Thursday, August 29, 2013

Somalia strikes deal with former Islamist over port city | Reuters

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(Reuters) - Somalia's central government agreed on Wednesday to recognize a former Islamist commander as the interim leader of the southern Juba region, a deal that could help end months of clan fighting and cement plans for a federal nation.
Diplomats said the pact signed in Ethiopia's capital, after days of talks and delays, was a significant step towards stabilizing Somalia as it seeks to create devolved government, and could become a blueprint for sharing power in other areas.
An official from Mogadishu's government signed the deal with Sheikh Ahmed Madobe, who has been vying for control of Jubaland's port city of Kismayu and its hinterland against a clan warlord widely seen as backed by Mogadishu.
"We are hopeful that this process will be a starting point for Somalia to be a federal state," Madobe said at the signing, through a translator. "There will be people who won't be happy, but the fundamental issue is the interest of the Somali people."
At the heart of the tussle over Kismayu has been control of the area's economic resources, in particular its lucrative port.
The fate of Somalia's second biggest city has been seen as a litmus test for the future of the Horn of Africa nation as it rebuilds from the ruins of war and anchors a wobbly peace.
That quest has been hampered by the central government's weakness outside the capital and its troubled relations with provinces seeking more autonomy than it has been ready to cede.
"This is really a breakthrough in a problem that has dogged the country for at least a year now," said Nick Kay, the U.N. special representative for Somalia, who was in Addis Ababa.
"It opens the door now for political progress across the whole of Somalia," he said.
Under the terms of Wednesday's deal, Madobe will be leader of the interim Juba Administration for a period of two years.
The authority under his control will manage the port for six months after which control will shift to the federal government, although revenues will pay for services in Jubaland.
The deal will be a relief to Somalia's neighbors and the West which fear any renewed fighting could strengthen al Shabaab Islamist rebels, who have been pushed out of major urban areas but still threaten stability in East Africa and beyond.
Somali politicians in other breakaway or more autonomous regions have continued to voice skepticism about the central government's commitment to a federation, accusing Mogadishu of trying to hog power. The government says it is ready to share.
"This deal is the beginning of a long journey for peace building, reconciliation, and for building a viable permanent administrations in these regions," Farah Sheikh Abdulkadir, Somalia's State Minister for the Presidency, told Reuters.
Madobe is a former governor of Kismayu and one-time Islamist commander under an administration crushed by Ethiopian forces sent into Somalia between 2006 and 2009 with tacit U.S. backing.
He was held in Ethiopia for two years. After his release, Madobe and his powerful Ras Kamboni militia sided with Kenyan troops against al Shabaab from late 2011, flushing the rebels out of their strongholds in the south of the country.
"The mere fact, given the nature of politics and the constituencies in Somalia, that the two sides should have decided to override factionalism and find a deal is for me absolutely fundamental," Alexander Rondos, the European Union's special representative to the Horn of Africa, said by telephone.
Riding on a wave of international support after his election in September last year, some analysts say President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has appeared reluctant to decentralize power.
Diplomats say Mohamud has lost political capital internally over his handling of Kismayu and another region, Puntland, which broke off ties with Mogadishu this month, accusing the government of failing to respect the federal structure.
Mogadishu's Abdulkadir said building such a structure needed time. "Federation requires a legal framework that is not existing and we did not inherit one. It also needs institutional capacity that is not available," he said.

(Writing by Richard Lough and Edmund Blair; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

Monday, July 8, 2013

Somali American caught up in a shadowy Pentagon counterpropaganda campaign - The Washington Post

