Smuggling trade through Iran earns Al-Shabab militants $7.5m a year

A Somalian soldier walks past a consignment of charcoal destined for the export market in Barawe. (REUTERS/Feisal Omar/File Photo)
Updated 10 October 2018

Smuggling trade through Iran earns Al-Shabab militants $7.5m a year

  • Report by UN sanctions monitors reveals illicit exports funding insurgency in Somalia
  • Al-Shabab, which is affiliated with Al-Qaeda, illegally exports charcoal to Iranian ports using fake country of origin certificates from Comoros, Ivory Coast and Ghana.

NEW YORK: Al-Shabab militants in Somalia are funding their extremism with $7.5 million a year from smuggling through transit points in Iran, according to a new UN report.

The group, which is affiliated with Al-Qaeda, illegally exports charcoal to Iranian ports using fake country of origin certificates from Comoros, Ivory Coast and Ghana.

The charcoal is packaged into white bags labeled “Product of Iran,” loaded on to Iranian-flagged dhows and re-exported to Dubai in the UAE. “The charcoal trade continues to be a significant source of revenue for Al-Shabab, generating at least $7.5 million from checkpoint taxation,” according to the report by UN sanctions monitors submitted to the Security Council.

The report estimated the wholesale value of illicit Somali charcoal to be $150 million a year in the UAE, where it is widely used for cooking and smoking shisha.

Lana Nusseibeh, the UAE’s new ambassador to the UN, said the country was not complicit in the smuggling trade.
“The UAE is fully aware of all Security Council resolutions and is in full compliance with the sanctions imposed,” she said. “We also reaffirm our continued cooperation with the monitoring group throughout its mandate.”

The monitors track compliance with UN sanctions on Somalia and Eritrea. The Security Council banned charcoal exports from Somalia in 2012 in an effort to cut off funds for Al-Shabab, who are trying to topple Somalia’s Western-backed central government and impose its own extremist rule.

The council also imposed an arms embargo on Somalia in 1992 to cut the flow of arms to feuding warlords, who ousted dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and plunged the country into war.
In addition to earnings from charcoal, Al-Shabab is making millions of dollars a year from tolls on vehicles in areas where they run checkpoints, and through taxes on businesses, agriculture and livestock.

“Employing mafia-style tactics, the group is able to levy taxation via a network of hinterland checkpoints, with collection of taxes enforced through violence and intimidation,” the UN report said. Truck drivers risked execution if they tried to avoid the checkpoints.

All this “generates more than enough revenue to sustain its insurgency.” One checkpoint, 160km northwest of the capital, Mogadishu, earns the group about $30,000 a day — $10 million a year.


Malaysian police question Al Jazeera journalists over report on immigrants

Updated 38 min 48 sec ago

Malaysian police question Al Jazeera journalists over report on immigrants

  • Al Jazeera journalists under investigation for sedition following the broadcast of a documentary about the mistreatment of migrant workers in Kuala Lumpur
  • The 25-minute documentary, titled “Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown,” was broadcast as part of Al Jazeera’s “101 East” documentary strand on July 3

KUALA LUMPUR: Six members of staff from state-owned Qatari news broadcaster Al Jazeera were questioned by police in Malaysia on Friday.

They are under investigation for sedition following the broadcast of a documentary about the mistreatment of migrant workers in Kuala Lumpur during the coronavirus lockdown.

“The documentary has ignited a backlash among the public,” said national police chief Abdul Hamid Bador. “During our investigation, we found out there were inaccuracies in the documentary that were aimed at creating a bad image of Malaysia.”

He said police have discussed the case with the attorney general and added: “We are going to give a fair investigation and a fair opportunity for them to defend themselves, in case the AG wants to file charges against them.”

The journalists, accompanied by their lawyers, were questioned at police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.

The 25-minute documentary, titled “Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown,” was broadcast as part of Al Jazeera’s “101 East” documentary strand on July 3. It highlighted the plight of undocumented migrants reportedly arrested during raids on COVID-19 lockdown hotspots. Malaysian officials said the report was inaccurate and misleading.

On Thursday, Al Jazeera said it refutes the charges and “stands by the professionalism, quality and impartiality of its journalism” and has “serious concerns about developments that have occurred in Malaysia since the broadcast of the documentary.” It added: “Al Jazeera is deeply concerned that its staff are now subject to a police investigation.”

However, the incident highlights the broadcaster’s double standards in reporting issues about migrant workers. When Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Qatar in February of failing to implement a system to ensure construction companies pay migrant workers on time, the issue was not highlighted by Al Jazeera, the headquarters of which is in Doha.

On May 23, migrant workers staged a rare protest in Qatar over unpaid wages but Al Jazeera did not send reporters to interview the demonstrators.

Also in May, HRW said that crowded and unsanitary conditions at Doha Central Prison were exacerbating the COVID-19 threat. The organization urged Qatar to reduce the size of prison populations and ensure inmates have access to adequate medical care, along with masks, sanitizer and gloves. Again Al Jazeera did not focus on the issue.

Activists and civil-society groups criticized the Malaysian government for its heavy-handed move against Al Jazeera.

“The Malaysian government should stop trying to intimidate the media when it reports something the powers that be don’t like,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW’s Asia division. “The reality is Malaysia has treated migrant workers very shoddily and Al Jazeera has caught them out on it.”

Nalini Elumalai, the Malaysia program officer for freedom of speech advocacy group Article 19, said the action against Al Jazeera is alarming and akin to “shooting the messenger.”

She added: “The government should instead initiate an independent inquiry into the issues raised in the documentary.”

There are at least 2 million migrant workers in Malaysia, though the true number is thought to be much higher as many are undocumented. They are a source of cheap, low-skilled labor in industries considered dirty and dangerous.