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Feature
Brainwashing, Bribes, Kidnapping Part of Shabaab's 'Recruitment' Process
05/07/2012
Child with Al Shabaab in Mogadishu Stadium
Child with Al Shabaab in Mogadishu Stadium

Since the incursion of the al-Shabaab insurgent group in southern and central Somalia in late 2007, many Somali children under the age of 18 - both boys and girls - have gone missing. Under the guise of 'recruiting', the group has kidnapped these children to serve as fighters (and for other purposes) against its many opponents, including Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces, African Union peacekeeping forces (AMISOM), Ethiopian troops and Kenyan Defense Forces. As a result of their forced participation in combat between al-Shabaab and their enemies, many children have been killed or severely injured, including some who are permanently maimed or disabled.

The insurgent militia of al-Shabaab has long found children an easy source of fighters to supplement its ranks, particularly in the face of its ongoing losses owing to its long history of combat in the region. In these cases, these children, who might otherwise be attending school or vocational training, are driven away from these institutions of learning into al-Shabaab bases where they are forced to stay until their paramilitary training courses are completed. In other cases, children are indoctrinated in al-Shabaab-taught dugsi (where the Quran is the primary teaching resource), schools, madrassas, and mosques.

Al-Shabaab also uses less forceful means to indoctrinate children, usually through a system of rewards (rather than by kidnapping or the ever present threats of violence for non-compliance) into joining its ranks. For example, they may offer candy to those children who complete the study of a chapter of the Quran. They also use an equally less threatening method in which they play audio and video tapes that show the rewards of paradise promised to individuals who act as suicide bombers and for those jihadists who die in combat.

When al-Shabaab captures a town, their first action is typically to "remake" the town into what it claims to be a better place to live, through offering better social services, improved schooling, and other "benefits." What the community often does not realize is that, at the same time, the insurgents have turned the town into a training camp. They accomplish this, in part, by removing all the current teachers from the schools and madrassas and replacing them with al-Shabaab's own instructors. These instructors, then, indoctrinate the children in the al-Shabaab ideology, which focuses on jihad and fighting against what the insurgents call infidels; those enemy forces who operate on Somali soil.

The al-Shabaab instructors are able to attract and brainwash the youths by presenting a caring demeanor and by (falsely) instilling in their students a sense or purpose and self-worth. In serving with the militia, the children are led to believe that they will be an important part of society and that their country will love them and God will bless them. The children are also made listen to lectures by al-Shabaab senior officials, in addition to the aforementioned audio and videotapes.

Some of these lectures and tapes are centered on stories of how many young boys and girls sacrifice themselves and committed suicide attacks against the TFG and the foreign fighters who were attacked the country from neighboring nations.

The children are also provided books authored by al-Shabaab that explain the philosophy of al-Shabaab and how al-Shabaab has led the youth to create a better future for themselves and for the country. Disturbingly, some teachers also offer lessons and stories as to how al-Shabaab warriors have used a gun in combat, specifically in order to try and increase a child's desire to one day be able to emulate these warriors and, one day, wield a gun in combat, just like their al-Shabaab jihadist "heroes."

To learn more, Somalia Report spoke to several children who had been indoctrinated into the al-Qaeda aligned organization.

“Our teacher was changed when al-Shabaab captured the town and a new teacher was brought to us. This teacher always told us about how al-Shabaab fought on the battlefields and defeated the TFG and AMISOM. He also used to urge us that we should join al-Shabaab and be willing to fight when the hour of need at last comes and we are needed to carry guns and fight the enemy," Abdisalam, a 16-year-old boy recuit, told Somalia Report.

Abdisalam also added that the al-Shabaab teachers normally held consecutive meetings every Thursday morning in the dugsi (Quran school) to influence young children, telling that children are the sole defender of the religion. Typically, schools in Muslim countries and in Somalia are on holiday on Thursdays and Fridays, but al-Shabaab takes advantage of this "free time" by telling students should come to madrasa to learn additional lessons about the teachings of the prophets.

