Deadliest ever bombing highlights Somalia’s weakness

Somali soldiers patroling on the scene of the explosion of a truck bomb in the center of Mogadishu. Somalia's deadliest ever attack, a truck bomb in the capital Mogadishu, that killed at least 358 dead, highlights the fragility of the Somali federal government, analysts said. (AFP)
Updated 22 October 2017
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Deadliest ever bombing highlights Somalia’s weakness

NAIROBI: Last weekend’s truck bombing in Mogadishu killed at least 358 people, making it the deadliest in Somalia’s history, an attack that analysts say underscores the fragility of the internationally-backed government.
With Somalia’s security forces disorganized and riddled with corruption, and deepening suspicion between central and regional governments, the Oct. 14 blast highlights the Al-Qaeda-aligned Al-Shabab’s ability to exploit state weakness and prosecute asymmetric war to deadly effect.
Militarily, the situation has been largely static in recent months.
Evicted from the capital in 2011, the Al-Shabab has maintained its control in many rural parts of central and southern Somalia. “There have been no recent strategic gains” on either side, says Roland Marchal, a researcher at Sciences Po in Paris — neither for the Al-Shabab nor the Somali army, backed by African Union troops and an increasingly active US military.
“On the surface at least, what we see is stagnation,” says Matt Bryden, founder of the Nairobi-based Sahan Research think-tank, who points out that the Al-Shabab has proven resilient, able to replace commanders and fighters killed by US airstrikes.
The International Crisis Group (ICG), however, said Friday that Al-Shabab has recently regained control of several areas outside Mogadishu, including Barire, a strategically significant town on a major road 45 km from the capital.
“Averting attacks in Mogadishu is ever harder when surrounding districts revert back to Al-Shabab control,” the ICG says.
The Al-Shabab’s intelligence network allows it to exploit flaws and weakness in the security apparatus.
For example, the recent Al-Shabab gains around Mogadishu were, the ICG says, permitted by the withdrawal of government forces in a row over unpaid salaries.
Attempts to establish new security checkpoints at the city’s gateways have also been subverted, as happened last Saturday, when the truck, though packed with explosives, was waved through by officers.
“We know from past experience that they’ve been able to infiltrate security forces, or to put their own people in government uniforms,” says Bryden.
Also significant: The bombing last weekend came days after both the country’s defense minister and army chief resigned, without explanation. The simultaneous departure weakened President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, a situation used by Al-Shabab to its advantage.
“It is not that the Al-Shabab is very strong, it is that the others are really weak,” Marchal says.
Federalism in Somalia has existed on paper since 2004, but only began to take shape five years ago. There are now five federal regional states, not including Somaliland, which claims independence and does not recognize the central government.
Relations between Mogadishu and the regions are fraught, as each struggles for a greater share of power and seeks foreign allies.
Security stakes are high because if the embryonic national army is only deployed in and around the capital, and the 22,000 AU troops secure outlying urban centers, then it is left to regional militias to fight the Al-Shabab in the bulk of the country.
Recently, the diplomatic crisis pitting the UAE and Saudi Arabia against Qatar “has aggravated such friction,” says ICG.
Some federal regional states have taken sides with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi to the dismay of Mogadishu, which has sought to remain neutral in a bid to maintain the substantial it receives from both sides.
Marchal deplores the “chaos brought by the Gulf crisis, where any federal president, under the pretext of receiving funding, makes ill-judged foreign policy declarations.”
“Unless the government shifts its posture and engages with the federal member states so they become partners in fighting Al-Shabab, instead of trying to fight both Al-Shabab and the federal member states, I don’t think we’re going to see very much progress,” says Bryden.
ICG says political opponents could seek to take advantage of the latest crisis to bring down the president. It urges him to “work quickly to improve relations with federal states” and resolve quarrels over distribution of resources. Otherwise, analysts warn, the only winner will be the Al-Shabab. The worsening violence has prompted some UN officials to raise alarm over “early warning signs of genocide” in CAR, as did former UN aid chief Stephen O’Brien in late August.
Adama Dieng — the UN’s special adviser for the prevention of genocide who visited the country in early October — denied the country was in a “pre-genocide situation” but said the situation there is “serious.”
There are still “indicators” that could result “in crimes of genocide” if they are not tackled, he said.
Touadera, whose election with the full support of the UN and France sparked a wave of hope, also pushed back on the warnings, saying “talk about genocide at this stage... is not justified.”
Guterres previously said there was “ethnic cleansing” in many parts of the country, but he will invariably be asked to comment about genocide.
To the displaced population, a visit from Guterres is a welcome relief.
“The peacekeepers must help us more and be more visible,” said Regis, who was forced to flee from the east of the country to Bangui. “It is imperative that the UN chief make them understand that.”


