Opposition Group Promises Attacks Following Sanctions on Eritrea for Support of Terrorism

Andrew McGregor

January 7, 2010

Tensions continue to rise in the volatile Horn of Africa as Eritrean insurgent groups promise a new wave of political violence following the imposition of UN sanctions against Eritrea for its alleged support of terrorism in the region. Eritrea is strategically located on the Red Sea, sharing borders with Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti. A former Italian colony, Eritrea was annexed by Ethiopia in 1962, sparking a long and bitter struggle for independence that concluded in 1991 with the expulsion of Ethiopian forces. According to the 1997 constitution, Eritrea is supposed to be a parliamentary democracy with an elected president, but the constitution has not been implemented and elections have never been held. In practice, Eritrea is a one party state, ruled by the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) under President Isaias Afewerki, an Orthodox Christian and former leader of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF). Afewerki has been the nation’s sole president since 1993.

Eritrea 1Ethnic Map of Eritrea

The Security Council Sanctions

The text of the December 23 Security Council resolution accuses Eritrea of “efforts to destabilize or overthrow” the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia. The resolution also calls on Eritrea to withdraw its troops from the border with Djibouti, where they are deployed to pressure Djibouti in a longstanding territorial dispute, calling their deployment “a threat to international security.”  Resolution 1907 was approved with 13 votes in favor, one vote against (Libya), and one abstention (China). The sanctions provide for travel restrictions for Eritrean political and military leaders, the freezing of Eritrean assets abroad and an arms embargo on Eritrea. An earlier Security Council resolution, no. 1862, followed fighting between Eritrean and Djiboutian forces in June 2008 and called on Asmara to withdraw its forces from the disputed region along the border, but no action was taken by Eritrean military forces to comply.

The new resolution was drafted by the Ugandan government. Uganda is the main source of troops for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which is now nearly the only armed support of consequence for the TFG. Isaac Musumba, the Ugandan Minister for Regional Cooperation, said Eritrea “provided sanctuary to international criminals. It is a rogue state” (New Vision [Kampala], December 29).

According to Dr. Ilmi Ahmad Du’alem, the UN envoy to Somalia, the sanctions were based “on proof that Eritrea supports terrorism… Eritrea supports [terrorist groups opposed to the Somali government]. Arms, material and moral support to these groups are delivered through Eritrea. Eritrea is the headquarters, and most of the [Somali] opposition is still in Eritrea… There were resolutions before the current one, warning Eritrea to end these actions” (Radio HornAfrik, December 29, 2009).

Eritrea’s Role in Somalia

Islamist opposition group Hizb al-Islam (composed largely of the Asmara-based Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia led by Shaykh Hassan Dahir Aweys), a former partner of al-Shabaab, condemned the sanctions, noting that while other countries were intervening in Somalia, no sanctions had been imposed on them (Mareeg.com., December 24, 2009).

An Ethiopian government spokesman suggested the “international delinquent state of Eritrea” was “promoting and abetting terrorist forces in the region.” A statement from the Eritrean Foreign Ministry described the resolution as a “brazen act” based neither “on fact nor on the provisions of international law. It constitutes a travesty of justice and amplifies the dangers inherent in a unipolar world.” The statement identified Britain, the United States and Uganda as the principal forces behind the resolution:

“It must be stressed that the accusations against Eritrea for involvement in Somalia have never been substantiated or verified… Indeed, how can Eritrea provide logistical support to armed groups in Somalia when it does not have a contiguous border with that country? Eritrea has neither the political will nor the financial clout to bankroll armed groups in Somalia… The United States has simply employed its preponderant influence to ram through unjustifiable sanctions against a small country” (Shabait.com, December 23, 2009).

The Eritrean ambassador to the UN, Araya Desta, said, “The Security Council has decided to impose sanctions on Eritrea based on fabricated lies, mainly concocted by the Ethiopian regime and the US administration” (New Vision [Kampala], December 28).

Strangely enough, the sanctions imposed on Eritrea for supporting al-Shabaab came after senior Shabaab member Shaykh Mukhtar Robow “Abu Mansur” issued a threat to Asmara in October, saying Eritrea opposed the implementation of Shari’a law in Somalia because its leaders were not Muslims. The shaykh added that the non-Muslim regime was ruling the Muslim majority in Eritrea by force (AllPuntland.com, October 31, 2009). It is difficult to assess the reasoning behind this threat, though there are several possibilities:

• Eritrea has ended its support to al-Shabaab in favor of rival Islamist group Hizb al-Islam.

• Al-Shabaab may be doing a favor to the Eritrean regime by publicly denouncing it before the sanctions proposal could be introduced at the UN Security Council.

• The threat may be yet another in a series of self-defeating moves by the increasingly fanatic Shabaab movement.

Eritrea’s envoy to the United Nations described the allegations of military support for groups fighting in Somalia as “lies and propaganda,” indicating that it is archrival Ethiopia that is responsible for fueling the conflict in Somalia, as well as causing instability in the region by occupying lands belonging to its neighbors, including Eritrea (Dayniile, December 20; AllPuntland, December 2, 2009).

Eritrea 2DMLEK Leader Cornelius Osman

Eritrea’s Armed Opposition Threatens the Regime

One of the many Eritrean opposition groups saw an opening in the UNSC sanctions. Cornelius Osman, leader of the Democratic Movement for the Liberation of the Eritrean Kunama (DMLEK) said, “This is a good opportunity for us. We are preparing our military forces to launch more attacks. We are inside Eritrea and will hit selected targets and institutions.” The DMLEK chief added that the freeze on foreign assets and travel ban on Eritrean political and military leaders would isolate the regime and “deter it from receiving the hundreds of millions of dollars it gets” annually from the Eritrean diaspora (AFP, December 29, 2009).

DMLEK is a member of the Eritrean Democratic Alliance (EDA), an opposition umbrella group based in Ethiopia. The movement, based on the Kunama people, was formed after Eritrea gained its independence from Ethiopia in 1991.The Kunama are a Nilotic people related to the Nilotic tribes of South Sudan, but in Eritrea they represent only 2% of the population. The Kunama live near the Ethiopian border between the Gash and Setit rivers, an area that has placed them between opposing Eritrean and Ethiopian forces. Another even smaller Nilotic group known as the Nara has formed its own opposition movement – the Eritrean Democratic Resistance Movement Gash-Setit, under Ismael Nada.

