after Gaab’s killing, an explosion narrowly missed killing the speaker of Puntland’s Parliament, Abdirashid Mohamed Hirsi.
January 31, 2010: Gunmen killed the chairman of Puntland’s youth, Abdullahi Mahdi.
September 5, 2010: Ahmed Hassan Haji , a senior military officer, was killed in Bosaso.
March 21, 2011: Hussein Ali , Chairman of the Peace Committee of Mudug, was executed.
March 29, 2011: Peace activist Nor Hirsi was shot dead in Galkayo.
April 6, 2011: The director of Puntland Development and Research Center, Momahed Yasin Isse (Ilkaase), and his bodyguards were shot dead by unidentified armed gunmen in Garowe.
April 7, 2011: Peace activist and elder Salah Abdisalan Ahmed was killed on his way home from mosque in Bosaso.
April 16, 2011: Prominent cleric Sheikh Ismael Hashi Hussein, Director General of the Ministry of Justice and Religious Affairs, was killed by a roadside bomb. Soon after, six were killed in shootings at mosques in Galkayo. The attack on the mosques, believed to be run by al-Shabaab, were reportedly in revenge for the killing of the cleric.
April 22, 2011: Former Ethiopian official Mukhtar Sheikh Ali Mohamed shot dead in Galkayo.
April 24, 2011: Peace activist Said Hassan Omar (Kashawiito) was gunned down in Biya Kulule village, near the port town of Bosaso, shortly after he left evening prayers.