A few weeks ago, the Puntland’s military court in Galkayo had found six Al-Shabab hitmen guilty of terrorism offences and they were sentenced to death. The group had been terrorising the locals for over 13 years. In the first part of this short article, I will discuss the terrorists’ campaign in Galkayo in the last 13 years, their victims and why they choose Galkayo to be the terror-centric of their campaign. In the second part, I will attempt to contextualise and put into perspective why it had taken the locals, the politicians, and the security chiefs 13 years to figure out and catch the perpetrators. Also, I will explore if any, the lessons that we have learned so far from the latest arrests and confessions. The key question here is how the group eluded the security chiefs for thirteen years and managed to kill over 300 of the city’s key figures? Is it because that the security chiefs deployed the wrong tactics to counter the terrorists? Perhaps, the security commands did not have the stomach to fight? Or was it because of lack of dynamism and deploying the same tactics over and over, and hoping for a result?
The terrorist group campaigned and murdered in cold blood over 300 key persons of the city. Those key figures include doctors, intellectuals, religious scholars, enforcement officers, journalists, businessmen, tribe leaders, women, and politicians. According to the Puntland police, of these victims, 115 were politicians (state and federal levels), 76 were enforcement officers (military and police), 8 journalists, 60 tribe leaders, etc. All of them deserve to be remembered and mentioned, but because of the short space in this article, I will mention a couple of them.
A year ago, the former mayor of Galkayo, Mr Ahmed Muse Nur was killed in a brutal suicide-bomb attack along with several police officers including two of his brothers. The former mayor was popular and widely liked by the citizens as he was a mayor that achieved a lot for the region, security and peace processes, to mention a few. Perhaps the anti-life group (Al-Shabab) did not like the progress the mayor was making, and they decided to kill him, so they disrupt the improvement.
Four years before the killing of the mayor, the merciless anti-life group murdered the former leader of the Women’s Organisation in Mudug – Puntland, Mrs Dhudi Yusuf Adam (May Allah bless her soul). What was her crime to deserve to be murdered? Nothing! She never hurt a soul. She was a mother, a grandmother, a great grandmother, a champion, and a good role model not only for women, but for the whole society; men, women, and children. She was a good Samaritan with a heart the size of the country who put people’s needs before hers. All these good characteristics did not spare her from being mercilessly murdered in front of her house. In addition, Dhudi was not the only woman murdered by Al-Shabaab in the city, there were another thirty women that was killed by the group’s terror surges, since 2008.
As always, the terrorists’ agenda is to kill the public figures and leaders of the community, terrify its people, and force the locals to submit to their brutal rule. The reason the terrorists adopt these tactics is to create chaos and confusion so they can bring their vicious regime. Terrorists are known for these characteristics because they flourish in chaos and confusion. For example, before Al-Qaeda attacked the twin towers in 2001, the terrorists could not hold a foot in the Middle East, because societies there were stable. What did they do? They attacked the US, and the response was that America retaliated by attacking Iraq, although Iraq has nothing to do with Al-Qaeda. Nevertheless, America destroyed the Saddam regime, and the terrorists followed and blossomed there. It is like a fly that wanted to get into a honey shop but could not get in because of the glass door. So, what does the fly do to get in the shop? It got in the nostril of a bull relaxing nearby and started stinging the bull. Then the bull run to the glass door and destroyed the shop. Only after the shop is destroyed the fly got out of the nostril of the bull and prospered in the anarchy and mayhem. Terrorists are like that; they quickly die in a place where there is strong law and order and enjoy in places that are lawless and mayhem.
They deployed this policy in the areas that the group currently control, in South and Central Somalia. For the city of Galkayo, situated in central Somalia, and is ruled by two administrations, Galmudug and Puntland states of Somalia, respectively, the terrorists coordinated waves of suicide attacks, assassinations, and kidnaps—in which, they murdered hundreds of innocent people. In fact, according to the Galkayo police, the city is only second to the nation’s capital in terms of the terrorists’ murderous operations. In other words, Galkayo is Somalia’s second worst-hit city by Al-Shabaab after Mogadishu and it’s high on the terrorists’ agenda. The million-dollar question is why Galkayo is so crucial for the terrorist group, to the point they are willing to throw everything at it? Is it because that the city has two administrations that make it easy for the group to conduct their operations and hide? What are the benefits for the group to conquer Galkayo? Or is it because they intended to revive the old wounds between the tribes of Galkayo, so they fight in an all-out war, like the old days? Even if they intended that I am struggling to identify any return for the group, as many cities in Somalia are larger and more strategic than Galkayo. Some may argue that Galkayo connects the south of the country to the north and Ethiopia, and the group must control it. My answer is simple, many other cities like; Beledweyne, and Garowe, also in the midlands and have a border with Ethiopia.
Though one thing is clear to me that the terrorists’ obsession with Galkayo and killing its key figures, is mysterious, to say the least. I am yet to see any logic about the terrorists’ 13-year campaign there, as they did not achieve anything so far, and it is highly unlikely for them to accomplish any meaningful goal. Galkayo is not a sea-city that the group can import weapons and foreign fighters into. The only viable explanation about the terrorists’ campaign there is to subjugate the locals and win mind games. So, they can say to other cities’ inhabitants submit to us, or we do to you what we did to Galkayo residents. Perhaps, we misunderstood the group, they are just blood-hungry vampires? Consequently, perhaps this why it had taken the security chiefs 13 years to identify the terrorists’ sleeping cells in the city who terrified the locals all those years.