Young women are not immune to the predations of al-Shabaab. Special cadre of female al-Shabaab teachers also indoctrinates those girls who are not kidnapped and who are left to live in their towns. The girls are invited to the dugsi and madrasas where they are then taught many of the same lessons as the young men.

Fatima, a young girl who experienced the takeover of her town by al-Shabaab, explained how the recruitment processed worked.

“Every Thursday there were two huge women whose faces were normally covered used to come to our madrasa. They used to preach and tell us how we are important in the religion and also in the communities. They told us we are needed to serve as young female al-Shabaab mujahedeen by joining the group and marrying al-Shabaab soldiers in order to give birth young boys who will fight for the religion in the future. They kept on urging us to spread the ideology of al-Shabaab to our mothers and our neighbors by speaking to them about the good things about al Shabaab. I always did not believe what they told us at the madrasa because after seeing all their brutality and how they blow up innocent people like students and women in the name of religion. I hated them,” Fatima told Somalia Report.

Al-Shabaab also changes the imams (mosque leaders) of the mosques and replaces them with their own imams who then talk to the community about their joining of the militia. The new mosques leaders give lectures at Friday prayers and after every prayer in mosque about the good side of al-Shabaab group, which attracted children below the age of 18 whose minds were not yet fully developed.

“After al-Shabaab captured our town in 2009 they ordered all the mosques leaders to step down immediately in our town, and they introduced new imams (prayer leader) and muadins (a person who calls people to prayer) who were going to lead prayers claiming that old mosques leaders were Sufis who are not familiar with the religion. Then the al-Shabaab mosque leaders started to held simultaneous lectures and reading books continuously," Ali, a young recruit, told Somalia Report.

In addition to academic and religious changes, al-Shabaab-controlled towns were also required to make other changes. One such change was the banning of playing sports for all young men. Many young men enjoyed playing football and other sports, as did younger children who would often play football after arriving home from school and madrasa in the afternoon. Al-Shabaab also aggressively prohibited viewing movies in cinemas, DCTVs, and would threaten or kill anyone who attempted to open a cinema or watch a DSTV.

With the loss of these "free time" distractions, many children and young people were left without any healthy, normal things to do. As a result, an in an example of the cleverness of al-Shabaab's strategy targeting Somali youths, the young people would then be drawn to those places where the insurgents' senior officials were speaking. This led directly to the indoctrination of many youths, leading to their joining al-Shabaab.

One young man, who asked to remain anonymous, described these developments as follows:

“I was a member of the Bobo football club in Beledhawo town and I used to play midfielder but since al-Shabaab entered our town in December 2008, we no longer play football. Immediately, they announced no more football, cinemas and DSTVs where we used to watch Premier League football on Saturdays and Sundays. They also announced that young children, who were needed to serve the religion of Allah, were instead wasting their time instead they wasted their time playing, which Muslim religion prohibited. They said playing football and watching DSTV are Christian things to do and anybody who did what the Christian did was an infidel. They also told us to attend the mosque for every Maghreb prayer and the lectures that they normally used to hold Friday afternoon at the Beledhawo town center and anyone found loitering around (not attending the required prayer) that time would face heavy punishment. After every Maghreb prayer the imams used to have lectures which they encouraged children and adults to support the al- Shabaab group and asked who would volunteer to join the militia and fight against the TFG and its allied infidels. In this way many boys, who were mostly under eighteen, were recruited into the al-Shabaab militia.”

Apart from training children in mosques, madrasas, and dugsi, al-Shabaab gives children physical training in their military camps. After the child is abducted from their town or village, they are taken to al-Shabaab military bases and given various training.

“I, together with 18 boys, was taken to the al-Shabaab base at Girileey on the outskirts of Bardhere town in the Gedo region in mid-2010. We were gathered in one place where there were almost 40 other boys that were collected from different learning institutions and from different towns in the Gedo region. We were given lectures on the topic of jihad before we started our training. During the training we were always made to remember our main objective which was to fight for al-Shabaab, even if it costs us our lives," explained one recruit.