DMLEK has claimed a number of small attacks against Eritrean government forces or facilities. Some sense of the scale of these attacks can be gained from examining DMLEK statements:

• In November 2007, DMLEK forces attacked a military outpost at Melezanai, claiming to have killed 15 soldiers and wounding five others. An administrative office at Shambaco was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade (DMLEK Military communiqué, November 8, 2007).

• In January 2008, DMLEK claimed to have destroyed the government’s agricultural office in the town of Binbilina along with goods stored in a warehouse. In the same operation, a water truck and tanker were set ablaze in the town of Barentu (Walta Information Center, January 30, 2008).

• In March 2009, DMLEK claimed to have destroyed a military hospital in the southwest region of Gash-Barka with RPGs, hand grenades and small arms (Sudan Tribune, March 23, 2009).

A North American-based Kunama group has undertaken a campaign to depose Cornelius Osman as the movement’s leader. The group accuses Osman of “kidnapping, imprisoning, torturing and killing a lot of innocent, educated and knowledgeable Kunama” and acting as an agent of the Eritrean government. They claim many Kunama fighters have deserted the organization. [1] Osman addressed the accusations in a Paltalk discussion with members of the Eritrean diaspora. While he did not deny the extra-judicial killings, he identified the victims as “rogue elements” working for the PFDJ regime to sabotage the Kunama movement (Awate.com, November 8, 2009).

The Armed Opposition

There are strong regional, religious, cultural and linguistic divisions in Eritrea. This situation is reflected in the many national and diaspora opposition groups. The Eritrean regime is dominated by members of the Tigrinya ethnic group, who form 50% of the population in Eritrea. Most Tigrinya are Christians, though a minority are Muslims. Many of the opposition groups are based on ethnic minorities that feel excluded from the Eritrean power structure, such as the Afar, the Kunama and the Nara. Regardless of the extent of their military activities, all such opposition groups are termed “terrorists” by the Asmara regime. Most opposition groups oppose what they regard as the “Tigrinization” of the country as well as the nationalization of lands traditionally held by ethnic minority groups.

The large number of opposition groups has so far prevented the emergence of an effective armed opposition to the Asmara regime, but lately this problem has been addressed by the formation of three larger coalitions (Gedab News/Awate.com, February 25, 2007). Last June, DMLEK joined the Red Sea Afar Democratic Organization (RSADO) to form the Democratic Front of Eritrean Nationalities (DFEN). At the conclusion of a two-day congress, DFEN declared its intention to work under the umbrella of the Eritrean Democratic Alliance (EDA) and called on all of Eritrea’s armed opposition groups to coordinate their efforts. The new alliance also called on Eritrea’s Tigrinya to turn against the regime (Gedab News/Awate.com, June 19, 2009). The three main opposition coalitions are preparing a unity conference in Addis Ababa with the intention of forming a single armed opposition front with the aid of Ethiopian authorities (Nharnet, December 25, 2009; Sudan Tribune, December 30, 2009).

Eritrea maintains a massive defense establishment at considerable cost. Universal conscription of both men and women is used to provide the numbers that the government feels necessary to maintain in expectation of a further conflict with Ethiopia. Nevertheless, conscription is unpopular and desertion is common. DMLEK maintains that the Eritrean Defense Forces (EDF) have been “weakened by the economic and political crisis in the country as well as internal resistance” and are fleeing to neighboring countries whenever they get the chance (Walta Information Center, November 21, 2007). There are roughly 180,000 Eritrean refugees living in Sudan, which occasionally sends some asylum seekers back to Eritrea (Sudan Tribune, September 25, 2008).


Opponents of the government make regular efforts to tie the regime to Iran and its alleged support for terrorism in an effort to depict Eritrea as a regional threat (see Terrorism Monitor, April 3, 2009).  Typical of this is a recent and unconfirmed story carried on an Arabic-language opposition website that described the offloading of a weapons cargo from an Iranian ship in the port of Massawa under the supervision of representatives of al-Shabaab, the Houthist rebels of northern Yemen and an unnamed Djiboutian insurgent group (Adoulis, December 24). Such efforts are likely to increase as the opposition seeks international support beyond the usual support it receives from Addis Ababa.

For the moment, none of the Eritrean insurgent groups or coalitions appear strong enough to topple the PFDJ government, which has built a strong security structure to ensure its survival. If the opposition succeeds in forming a single front, it may receive military and financial support from the many enemies of the Eritrean government. An outbreak of political violence and even civil war in Eritrea has the potential to drag in Eritrea’s neighbors (particularly Ethiopia) and further inflame the conflict in Somalia and the low-level Afar insurgency in Djibouti, the site of a major American military base.

This article first appeared in the January 7, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Strange Days on the Red Sea Coast: A New Theater for the Israel-Iran Conflict?

Andrew McGregor

April 3, 2009

Over the last few months, the strategically important African Red Sea coast has suddenly become the focal point of rumors involving troop-carrying submarines, ballistic missile installations, desert-dwelling arms smugglers, mysterious airstrikes and unlikely alliances. None of the parties alleged to be involved (including Iran, Israel, Eritrea, Egypt, Sudan, France, Djibouti, Gaza and the United States) have been forthcoming with many details, leaving observers to ponder a tangled web of reality and fantasy. What does appear certain, however, is that the regional power struggle between Israel and Iran has the potential to spread to Africa, unleashing a new wave of political violence in an area already consumed with its own deadly conflicts.

Red SeaIsraeli Air Force F-16I Sufa (Storm)

Airstrike in the Desert

Though an airstrike on a column of 23 vehicles was carried out on January 27 near Mt. Alcanon, in the desert northwest of Port Sudan, news of the attack first emerged in a little-noticed interview carried on March 23 in the Arabic-language Al-Mustaqillah newspaper (see https://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=1854). In the interview, Sudanese Transportation Minister Dr. Mabruk Mubarak Salim, the former leader of the Free Lions resistance movement in eastern Sudan, said that aircraft he believed to be French and American had attacked a column of vehicles in Sudan eastern desert after receiving intelligence indicating a group of arms smugglers was transporting arms to Gaza. Dr. Salim’s Free Lions Movement was based on the Rasha’ida Arabs of east Sudan, a nomadic group believed to control smuggling activities along the eastern Egypt-Sudan border.

On March 26, Dr. Salim told al-Jazeera there had been at least two airstrikes, carried out by U.S. warplanes launched from American warships operating in the Red Sea. There was no further mention of the French, who maintain an airbase in nearby Djibouti. After the news broke in the media, Sudanese foreign ministry spokesman Ali al-Sadig issued some clarifications:

The first thought was that it was the Americans that did it. We contacted the Americans and they categorically denied they were involved… We are still trying to verify it. Most probably it involved Israel… We didn’t know about the first attack until after the second one. They were in an area close to the border with Egypt, a remote area, desert, with no towns, no people (Al-Jazeera, March 27).

