US condemns al-Shabaab’s lethal siege of Mogadishu hotel
WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – The US strongly condemned al-Shabaab’s assault on a hotel in the Somali capital of Mogadishu which killed over 20 people, before Somali security forces were able to overcome the assailants and regain control of the facility.
The al-Shabaab attack follows days after a strike on the terrorist group that killed 13 of its fighters and which was carried out by US AFRICOM in coordination with the recently-established Somali government.
A new president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, became Somalia’s president after more than a year of political deadlock in Mogadishu. Mohamud had been president earlier, from 2012 to 2017, and his return was welcomed by US officials.
Among other things, President Joe Biden reversed a decision by former president Donald Trump, taken in the last days of his presidency, to withdraw US forces from Somalia. Biden ordered some 500 US troops to return to Somalia to help train its army to better fight al-Shabaab.
Many people see the conflict inSomalia as a dispute over the proper interpretation of Islam: i.e. extremists versus moderates. But as a Kenyan journalist protested in an earlier discussion with this reporter, and a third journalist, that concept is just wrong.
It is “a simple-minded stereotype,” he complained. “This a fight among Somali clans,” who form the country’s traditional power centers. “That is how it has been for centuries,” he affirmed, and “this is a fight over power.”
It should also be noted that the current round of this conflict—which goes back to 1991 and the overthrow of the military dictator Siad Barre—is occurring against the backdrop of a looming humanitarian catastrophe. Drought-stricken Somalia is threatened by famine, as the UN Refugee Agency warned earlier this month.
Attack on Mogadishu’s Hayat Hotel
Al-Shabaab’s assault began late Friday night, and it ended some 30 hours later, just before midnight on Saturday. A suicide car-bomber breached the defensive line around the hotel, launching the attack. As security forces rushed to the site of the blast, a second suicide car-bomber triggered his explosives.
A stream of al-Shabaab fighters then poured through the breach to gain entry to the building. They then seized and held an undisclosed number of individuals as hostages.
On Saturday evening, shortly before Somali authorities announced that they had broken the siege, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price issued a statement strongly condemning the attack, while he affirmed that the US “remains steadfast in our support of Somali and African Union-led efforts to counter terrorism.”
Reporting on al-Shabaab’s assault typically describes the terrorist group in terms of some link with al-Qaeda—i.e. having “ties with al-Qaida,” or an “al-Qaida affiliate,” as if that explained very much!
In late 2017, this reporter heard a contrary view, as I discussed al-Shabaab with a Kenyan journalist and an Israeli journalist. The Israeli, whose knowledge of Somalia was extremely limited, saw al-Shabaab in terms of the ideology of radical Islam. He viewed the Somali terrorist group in the same way that he saw groups, like Hamas, that regularly attack his own country!
The Kenyan, by contrast, had a very good understanding of Somalia. He described the conflict as one among various clans, led by “warlords,” who were contending for power.
A radical interpretation of Islam was, for some of those warlords, a legitimizing ideology, he explained. In fact, the leaders of al Shabaab come from one of Somalia’s five most important clans: the Hawiye.
Only in 2012 did al-Shabaab formally join al Qaida. At that point, bin Laden was dead. He had been killed by the US in his safe house in Abbottabad, in a military city in western Pakistan, where bin Laden had, apparently, enjoyed the protection of that country’s intelligence service.
Bin Ladin was succeeded by the far less charismatic Egyptian extremist, Ayman al-Zawahiri—who was recently assassinated by the US in Kabul, where he was apparently sheltered by a Taliban faction, aligned with Pakistan!
Why did al-Shabaab join al Qaida in 2012? Because it had just been driven out of Mogadishu by Somali troops, reinforced by an African Union force. It was weak and looking for support!
Recently, this reporter discussed with a former senior official in the Bush43 administration the chronic problem that the US has in understanding the role of politics in terrorism.
Before 1993, when Bill Clinton became president, that was not an issue. Americans saw terrorism as a political phenomenon, often state-sponsored—in essence, a form of proxy war.
But in the 1990s, largely because of the way that Clinton dealt with terrorism—as a law enforcement issue, with the focus on the trial and conviction of individual perpetrators—Americans came to see terrorism as the work of extremists motivated by an extreme ideology.
The idea that such individuals might be manipulated by others—as reflected in Lenin’s reported description of such people as “useful idiots”—is now absent from US thinking.
This former official readily acknowledged that Bush 43 administration had failed to make sufficiently clear the political objectives of terrorist attacks and it had erred in letting the Clinton-era understanding of such violence stand without correction.
Looming Famine in Somalia
The fighting in Somalia is occurring against the background of a looming humanitarian crisis caused by an extended drought. Some one million Somalis have been displaced since the drought began in January 2021, according to the UN Refugee Agency.
“Starvation is now haunting the entire country,” one European aid official said. Other aid officials note that “large numbers of Somalis have been trying to flee al-Shabaab-run zones to reach the relative safety of displacement centers on the outskirts of major towns, suggesting that that group has been unable to provide relief from the drought or unwilling to allow NGOs to work freely,” the British paper, The Guardian, has reported.