"The training was tough and not all would finish it successfully. We used to wake up as early as 4:00 am and start our training sessions which entailed various activities like shootings, fighting with knives, and carrying out explosions by use of remote control systems. We were also taught how to make explosives from readily available materials like bullet gunpowder and the heads of matchsticks. We were also taught how to repair the guns and pistols," he added.

"At first I thought al-Shabaab's fight was a just one, but after seeing my friends taken to the battlefields and left behind after they were injured in combat with TFG and its allies, I felt that I was no different than those boys who died in the wars or lost important organs in the war. I decided to escape from the group, but due to the al-Shabaab policy to kill any soldier who betrayed them I decided I couldn’t. After some time passed, though, I succeeded in escaping from them. I have since joined a school in Mandera and i am ready to lead a normal and peaceful life like any other boy of my age in the universe," the recruit explained to Somalia Report.

It is not surprising to see a young boy of around 14 years with a gun instructing elders to do something or to refrain from something else. The boys are also often used in the front lines of the heavy battles that occur in Somalia between al-Shabaab and the TFG army backed by AMISOM and Ethiopian forces. Many people might ask why al-Shabaab uses children like this in combat. “Al-Shabaab takes the children to the front lines of big wars because the children are not experienced and therefore they don’t understand when the battle is being won or lost, so they just keep on attacking and defending while on the battlefield. They are also told that any battle can be won (even if it is being lost at the time), which is something the children, being children, readily believe," an elder in a village taken over by al-Shabaab told Somalia Report.

The young boys are also sometimes told to just go and sit in public places where the people meet and listen to their stories without letting the people sense that the boys are from the al-Shabaab. They then collect the information from the people and report them to the al-Shabaab which then takes punitive action against on the individuals who talk ill about the al-Shabaab or seem to support the TFG and its allies.

“These days everything has changed. One has to watch what he says if he wants to survive, because when in a cafeteria, for example, you don’t know whether the person next to you is member of, or spying on behalf of, al-Shabaab. You might talk about al-Shabaab and condemn their operations or even criticize their operations and the next morning you ordered to report to the station for questioning about what you were talking about and if you are found to have said what was reported about you, then you are punished. It is even worse if you deny what has been reported about you," said Saalim Ali, a Somali teenager.

Young girls are often taken as wives for al-Shabaab militiamen without consulting or asking their parents' consent on the marriage of their daughters. Asha, a mother whose daughter was brainwashed by the al-Shabaab teachers in the madrasa and was married to an al-Shabaab fighter told Somalia Report how it happens.

“The girls who are still very young, like 15 years of age, are taken by the al-Shabaab fighters. Some of the girls agree to marry the militiamen and others are forced into these marriages. The girls who agree to marry the al-Shabaab militia men are the ones who were brainwashed in the madrasas and who are lured by the stories and the future promises made to them by the al-Shabaab militia. On the other hand, those who are married by force are told that an al-Shabaab fighter wants to marry you and he is good man who can take care of you. If the girl refuses, she is said to have betrayed a fellow brother who is fighting for the religion so the girl’s father is talked to and threatened with death. Fearing for his life, he agrees to the marriage."

The al-Shabaab militia maintains a large number of young girls who are fighters and some who are well trained in administering first aid to the wounded soldiers in the wars against the TFG and its allied forces. A significant number of girls also accompany al-Shabaab and cook food for them during wars and even when they are in the towns or remote areas. The al Shabaab also uses the young girls for spying and sometimes transporting weapons and explosives. The girls also carry food and medicine for the al Shabaab fighters who live in remote areas.

Breaking News
Educated Woman and Instructor Accidentally Blown Up in Galgadud
05/09/2012
A young female and a prominent member of the al-Shabaab militia died on Tuesday afternoon in El- Abdi Dhere, 35 km south of El-Buur town in Somalia's Galgadud region, while mishandling an improvised explosive device during training with the Islamic terrorist organization.