Judge may acquit women or call defense in Kim Jong Nam trial

This combination of the Oct. 2, 2017 file photos shows Indonesian Siti Aisyah, left, and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, right, escorted by police as they leave a court hearing in Shah Alam, Malaysia, outside Kuala Lumpur. (AP)
Updated 23 min 55 sec ago
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Judge may acquit women or call defense in Kim Jong Nam trial

  • Evidence has shown the women’s conduct before and after the killing was inconsistent with that of assassins
  • The women had “used their bodily power” to deliberately target the poison on his eyes and face for faster penetration

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Two Southeast Asian women on trial in Malaysia for the brazen assassination of the North Korean leader’s half-brother could be acquitted Thursday or called to enter their defense in a case that has gripped the world.
Indonesia’s Siti Aisyah, 25, and Vietnam’s Doan Thi Huong, 29, are accused of smearing VX nerve agent on Kim Jong Nam’s face in a crowded airport terminal in Kuala Lumpur on Feb. 13, 2017. The women have said they thought they were taking part in a prank for a hidden-camera show.
They are the only two suspects in custody and face the death penalty if convicted. If the defense is called, the trial could take several more months.
If the women are acquitted, they may not be freed right away as prosecutors could still appeal the decision as well as push forward with separate charges for overstaying their visas.

Here’s a look at arguments that were raised during the trial:
THE PROSECUTION
Over the course of the six-month trial featuring testimony from 34 people, prosecutors laid out a bizarre murder plot they likened to something from a James Bond film.
They accused four North Koreans, suspected government agents with code names such as “Mr. Y” and “Grandpa” and later identified by police, of being the masterminds who recruited the women, trained them and provided them with VX. All four fled the country the same morning Kim was killed and none are in custody.
Airport security footage shown in court captured the moment of the attack and prosecutors said linked the women to the other suspects. Shortly after Kim arrived at the airport, Huong was seen approaching him, clasping her hands on his face from behind and then fleeing. Another blurred figure was also seen running away from Kim and a police investigator testified that it was Aisyah.
Investigators said the women were seen rushing to separate washrooms, each with their hands outstretched, before they fled the airport. Kim died within two hours of the attack.
A government chemist testified that the VX concentration found on Kim’s skin was 1.4 times greater than the lethal dosage. He said VX was found in Kim’s eyes, face, blood, urine and clothing, as well as on both women’s clothes and on Huong’s fingernail clippings.
In his closing arguments in June, prosecutor Wah Shaharuddin Wan Ladin said the women must have been trained to use VX, a rare nerve agent developed as a chemical weapon. He said they had to know the best route for VX to enter the victim’s body and know that they must wash the nerve agent off themselves within 15 minutes to avoid being contaminated.
With Kim a tall and heavy man, the prosecutor said the women had “used their bodily power” to deliberately target the poison on his eyes and face for faster penetration. Despite their claim about a prank, he said their facial expressions and conduct during the attack didn’t reflect any humor.
“We expect that the defense will be called for a simple reason: They need to explain why VX was found on them,” Wan Shaharuddin told The Associated Press.

THE DEFENSE
Lawyers for the two women say their clients were simply pawns in a politically motivated killing with clear links to the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
They say the prosecution’s case was too simplistic, handicapped by a sloppy investigation and failed to show any intention on the part of their clients to kill — key to establishing the women’s guilt.
The defense said evidence has shown the women’s conduct before and after the killing was inconsistent with that of assassins, pointing out that they didn’t wear gloves when applying VX, didn’t dispose of their tainted clothing and didn’t flee the country.
The real culprits, the defense argues, are the four North Korean suspects. The four were captured by airport security cameras discarding their belongings and changing their clothing after the attack.
The North Korean Embassy has also been implicated with an embassy official helping get flights out for the four men and using the name of one of its citizens to buy a car that was used to take the suspects to the airport.
Nevertheless, Pyongyang has denied accusations by South Korean and US officials that it was behind the killing. Malaysian officials have never officially accused North Korea and have made it clear they don’t want the trial politicized.
“The prosecution’s evidence is purely circumstantial,” Aisyah’s lawyer Gooi Soon Seng said, noting that there was no proof that his client applied VX on Kim. He said his client’s DNA was not found on a shirt recovered by police.
Huong’s lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik said they have given prosecution “a good fight.”
“We are confident that justice will be served on Thursday and (Huong) will be acquitted,” he said.