An al Qaeda-backed terror group assassinated the security minister of Somalia’s struggling government in a suicide attack today that killed more than 20 people in the central part of the country.
Securityr Minister Omar Hashi Aden and Abdikarim Lakanyo, the former ambassador to Ethiopia, were killed when a Shabaab suicide bomber targeted them as they left a hotel in the town of Beletwein, the provincial capital of Hiran. The men were heading to the wedding of Hashi’s son when the attack took place.
Shabaab, the terror group that has direct links to al Qaeda, has taken credit for the suicide strike and claimed the men were meeting with Ethiopian military officials at the hotel.
“We are responsible for the explosion that killed Omar Hashi, Abdikarim Lakanyo and Ethiopian military officers whom they were meeting,” Sheikh Ali Dheere Mohammed told Garowe. “It [the suicide attack] was a response to the suffering of Somali Muslims,” Mohammed said, warning of “more attacks” against government officials in Hiran.
Hashi had been working in Hiran province to organize resistance against Shabaab and the allied Hizbul Islam. Both groups control much of the region. He also had been working with the Ethiopian military, which recently moved troops into Hiran.
Shabaab has targeted Hashi at least two other times in the recent past. On March 26, Hashi was injured in a roadside bomb attack near his home in Mogadishu.
In mid-March, a Shabaab leader said his group would continue to target government ministers and lawmakers for “aiding the enemy.”
“It is our decision to target TFG [Transitional Federal Government] lawmakers everywhere, because they allowed enemy troops [Ethiopia and African Union] into our country,” said Sheikh Hassan Mohamed, or Abu Ayman, during a press conference. Abu Ayman leads Shabaab forces in Bay and Bakook provinces.
The assassination of the security minister took place just one day after Mogadishu’s chief of police was among 20 Somalis killed during a failed assault by government forces on Shabaab and Hizbul Islam strongholds in Mogadishu.
Somali Government suffers setbacks despite reconciliation
The Somali government has suffered major setbacks since the Djibouti wing of the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia, an offshoot of the Islamic Courts led by Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, reconciled with the defeated Transitional Federal Government in late January 2009. Sharif joined the government following the withdrawal of Ethiopian forces after a two-year occupation.
Ahmed was named president of Somalia and has since attempted to reconcile with the Asmara wing of the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia, led by Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, an al Qaeda ally and a designated terrorist, and Hizbul Islam. Ahmed also lobbied for sharia, or Islamic Law, to be imposed. The Somali parliament passed the sharia bill into law in May.
But Shabaab and Hizbul Islam rejected offers to join the government and branded Ahmed and other Islamic Courts leaders as apostates and tools of the West. On May 14, the normally reclusive Shabaab leader Sheikh Muktar Abdirahman released an 11-minute audiotape railing against the government.
“The so-called government cannot be described as an Islamic government, because it was created to destroy Islamists in Somalia,” Sheikh Muktar said, according to Garowe Online. “The so-called President flew to Addis Ababa [capital of Ethiopia] immediately after he was elected to ask for advice and troops to fight against what he calls ‘extremists’ in Somalia.”
Shabaab and Hizbul Islam have continued to attack government forces and allied groups such as the Islamic Courts and the Ahlu Sunna Waljama throughout central Somalia and in Mogadishu.
Hizbul Islam was created in January of this year. The group was created by the merger of four separate Islamic groups: Hassan Aweys’ Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia-Eritrea, Jabhatul Islamiya (the Islamic Front), Mu’askar Ras Kamboni (the Ras Kamboni Brigade), and Anole. Hizbul Islam was led by Sheik Omar Iman Abu Bakar but he was ousted by Aweys for being too moderate. He was replaced by Aweys.
Shabaab and Hizbul Islam currently control all of the southern and many of the central provinces of Lower Jubba, Middle Jubba, Lower Shabelle, Gedo, Bay, and Bakool, as well as much of Mogadishu, where the government controls only “very little territory in Mogadishu,” Garowe Online reported. Shabelle said the Somalia government “controls a few blocks in Mogadishu.”
The central districts of Middle Shabelle, Hiran, and Galgadud are considered contested, with the government and allied Islamist groups in nominal control of some areas.