With the Americans out of the way, suspicion fell on Israel as the source of the attack.

Sudanese authorities later claimed the convoy was carrying not arms, but a large number of migrants from a number of African countries, particularly Eritrea (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, March 27; Sudan Tribune, March 28). According to Foreign Minister Ali al-Sadig; “it is clear that [the attackers] were acting on bad information that the vehicles were carrying arms” (Haaretz, March 27). Dr. Salim claimed the death toll was 800 people, contradicting his earlier claim that the convoy consisted of small trucks carrying arms and that most of those killed were Sudanese, Ethiopians and Eritreans (al-Jazeera, March 26). There was also some confusion about the number of attacks, with initial claims of a further strike on February 11 and a third undated strike on an Iranian freighter in the Red Sea. The latter rumor may have had its source in Dr. Salim’s suggestion that several Rasha’ida fishing boats had been attacked by U.S. and French warplanes. Otherwise, no evidence has been provided to substantiate these claims.

A Hamas leader, Salah al-Bardawil, denied his movement had any knowledge of such arms shipments, pointing to the lack of a common border between Gaza and Sudan as proof “these are false claims” (Al-Jazeera, March 27).

A Smuggling Route to Sinai?

The alleged smuggling route, beginning at Port Sudan, would take the smugglers through 150 miles of rough and notoriously waterless terrain to the Egyptian border and the disputed territory of Hala’ib, currently under Egyptian occupation. From there the route would pass roughly 600 miles through Egypt’s Eastern Desert, a rocky and frequently mountainous wasteland. Criss-crossing the terrain to find a suitable way through could add considerably to the total distance. North of the Egyptian border the Sudanese smugglers would be crossing hundreds of miles of unfamiliar and roadless territory. The alternatives would involve offloading the arms near the border to an Egyptian convoy or making a change of drivers. Anonymous “defense sources” cited by the Times claimed local Egyptian smugglers were engaged to take over the convoy at the Egyptian border “for a fat fee” (The Times, March 29).

Use of the well-patrolled coastal road would obviously be impossible without official Egyptian approval. The other option for the smugglers would be to cut west to the Nile road which passes through hundreds of settled areas and a large number of security checkpoints. The convoy would need to continually avoid security patrols along the border and numerous restricted military zones along the coast. Either Egyptian guides or covert assistance from Egyptian security services would be needed for a 23 vehicle convoy to reach Sinai from the Egyptian border without interference. Once in the Sinai there is little alternative to taking the coastal route to Gaza, passing through one of Egypt’s most militarily sensitive areas, to reach the smuggling tunnels near the border with Gaza.

Water, gasoline, spare parts and other supplies would take up considerable space in the trucks. Provisions would have to be made for securing and transporting the loads of disabled trucks that proved irreparable, particularly if their loads included parts for the Fajr-3 rockets the convoy was alleged to be carrying, without which the other loads might prove unusable. Freeing the trucks from sand (a problem worsened by carrying a heavy load of arms) and making repairs could add days to the trip. The alleged inclusion of Iranian members of the Revolutionary Guard in the convoy would be highly risky – if stopped by Egyptian security forces, every member of the arms convoy would be detained and interrogated (Israeli sources claimed several Iranians were killed in the raid). It would not take long to separate the Iranians from the Arabs, with all the consequences that would follow from the exposure of an Iranian intelligence operation on Egyptian soil.

Of course most of these problems would disappear if Egypt was giving its approval to the arms shipments. But if this was the case, why not send the arms through Syria and by ship to a port near the Gaza border? Ships are the normal vehicle for arms deliveries as massive quantities of arms are usually required to change the military balance in any situation.

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported that the arms were “apparently transferred from Iran through the Persian Gulf to Yemen, from there to Sudan and then to Egypt through Sinai and the tunnels under the Egypt Gaza border” and included “various types of missiles, rockets, guns and high-quality explosives” (Haaretz, March 29). The Yemen stage is unexplained; Iranian ships can easily reach Port Sudan without a needless overland transfer of their cargos in Yemen before being reloaded onto ships going to Port Sudan. Looking at this route (the simplest of several proposed by Israeli sources), one can only assume Hamas was in no rush to obtain its weapons.

Reserves Major General Giyora Eiland, a former head of Israel’s National Security Council, alleged the involvement of a number of parties in the Sinai to Gaza arms trade, including “Bedouin and Egyptian army officers who are benefiting from the smuggling.” He then turned to the possibility of arms being shipped through Sudan to Gaza; “Almost all of the weapons are smuggled into Gaza through the Sinai, and some probably by sea. Little comes along this long [Sudan to Gaza] route” (Voice of Israel Network, March 27).

Video footage of the burned-out convoy was supplied to al-Jazeera by Sudanese intelligence sources. The footage shows only small pick-up trucks, largely unsuitable for transporting heavy arms payloads. If Fajr-3 missiles broken down into parts were included in the shipment, there would be little room for other arms (each Fajr-3 missile weighs at least 550 kilograms). Sudanese authorities described finding a quantity of ammunition, several C-4 and AK-47 rifles and a number of mobile phones used for communications by the smugglers. There was no mention of missile parts (El-Shorouk [Cairo], March 24). No evidence has been produced by any party to confirm the origin of the arms allegedly carried by the smugglers’ convoy.

Assessing Responsibility

Citing anonymous “defense sources,” the Times claimed the convoys had been tracked by Mossad, enabling an aerial force of satellite-controlled UAVs to kill “at least 50 smugglers and their Iranian escorts” (The Times [London], March 29). American officials also reported that at least one operative from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards had gone to Sudan to organize the weapons convoy (Haaretz/Reuters, March 27). According to the Times’ sources, the convoy attacks were carried out by Hermes 450 and Eitan model UAVs in what would have been an aviation first – a long distance attack against a moving target carried out solely by a squadron of remote control drones.

U.S.-based Time Magazine entered the fray on March 30 with a report based on information provided by “two highly-placed Israeli security sources.” According to these sources, the United States was informed of the operation in advance but was otherwise uninvolved. Dozens of aircraft were involved in the 1,750 mile mission, refuelling in midair over the Red Sea. Once the target was reached, F15I fighters provided air cover against other aircraft while F16I fighters carried out two runs on the convoy. Drones with high-resolution cameras were used to assess damage to the vehicles.

