Somalia: Assassin Power

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June 24, 2009: Al Qaeda made its presence felt as three government ministers were assassinated in the last week. On the 17th, the security minister was killed, along with 25 others, by a car bomb in the central Somalia town of Beledweyne. The security minister was in the town to organize its defense against al Shabaab attack. Over the next two days, two more members of parliament (including the Mogadishu police chief) were murdered. This unnerved the government, which, on the 20th, called for more foreign troops, particularly neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya. Over a thousand al Qaeda members are in the country, and they bring with them a higher level of fanaticism, as well as people trained in making bombs and planning assassination operations. It's the success of the assassination attacks that scares the government leadership the most, as one would expect.

Fighting continues in Mogadishu, as more Islamic radical groups send contingents of gunmen in. Over 400,000 civilians have fled the city, and most are living along a road going inland. In just the last six weeks, over 300 have died in Mogadishu, and over 125,000 civilians have fled.

Uganda has offered to send more troops, and Kenya made a vague promise "to help." There are now 4,300 Ugandan and Burundian peacekeepers in Mogadishu, and they spend most of their time guarding key areas (the air port and sea port and some government buildings.)

Al Shabaab caught some bad publicity when they announced that four teenagers were convicted of stealing, by a Sharia (Islamic law) court, and sentenced to have one arm and one leg cut off. The international uproar was so great that al Shabaab soon announced that they were reconsidering the sentence.

In the north, the pirates are grabbing whatever they can off the coast. While seizing large merchant ships gets most of the media attention, local fishermen and crews of small coastal boats, are attacked as well. The pirates have discovered that most of these people are too poor to pay a ransom, so boats and their contents are stolen. The crews are usually not killed, but sent home with nothing. Meanwhile, the pirates hold fourteen ships for ransom. This includes three large fishing boats, two tugboats and a dredging ship. All of these are smaller and slower than the larger cargo ships and tankers that the pirates prefer.

June 21, 2009: Although Kenya and Ethiopia both refused to send troops to Somalia, residents of the central  Somalia town of Beledweyne report seeing Ethiopian troops in the area. But they may just be patrols, for Beledweyne is less than fifty kilometers from the border. The Ethiopians have been more aggressively patrolling the border, because Islamic radical groups have threatened to invade Ethiopia.

 

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