Let us ask ourselves how a handful and a bunch of lowlife terrorists armed with few pistols terrorised a city with thousands of trained armies and a tenth of thousands of residents? And what lessons can we draw from the latest developments in Galkayo? It is beyond comprehension this catastrophic failure was allowed to happen for such a long time. The hefty blame should be shouldered first by the former politicians of Puntland for their lack of leadership and also former law enforcement commanders should share the blame for their lack of ‘out-of-box thinking’. Consequently, some Galkayo residents take it further and argue that the former two administrations of Puntland, headed by Mr Abdirahman Faroole and Dr Abdiweli Gas, respectively, neglected the city and treated its administration with contempt. These people argue that those two administrations underfunded and under-valued the security sector in the city, to the point that under their administrations, soldiers and police officers at times worked 12 months in a row without receiving their salary. I can imagine how hard it is for a police officer, for example, not able to feed his family, and on the other hand, is expected to fight and defeat a notorious and invisible enemy. Although it is very hard to find evidence to back up those types of claims, there are a lot of Galkayo residents that hold these views firmly. People are asking themselves, how the current administration succeeded where their predecessors failed, regarding the recent significant arrests in Galkayo.
Recently, I watched some interviews with some of the terrorists that had been found guilty of terrorism offences in Galkayo and sentenced to death. The interviews were conducted by the prominent and brave journalist Timirre Anchor, which is published by AFMEER Media. The interviews come across as ex-rated, very hard for a normal person to watch and stomach. The terrorists discussed in detail the atrocities they committed in the city over the years. One of the terrorists admitted killing many Galkayo figures including his own grandmother and described in detail how he cold-bloodedly killed her at the front of her house, while she was observing the fasting of the holy month of Ramadan in 2016. When the terrorist was speaking about killing his grandmother, I was looking at his face, there was no remorse, nothing whatsoever, but a stone face and cold eyes, although he said he regretted killing her, a mere lip service, I guess.
Most of the perpetrators and their leaders were homegrown terrorists from Galkayo, which mystified the locals, as they were led to believe that the terrorists were from the south of the country or at least from the rival tribes in the region. This fallacy allowed the terrorists to get away with their murderous campaign for 13-years. Among the other things that the terrorists revealed in the interviews, was one key piece that aided them not to be discovered, it is the administrations’ lack of out-of-the box thinking, as they always blamed rival tribes and people from the other side of the country for the terrorist atrocities in the city. One of the terrorists’ chilling stories was revealed in the interviews that after killing one of his victims, he participated in the local’s anger-gathering and chase of the hitman, as he directed them toward Galmudug (a neighbouring state), saying the hitman escaped to Galmudug, people believed him. Although he was the killer, nobody suspected him as he is from the area.
We now know that the killings were perpetrated mainly by the city’s own sons, who knows the city and its people inside-out. The security chiefs failed to imagine and ask themselves if the perpetrators were from Galkayo as they firmly believed all those years, the terrorists were outsiders. The security chiefs should had investigated: why the terrorists never killed anyone in Galkayo who are not from the city? How come the terrorists never made any mistakes about their targets in Galkayo? How come they had comprehensive knowledge about their victims and their routines? Things like their victim’s occupation, which mosque they go to, what gate they exit when leaving the mosques, do they normally have bodyguards, what type of weapons their bodyguards carry, and the distance they stand from the person(s) they are protecting. Terrorists knew the type of shoes their victims wear, when they wear it and, how they even tied their laces. In fact, businessman Omar Dheere was murdered outside a mosque while tying his laces. Terrorists did their homework, but the Puntland government did not. To know all these details, terrorists must be homegrown or at least had lived in the city for a long time. Had the security officials brain-stormed in a proper fashion, they may have discovered lots of red flags all over the place, and the perpetrators might have been stopped sooner and saved many lives in the process. This had to be the biggest lesson that the security chiefs (and locals for that matter) must learn, and fast; never trust anyone when dealing with crimes of this magnitude and treat everyone as suspect and follow every line of inquiry. The investigation of any crime must first start with the closest people to the victims, once those are found innocent, then you expand to the possibility of an outsider committing the crime.
Moving forward, we must not forget the victims and their families. The best way to honour them is to hold a public inquiry into why the terrorists were able to carry a murderous campaign for 13-years? How did they manage this long crusade against Galkayo citizens? How was the campaign funded? We know Al-Shabaab funded it, but how the funds reached their sleeping cells in the city? In other words, who facilitated the transactions? And more importantly, how and why the two former administrations of Puntland failed to stop the terrorists? If we can put the failures in bullet points, what was it? Was it lack of financial support, or was it as is the case most of the times, corruption, that the funds to fight the terrorists were misused? If it is the latter, can we name and shame the culprits? As the offences were federal crimes, the federal government must take leadership of the inquest, and leave no stone unturned. It is about time that the federal government takes a serious stance toward fighting and defeating the terrorist group. I know some of you may argue that the FG had too much on their plate as the capital city is frequently attacked by Al-Shabaab and that the FG had other priorities. However, constitutionally, it is the FG’s job to investigate any federal crimes that occur in the country, and I believe there is an opportunity for the FG to showcase to the Somali people that they do care and are serious about defeating Al-Shabaab. Of course, there is a role for the state governments to play in the inquiry by being open and transparent and, coordinate with federal colleagues to search for the answers to the inquiry.
I leave you with the pearls of wisdom from K’naan Abdi Warsame, a Somali superstar, singer, poet, and songwriter. K’naan in one of his songs said: how come they only fixed the bridge after somebody has fallen? How come you turn the deafest ear when it is your own brother is calling?