The American-made F16I “Sufa” aircraft were first obtained by the IAF in 2004. They carry Israeli-made conformal fuel tanks to increase the range of the aircraft and use synthetic aperture radar that enables the aircraft to track ground targets day or night. The older F15I “Ra’am” is an older but versatile model, modified to Israeli specifications.

The entire operation, according to the Israeli sources used by Time, was planned in less than a week to act on Mossad information that Iran was planning to deliver 120 tons of arms and explosives to Gaza, “including anti-tank rockets and Fajr rockets with a 25 mile range” in a 23 truck convoy (though this shipment seems impossibly large for 23 pick-up trucks with a maximum payload capacity of one ton or less – on paved roads). The Israeli sources added that this was the first time the smuggling route through Sudan had been used.

Israeli officials claimed anonymously that the convoy was carrying Fajr-3 rockets capable of reaching Tel Aviv (Sunday Times, March 29; Jerusalem Post, March 29). The Fajr-3 MLRS is basically an updated Katyusha rocket that loses accuracy as it approaches the limit of its 45km range and carries only a small warhead of conventional explosives. It has been suggested that the missiles carried by the convoy “could have changed the game in the conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants,” thus making the attack an imperative for Israel (BBC, March 26). Yet far from being “a game-changer,” the Fajr-3 was already used against Israel by Hezbollah in 2006. It has also been claimed that the Fajr-3 rockets could be used against Israel’s nuclear installation at Dimona, but Israeli officials reported at the start of the year that Hamas already possessed dozens of Fajr-3 rockets (Sunday Times, January 2). Some media accounts have confused the Fajr-3 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS), which would seem to be the weapon in question, with the much larger Fajr-3 medium-range ballistic missile.

Reports of the complete destruction of the entire convoy and all its personnel raise further questions. Desert convoys tend to be long, strung out affairs, not least because it is nearly impossible to drive in the dust of the vehicle ahead. Could an airstrike really kill every single person involved in a strung out convoy without a ground force going in to mop up? UAVs with heat sensors and night vision equipment might have remained in the area to eliminate all survivors, but this seems unnecessary if the arms had already been destroyed. The political risk of leaving Israeli aircraft in the area after the conclusion of a successful attack would not equal the benefit of killing a few drivers and mechanics.

What role did Khartoum play in these events? A pan-Arab daily reported that the United States warned the Sudanese government before the Israeli airstrike that a “third party” was monitoring the arms-smuggling route to Gaza and that such shipments needed to stop immediately (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, March 30). Despite state-level disagreements, U.S. and Sudanese intelligence agencies continue to enjoy a close relationship.

With Sudan under international pressure as a result of the Darfur conflict, Khartoum has sought to renew its relations with Iran. Less than two weeks before the airstrike, Sudanese Defense Minister Abdalrahim Hussein concluded a visit to Tehran to discuss arms sales and training for Sudanese security forces. An Iranian source reported missiles, UAVs, RPGs and other equipment were sought by Sudan (Sudan Tribune, January 20).

An Iranian Base on the Red Sea?

As tensions rise in the region, wild allegations have emerged surrounding the creation of a major Iranian military and naval base in the Eritrean town of Assab on the Red Sea coast. Assab is a small port city of 100,000 people. A small Soviet-built oil refinery at Assab was shut down in 1997. Last November an Eritrean opposition group, the Eritrean Democratic Party, published a report on their website claiming Iran had agreed to revamp the small refinery, adding (without any substantiation) that Iran and Eritrea’s President Isayas Afewerki were planning to control the strategic Bab al-Mandab Straits at the southern entrance to the Red Sea (selfi-democracy.com, November 25, 2008).

Red Sea 2Main Street in Assab: New Iranian Military Base?

A short time later, another Eritrean opposition website elaborated on the original report of a refinery renovation, adding lurid details of Iranian ships and submarines deploying troops and long-range ballistic missiles at a new Iranian military base at Assab. Security was allegedly provided by Iranian UAVs that patrolled the area (EritreaDaily.net, December 10, 2008).

The Israeli MEMRI website then reported that “Eritrea has granted Iran total control of the Red Sea port of Assab,” adding that Iranian submarines had “deployed troops, weapons and long-range missiles… under the pretext of defending the local oil refinery” (MEMRI, December 1, 2008).

The story was further elaborated on by Ethiopian sources (Ethiopia and Eritrea are intense rivals and political enemies). According to one Ethiopian report, Iranian frigates were using Assab as a naval base (Gedab News, January 28). An Ethiopian-based journalist contributed an article to Sudan Tribune in which he again claimed Iranian submarines were delivering troops and long-range missiles to Assab, basing his account on the original report on selfi-democracy.com, which made no such claims (Sudan Tribune, March 30). Israel’s Haaretz noted that Addis Ababa is “a key Mossad base for operations against extremist Islamic groups” in the region, adding that some of the weapons destroyed in the convoy had “reportedly passed through Ethiopia and Eritrea first” (Haaretz, March 27).

Only days ago, a mainstream Tel Aviv newspaper reported that Iran has already finished building a naval base at Assab and had “transferred to this base – by means of ships and submarines – troops, military equipment and long range-ballistic missiles… that can strike Israel.” The newspaper claimed its information was based on reports from Eritrean opposition members, diplomats and aid organizations, without giving any specifics (Ma’ariv [Tel Aviv], March 29). On March 19, Israel’s ambassador to Ethiopia accused Eritrea of trying to sabotage the peace process in the region by serving as a safe haven for terrorist groups (Walta Information Center [Addis Abbab], March 19). In only four months, a minor refinery renovation was transformed into a strategic threat to the entire Middle East.


Questions remain as to how the moving convoy was found by its attackers. Did Mossad have inside intelligence? Did the Israelis use satellite imagery from U.S. surveillance satellites as part of the agreement they signed in January on the prevention of arms smuggling to Gaza, or did they use their own Ofeq-series surveillance satellites? Was an Israeli UAV already in place when the convoy left Port Sudan? A retired Israeli Air Force general, Yitzhak Ben-Israel, recognized the difficulty involved in finding and striking the convoy by noting; “The main innovation in the attack on Sudan… was the ability to hit a moving target at such a distance. The fact that Israel has the technical ability to do such a thing proves even more what we are capable of in Iran” (Haaretz, March 27).

