Nowhere To Go But Up

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Somali government forces and local militias recently won a pitched battle against al-Shabab, the al Qaeda-linked terrorist group that has sown fear and violence throughout the Horn of Africa for years. The allied forces managed to kill around 700 militants and push the group out of the strategic town of Adan Yabal, which they had used as a base for six years, Reuters reported.

Al-Shabab gained international recognition after the attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya in 2013 in retaliation for Kenyan help fighting the group in Somalia: Kenyans.co.ke recently featured the fascinating story of a local journalist who shared Cokes and coffee with the perpetrators, who wanted to set the record straight about police claims that all the mall’s attackers had been killed. Meanwhile, the group has still launched attacks in churches, schools and against other targets neighboring Kenya, the Star, a Kenyan newspaper, explained.

But the group’s real power center is in Somalia, a war-torn nation where the central government is extremely weak. Al-Shabab, for example, controls much of the country’s south. It is one of the best-funded Islamist terror groups in the world because of its effective taxation of much of southern Somalia, claimed the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime.

The reconquest of Adan Yabal came after al-Shabab militants attacked a hotel in the Somali capital of Mogadishu where many government officials live and frequently meet, noted Al Jazeera. That violence came a month after the group killed 100 people in two car bombings in the capital. New Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud appeared to have had enough.

“Our people who were massacred … included mothers with their children in their arms, fathers who had medical conditions, students who were sent to study, businessmen who were struggling with the lives of their families,” he said.

Now Mohamud is doubling down on efforts to crush al-Shabab, a position that has made him popular among Somalis, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Among his most potent tools is the elite, US-funded and US-trained Danab, or “lightning” brigade, that has gained momentum against the militants in recent months, the BBC wrote. The brigade moves extremely fast through the Somali interior, never giving the militants time to exploit their guerilla tactics, such as setting traps and ambushes.

Mohamud has also welcomed a former (and repentant) jihadist in the group, Mukhtar Robow, to become his minister for religious affairs, a move signaling how he is prepared to work with ultraorthodox Islamic Somalis who support peaceful politics, as the Guardian explained.

The fight could hurt Mohamud’s standing sooner or later. While condemning Al-Shabab’s indiscriminate targeting of civilians, human rights group Amnesty International said that government forces were also violating Somalis’ human rights as they cracked down on the militants, with few mechanisms to call government officials into account.

Juggling human rights while waging a war on terror is no easy task. But Somalis have little choice but to try.

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