Dahabo Omar (Aga Barur), an educated woman who earned a master’s certificate from a Ugandan university, died when her explosives jacket (vest) exploded during suicide bomb training. Officials told Somalia Report she was one of many al-Shabaab fighters who were undergoing explosives training at the house in El Abdi Dhere when the blast occurred.

Soon after the explosion, soldiers from the the pro-government Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamma (ASWJ) militia reached the scene and initiated security operations, arresting six men, according to a local witness.

“I heard a very loud explosion, but didn't know what happened. It was not something we are used to here. Immediately after the explosion all the villagers reached the scene, which was a house in the village, but nobody went in the compound fearing that another explosion might happen. Soon ASWJ soldiers arrived and asked what happened. Some of them went in and so did I. What I saw was horrific. There was blood everywhere in the room," Abdi Qasim, a local resident, told Somalia Report.

The head of the security of El Buur district of Galgadud region, Abdi Hassan, told Somalia Report what he witnessed.

“Immediately after the explosion our forces reached El Abdi Dhere, which is the place where the failed explosion occurred. We collected the pieces of the girl in order to bury them. Her trainer also lost his life in the blast. It is not good for someone to handle explosives which they don't have any knowledge about. Al-Shabaab brainwashes the youth, both boys and girls, and to make sure they persuade them to commit suicide. If it is the right thing to do, then why aren't their leaders doing it? It is simply because they are going to die which they don’t want at all," he said.

He added that Dahabo was from the Galgadud region and volunteered to carry out the suicide mission.

“There had been Land Rover vehicles full of petrol and prepared to take Dahabo on her suicide operation after the short training. The targeted area is not yet known, but we will double our efforts and try to curb their evil operations," said Mr. Hassan.

Reliable sources also added that ASJW executed the six men they arrested in conjunction with the failed bomb explosion. ASWJ claimed the men were Shabaab since they were unknown to the local community and near the incident at the time of the explosion. (Somalia Report could not verify these claims.)

Feature
Are the Elders Qualified to Consult on the Draft Constitution?
05/24/2012
Somali Elders (File Photo)
©Somalia Report
Somali Elders (File Photo)
In many places throughout Somalia, any smart, forward-thinking and experienced older male citizen is considered to be a leader, typically referred to as an 'elder'. In order to maintain his post as a leader, he needs to be have public support from his community, and only death that can terminate his post.

In Somalia, modern educational qualifications are not considered when selecting who will lead the community. Somalis are led by elders because they are the most respected and trusted people among the community.

An elder has to have various qualifications before he is elected to lead his clan. Although all elders are collectively influential in their clans, the most knowledgeable among them are the most influential.

An elder is usually at least sixty years of age, has full knowledge of his clan’s code of conduct and rules of engagement with other clans, is eloquent and persuasive in defending his clan, and knows the history of his clan and other allied and enemy clans. To be considered a respected elder, he has to be fair and honest when arbitrating between others.

“The elected elder has various conditions and qualifications not based on modern education, but based on traditional education, experience, and past events. The chosen elder must fulfill the age required of sixty years and above. He must be an expert in the history of his clan and have full knowledge of the current issues being faced by his clan. He should understand the relations between his clan and other clans and how to solve disputes if they occur. He should not be involved in a criminal case," Gurey Adan, an elder in Beledweyne in Hiiraan region, told Somalia Report..

"In some cases, the position is hereditary: if the father used to lead the community and dies, one of his sons takes the position without meeting the required conditions,” said the elder.

“Elected clan leaders have different titles in different Somali communities : Ugaas, Sultan, Nabadon (peace maker) and Boqor (king),” he added.

Elders and the Constitution

Somalis are at odds over the role of the elders’ role in approving the new draft constitution of Somalia, which is limited to selecting the delegates who will join the National Constituent Assembly who will in turn ratify the constitution. Many people mistakenly think that it is the elders themselves who will approve the draft constitution (though some may be elected to join the NCA and thus ratify the constitution).

