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Counter-terrorism unit to hit Mogadishu streets

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Somali federal government has formed and trained a special unit of troops to conduct anti-terrorism operations in Mogadishu and thwart al-Shabaab's plans to carry out future suicide bombings.

The government plans to deploy the 1,000-strong unit by the end of April, comprising troops from various branches of the armed forces and security services, according to Mohamud Ahmed Hirsi, a manager in the military supply and logistics department of Somalia's Ministry of Defence.

The unit will dismantle and disarm terrorist cells and hideouts, root out their operatives and defuse bombs, in an effort to restore peace and order in the capital.

"These units are charged with hunting down terrorists and those accused of being involved in assassination operations against peace activists, journalists, police and army officers," Hirsi told Sabahi. "Among its goals are to attack terrorist groups that commit murder, robberies and stealing remittances, as well as infringing upon private property, service institutions and restaurants."

Some troops from the new unit will patrol pockets of the city where rebels have been known to hide out, enforcing tight security measures, Hirsi said. Other troops will mount roadside security checkpoints elsewhere in the capital, requiring motorists to show identification and submit their vehicles to security inspections.

Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for a spate of deadly suicide bombings and car bomb attacks in Mogadishu in recent weeks. The militant group has also been tied to a number of assassination attempts, including one on April 8th when Sheikh Bashir Ahmed Salad, chairman of the Somali Islamic Scholars Council, survived after a bomb exploded in his car.

Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud on April 18th paid a visit to the Jazeera Training Camp near Mogadishu, where members of the new unit are training.

The unit's presence in Mogadishu will strengthen the Somali federal government in combatting threats from al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups, as well as bring peace and prosperity to Somalia, Mohamud said.

"It gives me great pride to see your faces," he told the special unit's members. "You are the future of Somalia because you have attended this training due to your high ethics, as you have distanced yourselves from chewing khat, smoking cigarettes, taking drugs or drinking alcohol."

"Our valued army, we are with you. You have carried your weapons, defending your country against the terrorist enemy," Mohamud said. "I urge you to be united so we can bring back stability and tranquillity to the capital."

The Ministry of Defence has yet to allocate a budget for this special unit, Hirsi said. In order for the government to launch any urban offensive against al-Shabaab in Mogadishu, money is needed to buy uniforms, helicopters, marine equipment, speedboats, military vehicles and advanced weaponry, he said.

"Somalia is expecting a more active role from the international community in order to build its forces and make it more efficient in protecting its land and shores as well as combating terrorist operations and facing off piracy and all other surprises in the field," Hirsi said.
Time is of the essence

The government should not wait too long to deploy its new anti-terrorism unit because terrorist activity scares off investors and hinders economic development, according to economist Mustafa Hassan Afrah.

After losing its main sources of funding, al-Shabaab has relied on remittances and staging armed robberies of jewellery shops to finance its terrorist activities, Afrah told Sabahi.

That is why it is important to send troops into Mogadishu quickly and detain militants before they can carry out suicide attacks on banks and government buildings, he said.

Minister of Information and Telecommunications Abdullahi Ilmoge Hirsi said the government would not stand by idly and allow terrorists to kill innocent people, vandalise commercial buildings or steal people's money.

Bombings in crowded civilian areas aim to bring about chaos and terrorise foreign visitors and Somalis who have returned home from abroad, he said.

"I cannot give a specific date as to when this threat from al-Shabaab will be over but I expect it to soon end," Hirsi told Sabahi.

"We will be discussing several issues to reinforce security and national dialogue so we can thwart car bomb attacks," he said, adding that one of this unit's objectives will be to locate and dismantle the safe houses al-Shabaab uses to plan and carry out attacks. "We will monitor the situation before the explosives are sourced and prepared, and will be on the look-out for conspiracies and attacks from this group."

"[Al-Shabaab's] presence has dwindled, its sun has set and its star has died," Hirsi said. "We will prove ourselves worthy on the battlefield as our forces achieve even more victories."


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