Peacekeepers, government soldiers, and pro-government militias continue combing the countryside, smashing al Shabaab combat groups and, more importantly, depleting the supply of al Shabaab leaders. Al Shabaab likes to boast about how powerful and important they are, but most Somalis see them as a bunch of ignorant, vicious, and inept religious zealots. Al Shabaab can be contained but the clan mentality is more difficult to deal with.
Hundreds of hard core al Shabaab have been seen digging bunkers in the hills of southern Puntland, where the Islamic terrorists have become allies of a local warlord (who has long been at odds with the Puntland government). Between the al Shabaab gunmen and those of their warlord host, the Puntland police and soldiers have kept away, not wanting to risk heavy losses while trying to shut down this troublesome coalition. The terrorist/warlord coalition occasionally attacks a police checkpoint, just to remind the government about who they are.
The Somali pirates have taken no ships in the last six months and only 11 for all of this year. But the major seafaring nations are calling on nations contributing warships to the anti-piracy patrol to keep it up until the Somali government (particularly of Puntland) is strong (and determined) enough to shut down the pirate bases. Bribes or other inducements may be required, and this is being investigated. Currently the pirates are still holding four ships and 124 crewmen. Given the recent rescue of a captured ship (the Iceberg 1) and 22 crewmen by Puntland police, there is hope that the other four ships can be freed this way as well. Once there are no captive sailors at all, the anti-piracy patrol can be even more aggressive against pirate bases.
December 23, 2012: After a two week siege, Puntland police drove off pirates and rescued 22 sailors held captive on their ship (the 4,500 ton Iceberg 1) for 33 months. The Arab owners of the ship would not agree to pay a ransom and it’s unclear if the ship owners (Azal Shipping of Dubai) had anything to do with the rescue of the crew (who are from Philippines, India, Yemen, Sudan, Ghana, and Pakistan). Two sailors died in captivity and several others were beaten. Pirates initially demanded an $8 million ransom but were told by Azal that the company had no insurance coverage for that. The ship was taken in an area where pirates rarely operated and many local shipping firms save money by not buying the expensive insurance against pirate attacks. Azal never said it had abandoned its ship and crew but were apparently not willing to let the ship and crew go for what Azal was willing to pay. Perhaps Azal paid the Puntland police to try and free the crew. That approach is not unknown in the region. It’s also possible that the U.S. or NATO persuaded Puntland to take on this group of pirates and free the Iceberg 1 captives.
In Nairobi (the Kenyan capital) two small bombs went off near a mosque in a Somali neighborhood, wounding two people.
December 18, 2012: In Puntland eight soldiers guarding a North Korean cargo ship, seized (in November) for illegally dumping a cargo of defective cement in coastal waters, made off with the ship and its 33 man crew. Apparently the soldiers had decided to turn pirate (or had been bribed by North Korea) but Puntland authorities caught up with the ship and arrested the soldiers the next day.
December 17, 2012: Al Shabaab reported that American born (but with a Syrian father) Abu Mansoor al Amriki, frequently a video (via the Internet) spokesman for the terrorist group, had been expelled from al Shabaab for spreading discord and disunity inside al Shabaab. Last March Amriki released a video claiming that some al Shabaab members were out to kill him because of a dispute within al Shabaab over enforcing Islamic lifestyle rules. Al Shabaab quickly announced that no one was out to kill al Amriki (who apparently was not reassured). Al Amriki has been with al Shabaab for six years and has been a public face of the terrorists via his video releases on the Internet. The al Shabaab leadership made it clear that al Amriki was no longer their spokesman.
There have long been disputes within al Shabaab about how fanatic one should be, and these arguments have caused the organization to split into factions. Since news of Amriki's death began spreading, so have rumors of other al Shabaab leaders who are fleeing, fearful that the hardliners that killed Amriki (by beheading him) will come looking for other moderates. It’s unclear where al Amriki is at the moment. His travel options are limited because he is wanted on terrorism charges.
December 16, 2012: In Nairobi (the Kenyan capital) two separate attacks against Somalis, using grenades, left one person (a Kenyan official who was an ethnic Somali) wounded.
December 15, 2012: Kenya has ordered 60,000 Somali refugees not living in refugee camps (like over 600,000 other Somali refugees) to move to the camps. This is because the refugees outside the camps have often been found responsible for terrorist attacks in support of al Shabaab. These Somali refugees tend to live in Kenyan Somali neighborhoods in northeast Kenya and recruit Kenyan Somalis into al Shabaab. Rounding up all these refugees won’t be easy and, in fact, will probably be impossible. It will make it easier for police to detain terrorism suspects (if they are refugees outside a refugee camp).
In Mogadishu a suicide car bomber attempted to attack a peacekeeper convoy but his explosives went off before he was close enough to hurt anyone besides himself.