Shabaab strikes in Puntland
Shabaab, al Qaeda's branch in Somalia, carried out a suicide attack today at the intersection of a crowded marketplace in Bossaso, in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland. A Shabaab suicide bomber, driving a car packed with explosives, rammed a convoy of security vehicles belonging to Puntland Maritime Police Forces.
Initial reports confirm that three soldiers and four civilians have been killed, and least 37 others have been injured, although these figures are expected to rise.
The Government of Puntland, which is preparing for elections in January 2014, issued a press release, offering condolences to those affected and called Shabaab a "destructive group ... committed to carrying out acts of senseless violence, extremism and terrorism to achieve their evil goal."
Two foreigners who were with the convoy, but escaped the attack unharmed, are believed to be employees of Sterling Corporate Services, better known as Saracen International.
Saracen lost its UAE-funded anti-piracy contract in Puntland after criticism by the UN's Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group last year. If the two foreigners were indeed Saracen employees, it would mean that allegations that the UAE had quietly resumed the $1.2 million-a-month contract were true.
The 'Tora Bora of East Africa'
The Shabaab militants in the Puntland area are under the command of former warlord Mohammed Said Atom, who formally pledged allegiance to Shabaab in February 2012. Although the group was pushed back in August 2010, Atom and his men still control the Golis Mountains southwest of Bossaso.
This mountainous region in the province of Sanaag has been likened to Tora Bora in Afghanistan, with cave complexes and training camps. In 2002, al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden battled against US Special Forces and Afghan militias in the Tora Bora mountain complex in Nangarhar in eastern Afghanistan. [See LWJ report, Puntland forces claim victory against Shabaab in the 'Tora Bora of East Africa.']
Although Puntland security forces increased attacks against Shabaab in September this year, the group has been reinforced by militants fleeing southern Somalia. On Nov. 8, an estimated 40 Shabaab fighters attacked the Bossaso Central Prison. Authorities claimed to have successfully repelled the attack, but Shabaab said 75 of its fighters were freed.