Some argue that while the elders understand their clan dynamics, they are ill-prepared to debate a national constitution.

“I believe that elders cannot currently represent the Somali people due to some very crucial reasons such as the fact that elders have no adequate knowledge of the constitution, and they cannot interpret and analyze each and every chapter of the constitution. Elders never participated in any government administration and their roles used to be only clan conflict resolution, and most of them never even went to school. The experience they have is not enough for approving the constitution. How can someone who never went to school solve big issues like this," said Tahlil Ridwan, an educated businessman from Beledhawo in Gedo region.

“Elders have divergent interests regarding the constitution, and they first and foremost consider the interest of their clans. If they see any article that is against the interest of the clans they are representing, they oppose it,” he added.

Yaasin Jama, an elder from the Gedo region, spoke to Somalia Report about the constitution and said, “the elders who are meeting in Mogadishu don’t represent all the elders or the Somali community as whole. These elders are just told that they will be given some money for doing what they are told. These elders have no knowledge of what the constitution is about. Most of them can’t read and write and so are not aware of whether what is in the constitution is for the benefit of the people or not."

On the other hand, many believe elders cannot be ignored and should be respected and allowed to make the ultimate decision concerning the draft constitution, and that their decisions should be accepted and welcomed.

“I personally believe that elders were the decision makers when there was no constitution in Somalia during the pre-colonial period. They have the right to approve the draft constitution without considering whether they went to school or not because they are wise men who know what is good for the country. Elders can amend the constitution, and if they remove anything written in the constitution, it should be obeyed," said Da'ud Omar, a businessman in Baidoa of Bay region.

In addition to mediating clan conflicts, elders also impart their wisdom on the younger generations.

“As elders our roles are many: we solve the problems among our clansmen and between our clan and the other clans as well as act as counselors for the community members. We also pass beneficial and meaningful wisdom to them which will help them in life and we oversee the situation of the people of our specific clans and assist those in need like orphans, the disabled and the elderly. We negotiate for peaceful agreements with other clans. Elders are also leaders in all sectors of the day to day life of the Somali communities such as by guiding the youth in the right path by teaching them the history of the their clans, and the slogan of their clans by using gabay (poems)," Daud Cowsle, a 68 year old elder and poet from Elbarde of Bakool region, told Somalia Report.

Somali elders knowledgeable are in terms of conflict resolution. They make rules and regulations that govern the community such as how to solve issues such as murder, theft and rape, and what penalties the criminals should face.

“I am a 64-year old elder from Bakool region. I am representing my community in the elders' conference in Mogadishu. I have enough knowledge for many matters as I received the knowledge from my father and the other elders of the community who passed it on to me. I also went to a Quran school where I learned the religion. Now I hope I am in a position to contribute my wisdom in the choosing of the members of the society who are going to approve the constitution. I will maximize my thinking and energy into matters which matter not for my clan only, but for the whole of Somalia. I will not let down the expectations of my fellow Somali people,” Hajji Noor, an elder from Bakool region, told Somalia Report.

The new draft constitution which has not yet been approved has met resistance from many parties of the Somali people, including religious leaders, the business people and youths.

“This constitution is of no interest to the Somali nation. It is a new and modern way of colonizing Somalia. It is a way of putting the resources of Somalia into the hands of foreigners who are looking for their interest only. It is a way some foreigners want to host and build churches and turn many (Somalis) into Christians. The Quran is the only true constitution that exists in this world. How can we approve a man-made constitution? I urge elders to strongly reject the constitution," Hidig Abdille, a religious elder from Luuq district in Gedo, told Somalia Report.

Breaking News
Second Major Operation Launched in Shabelle After Seizing Afgoye
06/12/2012
AMISOM on Patrol
@Somalia Report
AMISOM on Patrol

Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces are preparing for an assault on Bal'ad (Balcad), 36 kilometers northeast of the capital city of Mogadishu. This marks their second major operation as part of Operation Free Shabelle after flushing al-Shabaab out of Afgoye on May 25th of this year. Their military operation began yesterday afternoon and is currently ongoing.