The two-month silence on the attacks from other parties is also notable – it is unlikely U.S. and French radar facilities in Djibouti would have missed squadrons of Israeli jets and UAVs attacking a target in nearby East Sudan. If the Israelis took the shortest route through the Gulf of Aqaba and down the Red Sea they would likely be detected by Egyptian and Saudi radar on their way out and on their way back. According to former IAF commander Eitan Ben-Eliyahu, the attack would require precise intelligence and a two and a half hour flight along the Red Sea coast, keeping low to evade Egyptian and Saudi radar. The aircraft would also require aerial refuelling (Haaretz, March 27).

Even if the aircraft evaded radar, their low flight paths would have exposed them to visual observation in the narrow shipping lanes of the Red Sea.  Israeli aircraft would almost certainly have been tracked by the Combined Task Force-150, an allied fleet patrolling the Red Sea. All other routes would have taken the aircraft through unfriendly airspace. By March 27, an Egyptian official admitted that Egypt had indeed known of the airstrike at the time, but added the Israelis had not crossed into Egyptian airspace (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, March 27).

If Tehran was involved in this remarkably complicated smuggling operation, it will now be taking its entire local intelligence infrastructure apart to find the source of the leak. Egypt is reported to have deployed additional security personnel along the border with Sudan, effectively closing the alleged smuggling route (Haaretz, March 29). As Sudan revives its defense relationship with Iran it is very likely rumors and allegations will continue to proliferate regarding an Iranian presence on the Red Sea.


This article first appeared in the April 3, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Accuracy of New UN Report on Somalia Doubtful

Andrew McGregor

November 21, 2006

A report by the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia leaked to the Washington Post on November 14 has set off a wave of denials and denunciations from various countries alleged to be fueling the conflict in Somalia. Djibouti, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Libya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda, Iran, Syria and Lebanon’s Hezbollah are all cited as supplying arms, troops or other military materials to the warring sides in Somalia, which consist of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the coalition of Islamist rebels known as the Islamic Courts Union (ICU). The report also warns of the adoption of Iraq-style tactics by the ICU, including suicide bombers, assassinations and other types of terrorist activities. The Monitoring Group intelligence team responsible for the report consists of a Colombian finance expert, a Kenyan maritime expert and arms experts from Belgium and the United States. Their 86-page document is based on interviews, investigations and information supplied by various embassies in Nairobi.

Somali armsThe report accurately describes the leading roles of Ethiopia and Eritrea in arming Somalia’s militias. Ethiopia already has as many as 6,000 troops in Somalia supporting the TFG and has supplied TFG militias with a variety of arms. Eritrea is accused of supplying 2,000 troops and arms to the ICU, including portable surface-to-air missiles. Surprisingly, the report does not even mention allegations (widely accepted as reality within Somalia) that the United States was the chief supplier of arms and cash to the ill-fated “Anti-Terrorist Coalition” of anti-ICU warlords. Eritrea’s information minister suggested a political bias to the document: “We know these statements are coming from Washington” (Gulf News, November 15).

Iran is alleged to have sent three payloads of medicine, physicians, ammunition and arms, including surface-to-air missiles, M-79 rocket-launchers, machine guns and landmines. They are also said to have supplied an aircraft to carry 40 wounded Somalis back to Somalia from Lebanon. Iran said such reports were “in line with the wishes of hostile enemies” (IRNA, November 17).

Egypt was accused of offering military training to the Somali Islamists. An Egyptian denial expressed “great surprise and anguish” at the report, saying that it was prepared by “Western experts whose political affiliations are not known” (Associated Press, November 17). Egypt is deeply involved in diplomatic efforts to avert war in the Horn region. The report also described Libyan arms supplies to the ICU, training for 100 fighters and financial aid. A Libyan Foreign Ministry spokesman described the allegations as “incredible” (Reuters, November 17). Syria has also denied sending an air shipment of arms to the ICU.

Uganda was said to have provided military materials and an unspecified number of soldiers in support of the TFG. Ugandan Defense Minister Chrispus Kiyonga announced that Uganda will complain to the United Nations over the report, describing it as “trash” (Reuters, November 17).

The most startling revelation in the report deals with 720 Somali fighters who are alleged to have traveled to Lebanon to join the fighting against the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) last July. There were no reports from the IDF during or after the war regarding any “Africans” observed, captured or killed in the fighting. UN observers and journalists also failed to mention Somali fighters. In exchange for the fighters, Hezbollah is said to have shipped arms to Somalia and arranged for further supplies from Syria and Iran.

The fighters were allegedly chosen by Adan Hashi Ayro, the right-hand man to ICU leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys. Presumably, they were from Ayro’s own command, as it is hard to see him being able to separate another coalition leader from his fighters in the middle of an intensifying conflict. With an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 trained fighters in the ICU, the decision to send fighters to Lebanon would have stripped the Somali Islamists of nearly a third of their best men. Hezbollah did not even commit its reserves during the fighting with Israel, yet according to the report, Hezbollah shipped arms, which it needed in the middle of a war, to Somalia in exchange for foreign fighters that it did not need. According to the UN document, 600 Somali fighters remained in Lebanon and Syria for further training, while five Hezbollah military advisers went to Somalia to help the ICU. A Hezbollah representative described the allegations as “incorrect and silly” (Daily Star [Beirut], November 16). After several days of silence on the matter, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Dan Gillerman, issued a surprising statement claiming that Israel “had been aware” of 700 Somali fighters in Lebanon (Israel Insider, November 18).

Hezbollah’s effectiveness is in large part due to its own security and intelligence network, based on intimate knowledge of its members. While Palestinian movements are riddled with informers, Israeli intelligence has had great difficulty penetrating Hezbollah. It is unlikely that Hezbollah would attempt to integrate 700 unknown Somalis in the midst of military operations against Israel.

One of the report’s additional surprising claims concerns Iranian attempts to secure Somali uranium in exchange for arms. Somalia is estimated to have 6,600 tons of recoverable uranium, which is difficult and expensive to extract. In 1984, a Brazilian/Somali joint venture attempted to develop the Somali uranium resources, but the effort collapsed due to financial and logistical problems. There have been no mining activities since as a result of ongoing security difficulties and high recovery costs that would make operations in Somalia uneconomical. Iran has opened 10 uranium mines since 1988. Proven reserves total about 3,000 tons, a sufficient amount to fuel Iran’s nuclear program.

