Shabaab kills dozens in twin suicide bombings targeting Somalia’s election process

On March 24, just one day after Al Shabaab launched an assault against the Halane military base in Mogadishu, the terrorist organization conducted two suicide bombings in the central Somali town of Beledweyne, the capital of Somalia’s Hiraan region. The twin blasts left at least 48 people dead, including two parliamentary candidates, and dozens more wounded. 

The initial blast occurred within the Lama-Galay military base in Beledweyne, which houses the Hirshabelle regional presidential residence (Hirshabelle refers to the federal member state that combines Somalia’s Hiraan and Middle Shabelle regions) and the site of ongoing parliamentary elections in the region.

Among the victims of the attack was Somali legislator Amina Mohamed Abdi, who was campaigning for re-election at the polling site at the time of the attack. 

Mohamed was described as a fearless critic of incumbent president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (popularly known as Farmaajo) and advocate for a female intelligence officer, Ikran Tahlil, whose disappearance in 2021 sparked disputes within the Somali federal government

The second blast perpetrated by Shabaab was reportedly a suicide car bomb located near Beledweyne’s main hospital that detonated as a vehicle with victims from the first bombing arrived. 

Shabaab quickly claimed credit for the suicide bombings in statements released both through its Shahada News Agency and through its centralized press office. Statements through Shahada News gave more real-time confirmation of Shabaab’s involvement, as the group rapidly said its men were responsible for the bombings. 

The group’s centralized statement gave a more detailed account of the attacks, in which they described their targets as high ranking government officials and foreign troops who were supporting the electoral process. 

According to Shabaab, the bombings “took place while apostate officials were selecting members of the parliament whose objective is to promote the disbelieving western values of democracy in this Muslim land, spread immorality and legislate laws in contradiction to the Shari’ah.”

The two suicide bombings today now means Shabaab has conducted at least 10 suicide bombings inside Somalia already this year according to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal

Additionally, this is the second attack in two days targeting government officials and their international backers, demonstrating Shabaab’s continued persistence in undermining the Somali government. 

Just a little over a month ago, Shabaab also conducted a series of coordinated assaults across Mogadishu in other attempts to undermine the ongoing election process. After those assaults, the jihadist group explicitly stated that the strikes “confirm[ed] the inability of the government, subsidized by the West and the African Union, to provide security to the capital.”

The attacks on the polling site in Beledweyne is yet another dangerous reminder of Shabaab’s capabilities and attempts to destabilize Somalia’s election process. As this process continues, the group will likely continue to concentrate its efforts at other attacks directed at other election sites or even other Somali lawmakers. 

Indeed, Shabaab has demonstrated the ability to assassinate high-level Somali government officials, particularly in suicide bombings as seen in the assassinations of the governor of Puntland’s Nugaal in March 2020 and the governor of Somalia’s Mudug in May 2020. The group also attempted to assassinate the governor of Somalia’s Bay region in April 2021. 

One additional motive for today’s attack could be to violently dissuade locals from participating in the elections. Shabaab’s local media apparatus has already been awash with promoting “councils” the group’s officials have held with local Somali clan elders throughout this current election process, likely as more soft-power attempts to dissuade several clans from participating in the elections. 

Shabaab continues to be one of Al Qaeda’s most effective branches. It maintains significant control over much of southern Somalia and significant areas of northeastern Kenya, and is able to launch raids against heavily fortified bases in both Somalia and Kenya. 

Even as Somalia and much of the international community remains focused on promoting and securing Somali elections, Shabaab continues to show the ability to directly hamper those efforts. 

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