Several military vehicles accompanied with tanks moved from the Maslah military camp in Mogadishu while another group moved from the town of Daynille. The allied forces are at Garas-Bintow, 9 kilometers from Bal'ad, preparing to capture the town in a few hours.

Meanwhile tensions are high in the town and al-Shabaab war vehicles have been seen patrolling throughout Bal'ad.

“I saw many tanks and war vehicles moving down the road between the town and Mogadishu yesterday afternoon. Today at around 6:40 am local time (0440 GMT) there were groups of tanks along with soldiers moving along the side of the road on foot. I saw big vehicles pulling heavy weapons moving slowly coming out of the camp,” Ahmed Guled, a local resident, told Somalia Report.

Samantar Warsame, a TFG commander, told Somalia Report that their soldiers, supported by the AMISOM troops, are prepared and they had not encountered any opposition from al-Shabaab since they started their troop movements yesterday.

“Our Somali soldiers, along with our AMISOM brothers, are in the process of freeing the people of Bal'ad from the brutal rule of al-Shabaab. We began a major troop movement yesterday afternoon along two routes, one from Daynille and the other one from the Maslah military camp based out of Mogadishu. We have not clashed with the al-Shabaab militia along the a highway between the two towns. Last night our soldiers stopped at Gars Bintow and we want to free the people of Bal'ad from al-Shabaab in a few hours,” Commander Samantar said.

Somalia Report also contacted a resident of Balad who wished to remain anonymous out of fears for his security.

“The tension in Bal'ad is very high, and we fear heavy fighting is coming as we heard that the TFG and her allies are near to entering the town. The al-Shabaab war vehicles are moving in and out of the town. They announced yesterday that they will defend the town and they will not withdraw from Bal'ad. Many people already are packed and ready to flee, but people fear al-Shabaab won't let people leave the town. The people are discussing how the war will go and wonder whether al-Shabaab will withdraw or not,” he said.

Key Dates of Operation Free Shabelle (2012)

Feb 13 - TFG Asks Afgoye Residents to Vacate Area
Feb 25 - Al-Shabaab Closes Schools in Afgoye
Feb 29 - Airstrikes Hit Afgoye
May 22 - TFG Launches Operation Free Shabelle, Troops Nearing Afgoye
May 25 - TFG and AMISOM Take Control of Afgoye
May 29 - Al-Shabaab Ambushes President Sharif's Convoy in Afgoye
May 30 - Somalia Report Visits Afgoye
May 31 - Al-Shabaab Launches Attack on Afgoye
June 11 - Radio Andalus Claims Second Ambush on President Sharif's Convoy in Afgoye
Feature
Public Support in Lower Juba, Gedo Enables Militants to Continue
06/28/2012
©Somalia Report

The al-Shabaab militia, a hardline Islamic group batting for control of Somalia, have withdrawn from several regions to secure bases in Gedo and Lower Juba due to the favorable public support and favorable geography.

Public Support

The Lower Juba and Gedo regions are dominated by the Marehan clan, along with the Ogaden, Shiqal, Gal-jecel, Digil and Mirifle clans. All these clans are major contributors to the al-Shabaab militia in terms of leaders, soldiers and logistics. The residents value al-Shabaab for their administration of justice as well as the security they offer, according to residents who spoke to Somalia Report.

Previous to the rise of al-Shabaab, there was a group called al-Itihad which had similar dogma and were fighting for the complete implementation of Sharia (Islamic) law in Somalia, and whose headquarters was in Kismayo, a port city in Lower Juba region. They sought the establishment of an Islamic state, but were mainly defeated in 1998 by the Somali National Front (SNF), with support from Ethiopian troops. Al-Itihad, similar to al-Shabaab, found these two regions suitable since most of the residents of the two regions supported them.

Somalia Report investigated the continuity between the al-Shabaab and former Itihad group by speaking to local residents.

Awil Gabow, a successful businessman and resident, witnessed the capabilities and missions of both groups and shared his recollections.

