Attacks on military camps, destruction of infrastructure, including telecommunications, suicide bombings that killed dozens, and the expansion of extremists’ revenue base—that is all the news out of Somalia in the last few weeks.
The main source of these and other problems in Somalia, the coast country that wraps most of the Horn of Africa, is the Islamist extremist group al-Shabaab. The group appears to take full responsibility for the attacks, which mostly take the form of suicides in Mogadishu’s capital.
Even though it hasn’t been a surprise to hear news of suicide killings happening in Mogadishu, the number of attacks by the militants has increased since Hassen Sheikh Mohamud retook office last May as President of Somalia.
The latest of all were a series of two bombs that killed civilians in the streets of Mogadishu.
Targeting the Ministry of Education, the twin car bombs exploded on October 30, 2022, in the busy streets of the capital, killing 100 people and injuring 300. The death toll increased to 121 two days later.
The main reason for al-Shabaab to take such action was to fight what it called the “war on minds,” as it blamed the Ministry for teaching children in Somalia Christian-based education.
Linked with al-Qaeda and designated as terrorists by countries worldwide, al-Shabaab took responsibility of the action right away.
From the president of the country itself to the spokesperson of the United Nations secretary general, Antonio Guterres, the director general of the World Health Organization, Tewodros Adhanom, African Union Commissioner Moussa Faki Mahamat, and officials of the European Union, several expressed their sorrow for the lives lost in the senseless attack.
It did not take a long time until al-Shabaab conducted its second attack in the city. On November 6, 2022, a man with an explosive detonated it at the entrance of a military training camp, killing at least five people and wounding a dozen others.
“Mothers with their children in their arms, fathers who had medical conditions, students who were going to school to study, businessmen who were struggling with the lives of their families—several of our people were massacred,” said Mohamud while visiting the scene of the terror attack.
It was the president who revealed that a hundred people died immediately following the incident, with the possibility that the number of casualties could rise. He requested treatment assistance from the international community.
It was a similar kind of car explosion that was reported when al-Shabaab militants attacked the infrastructure of the county’s biggest telco company, making headlines on November 9, 2022. This was a retaliatory move by the group after the government forces expelled militants from the area in central Somalia.
In what had been considered a massive loss for al-Shabaab last week, the government forces of Somalia retook Wabho, which the group administered for over 15 years. It is because the government forces have declared full-fledged war on the militants that they have begun the desperate and yet destructive measures against civilians.
Speaking with Al Jazeera English in the aftermath of the two car bombings, Hodan Ali, senior adviser to the mayor of Mogadishu, said that the militants are being reactive to the measures the government is taking against them.
“The president has declared war on al-Shabaab, and there has been an uprising against the group across the country, which has largely been successful. So this is really a last-minute effort from al-Shabaab to make it known how savage and brutal they are,” she said, explaining how the militants wanted to be feared.
Al-Shabaab’s most recent attack with two car bombs appears to be one of the deadliest and second-largest in terms of casualties in more than five years. Two truck bombings in October 2017 killed close to 600 people and injured over 300 civilians. The main target of the attack by then was a compound that was accommodating international troops, resulting in a crash with a hotel in the area.
Just last August, the al-Shabaab laid siege to a hotel in Mogadishu, which resulted in the deaths of two dozen people. The militants besieged the Hayat Hotel in the capital, which is frequented by government officials, for more than 30 hours before being relieved by the country’s forces.
The Prime Minister of Somalia, Hamza Abdi Barre, took no time to gather members of the media and brief them about his government’s commitment to fighting back the militants.
“There is only one of two choices, either we allow al-Shabaab to live or we live. We can’t live together,” he said, describing the group as “children of hell.”
However, despite the much-discussed commitment by government officials to clear the country from the terror group, the Voice of America recently reported citing a new report by UN experts, which reveals how al-Shabaab is expanding its revenue bases by taxing people for their properties and construction as well as requesting payments on checkpoints.
This has been a trend for the last few months in and around the capital, Mogadishu, according to reports.
Furthermore, the media report stated that a large portion of the group’s funds are being mobilized to cover the fighters’ monthly USD one million salary expense. Last May, according to the report, a notice was given to house owners around the capital about making a payment of between USD 100 and USD 300.
Going beyond the usual way of funding its activities, al-Shabaab has even come up with more creative ways, using banks and payment systems. This even led the government to close a few bank accounts allegedly used by the militants and people working for them to generate revenue.