ICU Deputy Security Chief Sheikh Mukhtar Robow Abu-Mansur described the report as “a matter of laughing,” suggesting that the ICU would be quite rich if it were actually in the uranium business. The sheikh added: “How can we receive arms from Arab countries while American warships patrol the Somali coastline and the planes landing [in Somalia] are also under tight surveillance?” (Garowe Online, November 16). ICU leader Sheikh Aweys warned that the United Nations risked losing its legitimacy by issuing “baseless propaganda” (Shabelle Media Network, November 16). The report’s claims are remarkably similar to accusations that appeared in the U.S. National Intelligence Estimates of September 2002, during the build-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

The UN report mixes legitimate concerns about arms supplies to both sides of Somalia’s latest incarnation of its civil war with recycled allegations from the campaign against Saddam Hussein and what can only be regarded as politically manipulated “intelligence,” creating a vast international conspiracy between unlikely partners. The failure of the report to even examine information of U.S. support to the failed “Anti-Terrorist Coalition” is a major blow to its authority. Its suggestion that Iran might find a source of uranium for its nuclear program in Somalia appears outlandish under present conditions. Much of the material simply reiterates unsupported allegations involving Iran, Egypt and Libya issued by TFG Prime Minister Ali Muhammad Gedi in July. Most surprising is the ease with which so many countries were apparently able to transport arms and men back and forth without interference from the U.S. naval force off Somalia and last summer’s air and sea blockade of Lebanon by Israel.

A closed-door discussion by the Somali sanctions committee on November 21 will decide whether to send the report to the UN Security Council for further consideration.

Somalia’s Islamist Revolution and the Security Crisis in the Horn of Africa

Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies

Strategic Datalink no. 138

August, 2006

Andrew McGregor



What began as a series of skirmishes between Islamist militias and Somali warlords who styled themselves as the “Anti-Terrorist Alliance” (ATA) [1] for control of Mogadishu’s neighbourhoods earlier this year has escalated into a conflict that now threatens to engulf the strategically-located Horn of Africa. The defeat of the warlords has allowed the Islamists to spill out of Mogadishu into central and southern Somalia, where they are consolidating their control. The latest political upheaval in the “failed state” of Somalia is based on a volatile combination of Islam and ethnic-based irredentism that is pulling in its mutually hostile neighbours of Eritrea and Ethiopia. The United States is concerned that the moderate Muslim leadership has been replaced by veterans of al-Ittihad al-Islami (AIAI), a militant group found on the US and UN lists of designated terrorist organizations.

Somalia’s Islamist revolution bears some resemblance to the situation in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s, when the Islamist Taliban movement arose to challenge the dominance of warlords who had carved the nation into a variety of mutually hostile fiefdoms. The Taliban’s popularity was the result of its ability to restore law and order in a post-civil war wasteland through the application of Islamic law. Somalia’s “Islamic Courts” arose in 1992, providing a semblance of order in lawless Mogadishu. A reputation for honesty and a willingness to restore law and order through the application of Shari’a (Islamic) law in areas under their control gave the movement a following. Unification of the courts and their attendant militias through the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) gave the Islamists the strength to defeat the warlords who have laid waste to Somalia for the last 15 years and move out of Mogadishu to spread their movement into central and southern Somalia.

The Islamists’ unification project seeks to succeed with home-made solutions where no less than 14 separate international efforts to restore order in the nation have failed since 1991. The ICU offers the first real alternative to the clan-based politics that have foiled every attempt to restore governance in Somalia. Neighbours of the turbulent country fear, with good reason, that at least some of the Islamists seek to realize the concept of “Greater Somalia,” an expanded Somali homeland that would include the whole or parts of four nations and one pseudo-state (Somalia, Djibouti, Kenya, Ethiopia and Somaliland).

Battlefield Mogadishu

Many of the ATA warlords were minister in Somalia’s new government, which formed in Kenya in 2004 and moved into the southern Somali city of Baidoa last year. The warlords effectively abandoned their cabinet posts in the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) to take on the Islamist in Mogadishu. The creation of the ATA in February 2006 was a rather transparent attempt by the Somali warlords to adopt the rhetoric of the “War on Terrorism” and harness the support of the United States against their Islamist challengers. It quickly became the practice for Somali warlords and politicians to label all their opponents as members of al-Qaeda. Nonetheless, the strategy was successful in the short-term, with the US abandoning the long and difficult process of building the TFG in favour of supporting rapacious militia leaders with a long record of violent criminal activity. In the process, the US has lost much of its influence in the area.

The city of Baidoa, where the transitional government established itself until it could occupy Mogadishu, has been subjected to growing insecurity since the TFG arrived. The government hired 1,000 militiamen to provide security, but their failure to provide shelter or provisions for the militia members left them to forage on their own, even robbing MPs of the new government. [2] As ICU fighters approached Baidoa, 130 TFG militiamen defected to the Islamists, complaining of neglect from the government. [3] In mid-July, as many as 5,000 Ethiopian troops moved into Baidoa and surrounding towns to protect the Ethiopian-backed TFG. The ICU leader described the TFG as a tool of Addis Ababa, and called for a “holy war” by Somalis against the Ethiopian troops in Baidoa. [4] As tensions rose, Ethiopia responded with a vow to “crush” the Somali Islamists if they crossed into Ethiopian territory. [5]

Islam itself is not necessarily the driving force behind the revolution. As Somali journalist Bashir Goth puts it:

The Somali people have found the idea of finding safety in their own neighbourhoods, setting up their own bakeries and groceries, sending their children to school, albeit Islamic madrasas, and building their lives and peace in small steps to be more practical and attainable goals than building hopes on the return of a central government and restoration of peace and stability to a country that has been fragmentized beyond reparation. [6]

Shaykh Hassan Dahir Aweys

The Islamists

Since the Islamist victory in Mogadishu, ICU leadership has passed to a controversial figure, Shaykh Hassan Dahir Aweys, 61, who is wanted on terrorism charges by US and Ethiopian authorities. Shaykh Aweys, a former colonel in the prison service and later vice-chairman of Al-Ittihad al-Islami, asserts that American claims of an al-Qaeda presence in Somalia are nothing more than “a figment of their imagination,” citing Somalia’s complicated social structure, which is not easily penetrated by outsiders. [7] At Shaykh Aweys’ right hand is Adan Hashi Ayro, a violent extremist believed responsible for ordering the murder of four expatriate aid workers, a BBC reporter and a number of Somali politicians. A veteran of the jihadist campaign against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, Ayro’s most notorious action was to order the disinterment of 700 bodies from an Italian colonial cemetery in Mogadishu, tossing the remains into a nearby garbage tip.