(Ben Garvin/ BEN GARVIN ) - Abdiwali Warsame, who runs the new website, at a Somali Mall in Minneapolis, Minn., on March 30.
    Two days after he became a U.S. citizen, Abdiwali Warsame embraced the First Amendment by creating a raucous Web site about his native Somalia. Packed with news and controversial opinions, it rapidly became a magnet for Somalis dispersed around the world, including tens of thousands in Minnesota.
    The popularity of the site,, or United Somalia, also attracted the attention of the Defense Department. A military contractor, working for U.S. Special Operations forces to “counter nefarious influences” in Africa, began monitoring the Web site and compiled a confidential research dossier about its founder and its content.
    In a May 2012 report, the contractor, the Northern Virginia-based Navanti Group, branded the Web site “extremist” and asserted that its “chief goal is to disseminate propaganda supportive” of al-Shabab, an Islamist militia in Somalia that the U.S. government considers a terrorist group. The contractor then delivered a copy of its dossier — including Warsame’s Minnesota home address and phone number — to the FBI. A few days later, federal agents knocked on the webmaster’s door.
    Although he did not know it, Warsame had been caught up in a shadowy Defense Department counterpropaganda operation, according to public records and interviews.
    In its written analysis of his Web site, Navanti Group identified “opportunities” to conduct “Military Information Support Operations,” more commonly known as psychological operations, or “psy-ops,” that would target Somali audiences worldwide. The report did not go into details, but it recommended that the U.S. military consider a “messaging campaign” by repeating comments posted on the United Somalia Web site by readers opposed to al-Shabab.
    Military propaganda and the spread of disinformation are as old as war itself, but commanders usually confined the tactics to war zones.
    With the Iraq war over and U.S. combat operations scheduled to finish in Afghanistan by the end of next year, however, the Pentagon has begun shifting psy-ops missions to other parts of the world to influence popular opinion. Many of the missions are overseen by the Special Operations Command, which plays a leading role in global counterterrorism efforts.
    In the past, psychological operations usually meant dropping leaflets or broadcasting propaganda on the battlefield. Today, the military is more focused on manipulating news and commentary on the Internet, especially social media, by posting material and images without necessarily claiming ownership.
    Much of the work is carried out by military information support teams that the Special Operations Command has deployed to 22 countries. The command, which is based in Tampa, also operates multilingual news Web sites tailored to specific regions.
    The Southeast European Times covers the Balkans with original news dispatches and feature stories written in 10 languages. Magharebia covers North and West Africa in Arabic, French and English. Readers have to scour the Web sites to find an acknowledgment that they are sponsored by the U.S. military.

    Given the global nature of online communications, the Pentagon’s information operations are perhaps inevitably becoming entangled on the home front.
    At a time of intense focus on the targeting of Americans’ communications by the National Security Agency, Warsame’s case also illustrates how other parts of the U.S. government monitor the material that some Americans post online.

    The Pentagon is legally prohibited from conducting psychological operations at home or targeting U.S. audiences with propaganda, except during “domestic emergencies.” Defense Department rules also forbid the military from using psychological operations to “target U.S. citizens at any time, in any location globally, or under any circumstances.”
    Last year, however, two USA Today journalists were targeted in an online propaganda campaign after they revealed that the Pentagon’s top propaganda contractor in Afghanistan owed millions of dollars in back taxes. A co-owner of the firm later admitted that he established fake Web sites and used social media to attack the journalists anonymously.
    In written responses to questions for this article, Navanti Group said it did nothing improper in regard to United Somalia. The firm, which specializes in “understanding social media and Internet trends” in Africa, said it was just conducting research and did not target Warsame or his Web site as part of a counterpropaganda campaign.
    The company said it assumed that the Web site was based overseas. Once Navanti discovered that Warsame lived in Minnesota, “we immediately turned that information over to the U.S. Government and to relevant law enforcement agencies, as both regulations and our own guidelines dictate.” Navanti also said that it did not know that Warsame was a U.S. citizen and that it collected only public information about him.
    “We don’t deal with domestic. End of issue,” Andrew Black, Navanti’s chief executive, said in an interview. “We turned it over to the cognizant authorities. That’s where we stopped. That’s really important that that is where we stopped.” The firm “followed the law,” he added.
    Navanti’s report, however, indicates that the company knew at an earlier stage that Warsame resided in the United States. It describes him as “a young man who lives in Minnesota, is known for his extremist believes [sic] by Minneapolis Somali residents.”
    The two unnamed Navanti employees who wrote the analysis — both native Somalis — also cited secondhand information that their “friends in Minnesota” had provided about Warsame, according to the report.
    Black declined to identify the arm of the Defense Department that Navanti was working for or to explain what the military was doing with the information that his company collected and analyzed. It’s unclear whether the military carried out a messaging campaign aimed at Warsame’s site.
    “We do work for the government,” Black said. “I’m not going to be able to provide specifics on things. . . . It’s for the client if they choose to share stuff.”
    Public records, however, show that Navanti was working as a subcontractor for the Special Operations Command to help conduct “information operations to engage local populations and counter nefarious influences” in Africa and Europe.

