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Somalia: Countering Terrorism in a Failed State

 PDF version of Somalia: Countering Terrorism in a Failed State Click here to view the full report as a PDF file in A4 format.
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For the first time since the last UN mission left the country in 1995, there is considerable international interest in Somalia, centred on the possibility that the country may become part of the global war against terrorism. The U.S. government suspects that al-Qaeda may have used Somalia as a staging area or safe haven in the past and remains concerned - though less than in the immediate aftermath of the 11 September 2001 attacks - that it could do so again because of the country's highly fragmented internal security situation.

The U.S. and its allies have already taken some steps to counter the possible use of Somalia by international terrorists, including increased surveillance, the closing down of terrorist-connected financial institutions and the threat of military action. Having high-ranking U.S. officials warn about the threat and possible military response has helped deter the use by fleeing al-Qaeda members of Somali territory as a temporary safe haven. However, while these measures may have kept terrorists from operating out of Somalia in the short-term, it is the instability and power vacuum emerging from the collapse of the Somali state that poses the greatest danger both to the outside world and to Somalis. Strong international engagement to bring peace internally and to reconstruct the failed state is required now if longer-term counter-terrorism objectives are to be achieved.

Left essentially to its own devices over the past seven years, Somalia has seen destructive civil war and lawless banditry give way to more localised, unpredictable conflicts between smaller clan-based factions and warlord militia groups. Limited local attempts at economic recovery and restoration of the rule of law have been put at risk by the recent escalation between opposing factions backed by regional benefactors. There are great local disparities. The self-declared and unrecognised Republic of Somaliland provides significant governance and security in the Northwest, though its stability is fragile and threatened by recent political developments, including the death in May 2002 of its President, Mohamed Ibrahim Egal. Parts of southern Somalia and the Northeast, including the autonomous region of Puntland, remain embroiled in destabilising armed conflict.

The so-called Transitional National Government, formed in 1999 at the Arta conference in Djibouti sponsored by the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), is not sufficiently representative and controls little more than part of the capital, Mogadishu. Supported by a loose coalition of Arab and African countries, including Egypt, Libya, Djibouti, Eritrea and a number of Gulf states, and in alliance with militia groups, it is engaged in a tense and occasionally violent stand-off with an opposition coalition, the Ethiopia-backed Somalia Reconciliation and Restoration Council. The polarisation between these two sets of loose alliances is increasing, and a more direct showdown is highly likely in the absence of any serious regional or international effort at conflict prevention.

Islamist organisations have become more prominent in the past decade. The most important, the indigenous al-Itihaad al-Islami, aims to establish an Islamic state in Somalia and in the Somali-inhabited region of eastern Ethiopia (the Ogaden). In the early to mid 1990s, it organised militias in attempts to gain control of several key Somali towns. It committed several acts of terrorism against Ethiopian government targets in 1995. While its goals have focused relatively narrowly on Somalia and Ethiopia, it has had links with international Islamist terrorists in the past, including al-Qaeda. The possibility of continued or renewed ties should be closely monitored.

Despite repeated calamities, there is strong Somali interest in finding a way to stable governance. Virtually all political and civil society leaders interviewed by ICG expressed a firm desire for the international community, particularly the U.S., to reengage to promote reconciliation and reconstruction of the state.

If the international community is to do this, its perspective should be wider than terrorism. Countering that phenomenon is critical, but Somalia is not Afghanistan. Local administrative structures are already in place in many areas of the country. The most worrisome political movement, al-Itihaad, does not control local populations or territory and is not structurally integrated with al-Qaeda as was the Taliban. Indeed, the reason that Somalia appears to be a magnet for some terrorists derives from characteristics as a failed state that make it attractive for hard-to-trace financial transactions and transhipment of goods and personnel. Given its civil conflicts and deep political divisions, no Western military operation - in and of itself - could make Somalia "safe from terrorism". Larger military strikes, which were seriously considered in the few months after 11 September but are not likely at this point, could prove counter-productive by alienating many Somalis and bolstering support for radical Islamist groups.