Adan Hashi Farah Ayro

AIAI is an Islamic organization that (like Hizbullah) has militant and charitable wings. The group carried out attacks in Ethiopia in the mid-1990s until a cross-border military response devastated the group. Ethiopia’s concern over the revival of the AIAI is natural; Prime Minister Meles warns that “Any movement which is led by this organization is a threat to our country.” In language familiar from another conflict, he adds: “We have all the rights to take the necessary action in a bid to prevent any threat to our country.” [8]

Bin Laden has encouraged the ICU to complete their control over Somalia, but the arch-terrorist is unlikely to have influence over any but a small number of Somalia’s Islamists. As in Darfur, Bin Laden’s interest in Somalia is largely unappreciated by the locals. TFG Prime Minister ‘Ali Muhammad Gedi angrily reminded the al-Qaeda leader that Somalis were practicing Islam long before Bin Laden’s birth and that he was mistaken to pose as a leader of international Islam. [9] Shaykh Aweys was more reticent in commenting on Bin Laden’s praise of the ICU with an American newsmagazine: “Everybody in the world has a right to say whatever they want or to comment how they want. That is not our responsibility.” [10]

Shaykh Aweys denies any personal ties to al-Qaeda and suggests that President George Bush should be indicted for war crimes related to his alleged support for Somalia’s warlords. “Bush filled suitcases with cash for the warlords so that they could kill people. He must be brought to justice.” [11] President Bush has also been sharply criticized by representatives of the TFG for supporting the ATA, a move seen as undermining the transitional government. Shaykh Aweys favours the establishment of an Islamic state in Somalia and says that Al-Ittihad al-Islamiya is no longer active in the country.

The US accuses Somalia’s Islamists of harboring three suspects wanted for the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The three suspects, none of whom are Somali, are Abu Taha al-Sudani (Sudanese), Salah ‘Ali Salah (Kenyan) and Qasim ‘Abdullah Muhammad (Cormoran). Having failed to obtain them through support for the “anti-terrorist” warlords, the US State Department was placed in the embarrassing position of then having to ask the ICU to turn them over. Not surprisingly, the ICU has disclaimed all knowledge of the three men. Shaykh Aweys has his own view on al-Qaeda’s terrorism; “When there is fighting, it is a fight whether you fire a gun or whether you send a plane into the World Trade Center. Since Obama was fighting against his enemy, he could use any tactic he had available to him.” [12]

Somali Islamists by no means share a common agenda. Some have political ambitions while others have spiritual focus. At the “moderate” end of the movement, the Sufi lodges (represented by umbrella group Ahl Sunna wa’l-Jama’a) are dedicated to refuting the views of radical groups like the AIAI. Even the Salafists (conservative reformers) are divided between those who espouse violence and those who oppose it. One major Islamist group, Harakat al-Islah, favours democracy and condemns political violence, putting them at odds with the AIAI. Beyond a general belief among the factions that Islam should assume a core role in any new government, there is little agreement on the details. [13]

Nevertheless, religious extremists have great influence in the Islamist movement. ICU leader Shaykh ‘Abdallah ‘Ali, for example, has threatened to execute any Somali who fails to pray every day. While the majority of the ICU may be termed moderate in its interpretation of Islamic law, the extremists have taken control of the direction of the Islamist revolution. The excesses of their followers, including breaking up wedding parties, smashing musical instruments, shooting theatre owners, flogging young people in public and banning the viewing of World Cup soccer matches, have quickly discredited the ICU and threaten their acceptance by Somalis who are otherwise eager to support anyone who can bring an end to the constant fratricidal warfare. Shaykhl Aweys, a populist at heart, appears to understand the danger and has promised to bring to trial the ICU gunmen who killed two Somalis watching a World Cup match in Dhuusa Marreeb. [14]

The ICU, like the warlord coalition, receives funding from Somalia’s business community, but there are questions about other sources of financial support. Aweys refutes US charges that his movement is being armed and funded by Saudi Arabia and Yemen (both alleged US allies in the “War on Terrorism”). [15] Eritrea has responded to similar US charges of arming the ICU by challenging the State Department to make its evidence public. The Eritrean government contends that such “subtle disinformation campaigns” are “aimed at denting its impeccable record in combating international terrorism.” [16]

The Horn on the Brink of War

In the morning of 26 July, a massive Ilyushin-76 cargo plane carrying Kazakh markings made a landing at the rarely used Mogadishu Airport. It was reported that the aircraft was leased by Eritrea to supply the ICU with a vast quantity of arms. [17] The TFG claims that Eritrean troops are present in Mogadishu and the Lower Shabelle region, but has provided no evidence. [18] By the end of July, TFG premier Muhammad ‘Ali Gedi was also accusing the unlikely trio of Iran, Egypt and Libya of arming the ICU.

From 1998 to 2000, Ethiopia and Eritrea engaged in a bloody and incomprehensible (at least to outsiders) border war, fought with First World War tactics in a lifeless and useless strip of contested territory. The war’s inconclusive end left both sides spoiling for another go. Ethiopia characterizes Eritrean support backing for Shaykh Aweys as support for international terrorism. Ethiopia also appears to have violated the arms embargo with convoys of arms and ammunition destined for the ATA. [19] At a recent African Union summit Ethiopia accused Eritrea of subverting neighbouring countries and practicing terrorism. [20] Prime Minister Meles Zenawi blames recent unsolved bombings in Addis Ababa on an “unholy alliance” between Eritrea and Somalia’s Islamists. [21] Ethiopia claims that the ICU has been penetrated by elements of al-Qaeda, but still states its willingness to negotiate with “moderate” groups within the Islamist coalition.

Eritrea questions the aims of US policy in the region, which it describes as “military adventurism.” A statement from the Eritrean Ministry of Information suggests that; “the goal of these interventions is not to uproot terrorism as it is said, but rather… to assure domination and plunder and thereby guarantee the advent of [a] new colonialism.” The agent of this policy is the Ethiopian TPLF regime, [22] described as a “decrepit and decayed regime administered entirely by none other than the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States.” [23] Eritrea is believed to be supplying armed Somali separatist movements in both southeastern Ethiopia (the Ogaden National Liberation Front – ONLF) and northern Kenya (the Oromo Liberation Front – OLF) as part of an aggressive regional foreign policy that has also brought condemnation from Khartoum for Eritrea’s support of the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) in Darfur.

Hassan ‘Abdullah Hersi al-Turki

Ethiopia fears that a revived Islamist Somalia might provide support for the ONLF, a Somali guerrilla force engaged in a low-intensity conflict with Addis Ababa. There are four million ethnic Somalis in Ethiopia’s Ogaden Desert region, occupying about a quarter of the nation’s territory. One of the ICU’s most active commanders is Hassan Abdullah Hersi al-Turki, a long-time Ogaden separatist, member of al-Ittihad al-Islamiya and a US-designated al-Qaeda suspect. Al-Turki is certain to see the ICU as a vehicle for intensifying the Ogaden conflict, particularly with the support of Shaykh Aweys, who refers to the region as “part of Somalia.”