“In 1996, al-Itihad invaded many towns in Gedo and Lower Juba region," Awil said. "Al-Itihad at that time was led by Hassan Dahir Aweys and Hassan Turkey, who are now senior officials respectively of the insurgent group al-Shabaab. The Islamists of al-Itihad occupied almost all of the six district of Gedo: Balethawo, Garbaharey (headquarters of Gedo), Elwaq, Bardera, Luuq and Dolow," he explained.

"The group claimed they were the only group in the area with the right religious methodology, and they compelled the people to follow in their footsteps. They destroyed the old Sufi practices in the area of Gedo, introduced their own religious methodology and opened many (madrassas) schools and dugsi (Quranic schools) which would offer free tuition as well as provide food, in particular dates, wheat, flour and sweets from Arab countries. They also opened boarding schools for poor and needy children, and in a short time both girls and boys fell under their sway and received prestige for belonging to al-Itihad," said Mr. Gabow.

The group implemented sharia law and dictated what people should wear.

"The al-Itihad militia quickly became popular in the region and most youth dressed up the way they were being told to. Ladies were told to cover all their body with heavy clothes, while men were told to shorten their trousers up to the ankle. They attracted many young men and women in the region, mostly supporters came from families who could not afford their daily livelihood. Al-Itihad came and provided food, which allowed many families to recover from the long famine they had endured since the collapse of the central government of ousted president Said Barre in 1991,” he explained.

“Two years later the old Sufi religious leaders, and the elderly who had fled from the region, went to organise in Ethiopia to eliminate the Islamists who they saw as misleading the youth into the unfamiliar religious ideology of Wahabism (an ideology based out of Saudi Arabia and Egypt). Although al-Itihad was totally eliminated by the SNF and Ethiopian troops, the region still had many youth who remained sympathetic to al-Itihad and al-Shabaab. Those youth provided refuge when al-Shabaab returned to Gedo and the Lower Juba," Mr. Gabow told Somalia Report.

"The residents of both the Gedo and Lower Juba regions support the al-Shabaab militia and generally admire their operations since they only see the good side of the militia. When they took power in the regions, they introduced law and order, eliminated robbery and banditry, senseless slaughter, as well as the rape of women by armed bandits who used to harm people without any repercussions," he claimed.

“Al-Shabaab are good. They made all the people equal before the law, and anybody who wronged another could be punished. Our property is safer now. Al-Shabaab resolved the clan wars in the region of Gedo and Lower Juba by disarming the clan militia and equalising the rights of minority and majority tribes in the region. It is true that no one is perfect and everyone commits mistakes, but the mistakes they commit are much less than the benefits they bring to society and we should admit not only their bad sides, but also their many good qualities," Gardaro emphasized.

Geography of Gedo Ideal for al-Shabaab

The Gedo and Lower Juba are amongst the most fertile regions in Somalia. The Dawa River, one of the two largest rivers in Gedo, flows along the border with Ethiopia. The river separates Somalia and Ethiopia, just a few kilometres north of Baledhawo. The Juba River, one of the largest in the country, flows in the middle of the Luuq district in the Gedo region, then through Burdhuubo and Baardhera, to Bu’ale and Jilib in the Middle Juba region, where the rivers empty into the Indian Ocean at Gobweyn.

The residents of those towns near the rivers enjoy excellent farming and are able to produce fruit, vegetables and grain. The al-Shabaab militia group took full advantage of their location and acquired food easily, which allowed them to live in the forest during the day and attack the towns controlled by the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and her allies during the night.

Abdirahman, a farmer living on the outskirt of Burdhuubo, a town in Gedo controlled by al-Shabaab, told Somalia Report about the tactics which the al-Shabaab militia uses in his area.

