Dr. Ahmed Omer Sanyare
Somaliland has been a buffer zone against terrorist organizations in otherwise turmoil East African region. In the last 15 years, 40 Somaliland civil servants and prominent community leaders were assassinated in Lasanod, the regional capital of Sool, Somaliland. The targeted officials are judges, law enforcement officials, elected city council members, and local political party leaders. The culprit of these targeted assassinations is ISIL disguised as SSC and KHATUUMO infiltrate into Somaliland across its porous border with Somalia. The terrorists are determined to derail Somaliland’s democratization processes.
The latest assassination of the Late Abdi Fatah Abdallah, a Wadani Party official comes at a time when Somaliland voter registration began for the upcoming presidential elections. The aim is to destabilize Somaliland and create a power vacuum which enables terrorist organizations to roam freely. ISIL’s strategy is to trigger local inter-communal conflict, leading to significant destruction and loss of life and hostilities among communities that co-settle in pastoral areas. Local peace is essential to the ability of these communities to cope with the recurrent drought.
Despite a wave of suicide bombers that hit Somaliland’s capital of Hargeisa in Oct. 2008 – bombings widely blamed on Shabaab, al Qaeda’s branch in East Africa – the unrecognized country has not witnessed another major terrorist attack since then.
Security forces have arrested various Shabaab members and sympathizers during the past decade, while also reportedly disrupting terror plots. This indicates that Somaliland probably faces an ongoing, low-level jihadist threat. The threat mainly emanates from Shabaab, though a small Islamic State arm based in the neighboring Puntland region of Somalia provides another worry for the state.
The recent events in Las Anod, Sool Region which prompted Somaliland Security Forces to partly withdraw from the town may pave the way for terrorist groups to reactivate sleeper cells in the region
These groups’ Social apparatus influenced and misled the Somali Dhulbahante populace both local and abroad to gather funds in a bid to fund terror plots in Sool and Sanaag regions and actively plot and kill Somaliland soldiers and routinely harm innocent government official’s civilian men, women, and children in their path.
The links below show supporters of such groups lobbying, inciting, and fundraising in the Diaspora.
As has been the case with previous incidents of the same kind, suspicions cover a wide range of perpetrators including al Shabaab assassin cells, Puntland-organized operatives wishing to place the blame on Somaliland for failing to protect the city’s residents and revenge-killers settling scores hiding behind dark masks and darker nights.
More than 80% of the fallen were connected in some way or the other to the government of the Republic of Somaliland or its national parties. But, on the other hand, all of the targeted were of the city itself – none hailed from other regions or outside clan groups.
Except for the troubles, and recurring assassinations, Las Anod has made remarkable progress recently becoming a successful showcase of resilience shown by residents bouncing back triumphantly from adverse, debilitating circumstances including all-out clan confrontations that resulted in the death of hundreds and the destruction of untold of properties.
There is evidence that Shabaab is trying to pursue the same route inside Somaliland. For instance, on the two occasions, it has taken over territory inside Somaliland, it has made a point to lecture and preach to the locals, indicating it is taking a Da’wah-first approach, that is, proselytising for Shabaab’s jihadist version.
These conflicts and grievances have the potential to be exploited by Shabaab. For instance, in 2010, a series of bombings in and near the city of Las Anod in Somaliland’s Sool Region are thought to have been perpetrated by Shabaab-sympathetic members of the Dhulbahante.
In Somaliland’s major cities such as Hargeisa, Burco, and Berbera, Shabaab is also thought to maintain sleeper cells. Somaliland officials have said that Shabaab also attempts to maintain an active intelligence apparatus in the urban areas. However, Shabaab has been less effective at utilizing these networks for kinetic operations. It remains unclear how successful Shabaab will be in this endeavor.
As it stands, Somaliland’s security apparatus has indeed been able to keep the territory from witnessing another major terrorist attack since 2008. However, it is not entirely out of the woods yet.
In the east where its control is lacking, Shabaab is indeed trying to make in-roads with local clans that claim discrimination from the government in Hargeisa. And if Ethiopia is correct in its claims that both Shabaab and the Islamic State utilize Somaliland as a transit route for points throughout East Africa, Hargeisa faces even more of an intelligence challenge against the jihadist groups.
The combined efforts by PSF and AFRICOM has significantly limited ISS activities mainly in Puntland, as well as their inability to attract recruits.
Time will tell just how long Somaliland will be able to keep the jihadist groups at bay. For now, at least, the territory remains among the most secure places in both Africa’s Horn and the wider East African region.