Only months after the 1991 fall of longtime President Mohamed Siad Barre, the northern province of Somalia seceded and formed the state of Somaliland, still unrecognized anywhere in the international community despite a solid record of stability and development compared to the shattered remains of central and southern Somalia. The state was a former British colony, part of the tripartite imperial division of Somali territory that included Italian and French colonies. Somaliland continues to stand aloof from the revolution, but the Islamists may have an appeal that the warlords never had in the region. In the meantime it appears that Aweys already has designs on Somaliland’s independence. Fifteen men, including Aweys, have been charged with participating in a failed terrorist attack in the Somaliland city of Hargeysa in September 2005. The attack was apparently designed to disrupt elections in the same month. Eight men are currently on trial under charges that carry the death penalty, while seven others, including Aweys, are being tried in absentia. Hargeysa prosecutors claim to have videotapes in which Aweys and his lieutenant Adan Hashi Ayro advise the men to carry out terrorist strikes to eliminate the influence of “infidels.” [24]

Somaliland has useful experience in conflict resolution in a local context that should be called upon to help settle the conflict. In the past, Somali leaders have shunned such input, preferring instead to plot the re-absorption of Somaliland into a non-existent Somali state. A number of leading members of the TFG have origins in Somaliland and would like to reassert their authority there.

To the northwest of Somaliland, Djibouti (former French Somaliland) hosts the US Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa, a combined military unit of over 1,000 men stationed in a major French military base. The unit is designed to react rapidly to terrorist threats in the region. Djibouti’s foreign minister announced in mid-July that US forces would not be allowed to use the territory as a base for counter-terrorist attacks on Somalia. [25]

Security Implications and International Intervention

Piracy continues to plague the Somali coastline with no navy or coast-guard to enforce maritime law. The TFG has engaged two private firms, Northbridge Services Group (NSG) and the African Institute for Maritime Research (AIMR) to provide security along the coast, eliminate the dumping of toxic waste (another chronic problem) and organize a Somali coastal defence force. In return, NSG and AIMR have been given the right to “negotiate and authorize” the licensing of oil concessions and exploration.

The UN arms embargo on Somalia has been a failure, with the UN Security Council citing “continuous violations.” The TFG president has urged that the embargo be lifted (presumably to rearm his own forces), but has had difficulty finding anyone on the Security Council who (at least officially) thinks that Somalia’s greatest need is for more arms. Nevertheless, President ‘Abdullahi has found supporters for rearmament in the African Union seven nation Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an East African regional assembly. The ICU has urged that the embargo should continue. [26]

The United States is opposed to IGAD and African Union plans to deploy African peacekeepers (possibly Ugandan and Sudanese) in Somalia. Shaykh Aweys is also opposed, and has warned that any peacekeeping mission will be met with resistance, saying: “The neighbouring countries have geo-political interests in Somalia and to consider them peacemakers is a recipe for violence and renewed clashes, which would affect the whole region.” [27]


Factionalism is likely to resurface within the ICU under Aweys’ radical leadership. The temptations of traditional clan politics are a constant challenge to the religious unity of the ICU and the movement risks losing popular support by dragging Somalia into an unpromising and costly campaign to establish “Greater Somalia.” Even an attempt to bring the autonomous Somali region of Puntland or quasi-independent Somaliland under ICU control will spark another round of civil conflict in a war-weary population. Puntland native ‘Abdullah Yusuf Ahmad is TFG President and played a large part in destroying al-Ittihad al-Islami in 1997.

Arab League-sponsored talks in Khartoum between the ICU and the TFG have largely broken down amidst mutual accusations of ceasefire violations. The ATA has collapsed and the transitional government is falling apart through assassinations and resignations while losing most of its legitimacy as Ethiopian troops protect it from the citizens it purports to rule.

Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmad

Still in the wings is Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmad, former chairman of the ICU. The US and the TFG have indicated they are willing to hold talks with the Sufi master and his group, but not with ICU chairman Shaykh Aweys, which TFG prime minister ‘Ali Muhammad Gedi likens to having face-to-face talks with Osama Bin Laden. [28]

Interest in foreign adventures or the international jihad is low in the rank-and-file of the Somali Islamist movement, but military intervention by Ethiopia will give the factions common cause and bring an inevitable and unified response. Eritrea, northern Kenya and Ethiopia’s Ogaden region could quickly be drawn into any Somali-Ethiopian conflict. The bellicosity, posturing and inflexibility of all parties in the region has the potential to unleash yet another vast crisis throughout the long-suffering Horn of Africa.


  1. The full name of the organization is “The Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism.”
  2. IRIN, April 3, 2006.
  3. SomaliNet, July 20, 2006.
  4. Radio Shabelle, July 21, 2006.
  5. Shabelle Media Network, July 22, 2006.
  6. Somaliland Times, June 24, 2006.
  7. Al-Sharq al-Awsat, April 12, 2006.
  8. Radio Ethiopia, June 27, 2006.
  9. Shabelle Media Network, July 2, 2006.
  10. Rod Nordland, “Heroes, Terrorists and Osama,” Newsweek, July 22, 2006.
  11. Somali Broadcasting Corporation (Puntland), July 10, 2006.
  12. Nordland, op cit.
  13. Anouar Boukhars, “Understanding Somali Islamism,” Terrorism Monitor 4(10), May 18, 2006.
  14. HornAfrik Radio, July 5, 2006.
  15. Al-Sharq al-Awsat, July 2, 2006.
  16. Eritrean Ministry of Information Shabait website, July 1, 2006.
  17. Shabelle Media Network, July 26, 2006.
  18. Ibid
  19. Shabelle Media Network, May 24, 2006.
  20. Walta Information Centre, July 4, 2006.
  21. Ethiopian TV, July 4, 2006.
  22. TPLF = Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the leading party in the Ethiopian ruling coalition.
  23. Eritrean Ministry of Information Shabait website, July 1, 2006; June 28, 2006.
  24. Somaliland Times, July 1, 2006.
  25. Al-Sharq al-Awsat, July 12, 2006.
  26. HornAfrik Radio, July 10, 2006.
  27. Shabelle Media Network, July 17, 2006.
  28. HornAfrik Radio, July 10, 2006.