While continuing to implement discrete measures that target the lifeblood of terrorist operations - such as monitoring remittance companies and assisting in establishment of accountable financial institutions - the international community needs to begin the larger and more difficult process of addressing Somalia's chronic state failure. To achieve both short- and long-term counter-terrorism objectives, it is necessary for key states outside the region to re-engage politically. Efforts by the regional organisation IGAD to hold a peace conference for all Somali stakeholders risk collapse, with regional divisions and an uncertain agenda leaving even a date for its convening uncertain.

Diplomatic efforts should have two objectives: first, to defuse the immediate tensions (both inside Somalia and among competing regional states) that threaten to draw sections of the country into wider armed conflict; and secondly, to create the broader support structures and favourable conditions for IGAD to help lead a wider reconciliation and reconstruction process.

Subsequent ICG reporting will address in greater detail both the process and the substance of advancing that political reconciliation and reconstruction.



To The U.S. And Other Members Of The International Coalition:

  1. Continue to deny use of Somalia to al-Qaeda or other international terrorists by pursuing tight surveillance of the sea approaches and by monitoring remittance companies and transactions between Somali Islamic groups and the Gulf States.

  2. Assist in establishing formal financial institutions and branches of international banks in Somalia as alternatives to informal money transfer arrangements.

  3. Engage Somaliland and other local, functional Somali authorities in sharing intelligence about extremist organisations.

  4. Calibrate any direct military operations inside the country carefully to the threat, avoiding to the extent possible in particular actions on a large-scale or in densely populated areas where such activity may stimulate a strong backlash that could benefit movements with extremist Islamist agendas.

    To Somalia's Neighbours:

  5. Work closely with the international coalition in building the capacity to monitor cross-border movements and shipments of goods, and fully share intelligence with coalition partners.

    To the Transitional National Government:

  6. Cooperate in providing information about al-Itihaad and deny its members senior positions in the administration.


    To the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD):

  7. Name a single Special Envoy to lead the peace and reconciliation process, and continue efforts to convene a conference of Somali stakeholders, but with greater emphasis on careful preparation and flexible timetables, as well as increased international backing.

    To the Secretary General of the United Nations:

  8. Move rapidly to finalise formation of a "Friends of Somalia" contact group, while ensuring that it has a small core of committed states that can engage in peace-making efforts in Somalia, in particular by supporting the IGAD mediation efforts.

  9. Establish with adequate staff the panel of experts proposed by the Security Council to investigate violations of the arms embargo on Somalia and to lay the groundwork for an enforcement mechanism that would - at a minimum - name and shame violators.

    To the U.S. and EU:

  10. Participate actively in the proposed new "Friends" contact group and take the lead in creating a smaller core group of the "Friends" to operationalise efforts to work with IGAD in developing a more substantial, unified mediation structure for the peace and reconciliation process.

  11. Decide between each other who will assume primary responsibility within this core group to carry out shuttle diplomacy, through a senior envoy, in order to:

    • determine, with IGAD, the structure, and participation of a agenda comprehensive, IGAD-sponsored peace conference; and

    • consult intensively with outside sponsors of the various Somali groups (Ethiopia and others) to develop compromise positions.

  12. Engage the Somali factions to focus them on crucial issues, in particular political decentralisation.

  13. Implement targeted sanctions aimed at freezing personal assets, restricting travel and expelling family members living abroad if individual warlords or other factions block or undermine the unified peace and reconciliation process.

  14. Support UN and NGO efforts to respond to humanitarian needs and support small-scale economic development.

  15. Devise specific programs of institutional support, including capacity building for law enforcement, disarmament and reintegration and constitutional development, that would be implemented if a broader-based Somali government is established.

    To Somalia's Neighbours:

  16. Respect the United Nations arms embargo, discontinue financial and military assistance to all sides and encourage them to engage in the peace and reconciliation process.

  17. If individual warlords or other factions block or undermine the peace and reconciliation process, work with the EU and U.S. to implement the targeted sanctions described above.

Nairobi/Brussels, 23 May 2002

 PDF version of Somalia: Countering Terrorism in a Failed State Click here to view the full report as a PDF file in A4 format.
For more information about viewing PDF documents, please click here. If you have problems downloading the report, please let us know.

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Somalia: Countering Terrorism in a Failed State
23 May 2002