AFRICA/SOMALIA - Al-Shabaab violence continues: "apostate militias and soldiers" in the crosshairs

Wednesday, 4 January 2023

Mogadishu (Agenzia Fides) - Violence is rampant in Somalia. The terrorist group Al-Shabaab has been leading a bloody insurrection against the federal government for 15 years. The rebel group claims responsibility for the double attack registered today, Wednesday, January 4, 2023, in the Mahaas district, Hiran region, the scene of previous attacks. The press office of Al Shabab has claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement, in which it affirms that it has been directed against "apostate militias and soldiers".
The government and local media reported the deaths of 15 people. "Terrorists using vehicles loaded with explosives attacked private homes where government officials leading operations against Al Shabaab were believed to be present but were not present at the time of the explosion." This is reported by security sources cited by the local media. In addition, the extremist organization is suspected of carrying out two kidnappings this week in the Hiiraan area. The gang allegedly kidnapped nine victims in an ambush simulating a traffic accident on Friday, December 30, 2022, before kidnapping another 20 people on Monday, January 2, 2023. The jihadist group continues to carry out attacks in central and southern Somalia despite the fact that government troops backed by African Union forces and local militias have recaptured several towns previously held by jihadist militias. The latest reconquest is that of the city of Masagawa, in the central region of Galgudud, which had been in the hands of al Shabaab for 15 years. The reconquest of Masagawa follows that of the Runirgod and El-Ba'ad districts and the strategic city of Adan Jabal, in the Middle Shebeli region, wrested from Al Shabaab's control in early December after six years in the hands of the jihadists. Despite having lost control of many areas in recent months, the jihadist group continues to attack military headquarters, government buildings and hotels, as in the case of the assault on the Villa Rose hotel last month, near the presidential palace, where more than 10 civilians and government officials died.
A few months ago, the area became the scene of a major offensive against Islamist insurgents led by clan militias and the Somali army. In July 2022, local clan militias known as the Macawisley had rebelled against Al-Shabaab in parts of central Somalia, at which time President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud sent troops to support the reaction. In August, a siege on a Mogadishu hotel that lasted 30 hours before security forces managed to overpower the militants inside at least 21 people were killed.
The army and militias have reportedly recaptured areas in the central states of Galmudug and Hirshabelle (where Hiran is located) in recent months in an operation supported by US airstrikes and an African Union (AU) force known as ATMIS. . "The insurgents have struck back with bloody attacks, underscoring their ability to hit Somali city centers and military installations despite the offensive." Although it was expelled from the country's main urban centers some 10 years ago, Al-Shabaab remains entrenched in vast rural areas of central and southern Somalia.
The deadliest attack in the last five years in the troubled Horn of Africa nation occurred on October 29, 2022, when more than a hundred people were killed in the capital, Mogadishu, by two explosions at the Ministry of Education (see Fides, 30/10/2022). Also in October, a triple bombing in the city of Beledweyne, the capital of Hiran, killed 30 people, including local officials. On November 27, eight civilians were killed during a 21-hour siege on a Mogadishu hotel frequented by politicians and government officials. (AP) (Agenzia Fides, 4/1/2023)