“I see it’s difficult to eradicate the militia in Gedo and Lower Juba region because the areas have plenty of food which enables the insurgents to live the region for a long period of time. Although there are many forces against them, the TFG, the ASWJ, KDF, AMISOM, Ethiopian troops and also pro-government militia of Ras Kamboni and yet they are still surviving. The areas have many farmers who produce a lot of food that the militia uses. They either buy cheaply or seize whole farms from their owners and feed their soldiers who are engaged in guerilla attacks during the night. Gedo is the second largest province in Somalia, and it’s the only province which has two rivers pass through it. The region is the home of many al-Shabaab militia, and whenever al-Shabaab are defeated by the TFG and her allies elsewhere, the group shifts their power towards the Gedo region where they can easily acquire water and food. The Gedo and Lower Juba have not had any government since the Somali central government collapsed in 1991,” Abdirahman said.

He added that the groups usually hide in the forests during the day in groups of around 50 - 60 young men, well equipped with guns, landmines, bombs and grenades. They often come to the farms and ask for fruits and fetch water from the rivers for cooking. In the evening, they move towards Garbaharey and other towns which are controlled by the TFG and her allies.

Somalia Report also spoke to nomads and herders in Gedo and Lower Juba.

Artan, a shepherd who moves between these two provinces described how al-Shabab survives in these two regions, and how the livestock contributed their existence.

“Every day, I see a group of al-Shabaab fighters coming to the shepherds and telling us they want us to contribute to the war against the infidels, demanding at least one camel, a cow, a bull or a group of goats or sheep. Those who keep horses also should provide a horse for the war. No family will refuse their orders because they will take by force all the family’s property if someone resists paying what was demanded from them."

The al-Shabaab sell some of these animals to finance many of their needs, and slaughter others to feed their soldiers. Some of the camels, donkeys and horses are used to transport goods like weapons and foods in areas where vehicles are not accessible, and also through sensitive areas for the TFG and her allies because they pretend to be nomads. Most recently al-Shabaab fighters were seen riding horseback in southern Somalia two weeks ago.

Farmers in Somalia
©FNASU
Farmers in Somalia

The Gedo and Juba are rich in natural physical features including mountains, forest and valleys. About 42km northwest of Garbaharay, there is Humballe Mountain, which is the highest mountain in the Gedo region. The mountain is between the towns of Beladhawo and Garbaharey, and are fully covered of forest. There are also many small hills in the Gedo region, including the Waamoyarey hills, the Durwayale and Sengali hills, all surrounding Garbaharay. There are large portions of land from the southeast of Bardere up to the town of Jamame in the Lower Juba region which are heavy forested, where a traveller cannot see beyond 50 meters.

Somalia Report spoke with Adan Yabarow, a resident of Tulobarwaqo who has witnessed the activities of al-Shabaab and spoke about how those hills and mountains shelter both militants and wild animals.

“I have travelled several times the road between Baledhawo and Bardere, via Humbale mountains and Garbaharey. Many times when we passed the mountains, there were a group of al-Shabaab who stopped our vehicle. They usually check what the vehicle is carrying and ask people where they came from and where there are heading to, and if someone on board is suspect, they order him or her to come down," he said.

"They take them to the mountains for further investigation. The militia are staying in the mountain areas where no-one else could live, because the areas have many wild animals including hyenas, lions, warthogs and foxes. The nomads have fled from the mountains and hills areas along with their livestock, fearing the wild animals might kill them. The Damase area of the El-Wak region has a lot mountains and hills with thick forests that provide safe home for the militia. They hide themselves in the forest and hills during the day where strangers of the areas cannot dare to go, and at night they ambush the towns, such as Baledhawo and El-Wak," Adan said.

Another resident named Yalohow told Somalia Report about his impressions of al-Shabaab in the region.

“The Somali ethnic community which dominates the northeastern province of Kenya, and the Ogaden community in Ethiopia have provided many soldiers to al-Shabab via the Gedo region. That also encouraged the al-Shabaab to remain in power in the region for a long time. Any youth who drops out of school from those provinces can easily join al-Shabaab," he said.

The Gedo region borders Ethiopia and Kenya, as well as the Bay, Bokool, Lower Juba and Middle Juba regions of Somalia.