    Navanti was hired to perform “research and analysis” about al-Qaeda and affiliated groups in Africa, according to contracting documents posted online by the government. The partially redacted documents state that the company’s research methods “fit the unique needs” of military information support operations.
    In 2010, the U.S. military stopped using the phrase “psychological operations” because of its negative connotations. Instead, it adopted a blander term, “military information support operations,” or MISO.
    Lt. Col. Damien Pickart, a Pentagon spokesman, said Navanti’s research is unclassified. He said in an e-mailed statement it is “designed to address planning gaps” for Special Operations forces in Africa and Europe, “not just specific capabilities like Military Information Support Operations.”
    “If a U.S. person was identified as a potential risk or threat as a result of a search — as in the case of the research on Al Shabaab websites like — they direct the contractor to discontinue that research,” Pickart added.
    He said Navanti “is not involved in production and dissemination of MISO products.” But he declined to say how the military might have used the firm’s research.
    Warsame has not been charged with a crime, and it is unclear whether he is under formal investigation by the FBI.
    Kyle Loven, a spokesman for the bureau in Minneapolis, declined to comment.
    ‘I don’t support al-Qaeda’
    Between shifts as a city bus driver, the 30-year-old Warsame runs his Web site from home — a one-man show.
    Most of the news and commentary is in Somali, though several items each day are posted in English, including links to CNN. United Somalia aggregates items from other sites and submissions from readers, but Warsame also posts original articles and interviews under his byline.
    It takes only a cursory glance at the Web site to see that Warsame views the world through the lens of a fundamentalist Muslim. He strongly opposes military intervention in Somalia by the United States, Ethiopia, Kenya and other countries. He features material portraying al-Shabab as freedom fighters, not terrorists. He also says that he welcomes dissenting views.
    But Warsame said he steers clear of posting anything that could be construed as fundraising or recruiting followers for al-Shabab. Such activities are prohibited by U.S. law and have been under scrutiny by the FBI.
    The Justice Department has prosecuted several Somali Americans in Minnesota on charges of providing material support to al-Shabab. Warsame has closely covered their cases on his Web site and advocated for their defense.
    “I’m an American citizen,” Warsame said in an interview at a cafe in Minneapolis, home to the largest concentration of Somali refugees in the country. “I don’t support al-Qaeda. I don’t support al-
    Shabab. I don’t send them money. I’m not supporting killing anyone.”
    “I just want the community to know what’s going on,” he added. “My job is to allow people to express their views. It’s news. It’s public information. People want to know what the professors are saying, students are saying, what the single moms are saying, what al-Shabab are saying.”

    In June 2012, Warsame said, a Google Alert notified him that his Web site had been mentioned in a document posted on the Internet. It was Navanti’s research report, posted on, a federal Web site.
    The four-page paper described United Somalia as an al-Shabab propaganda arm. It said the Web site “blends extremist religious ideology with nationalist sentiment in an attempt to gain Somali and foreign support” for al-Shabab.

    Warsame may have been a relatively new American, but he displayed a firm grasp of his civil rights and a knack for defending himself.
    He downloaded the report and re-posted a copy under a bold headline in imperfect English, “Breaking News: The Somalimidnimo’s website, it’s writers and editors were threatened in-order to suppress the free press.”
    He also translated the document into Somali. Dozens of other Somali-language news sites around the world quickly re-posted the document.
    “Their research was partial, unprofessional and with malicious intent,” he said of Navanti. “I took it as a personal threat and betrayal of freedom of speech.”
    Soon after, Warsame received a letter from an attorney for Navanti, accusing him of violating copyright law by re-
    publishing the company’s research.Warsame responded by publicizing the letterand ignoring a demand to remove Navanti’s report from his Web site.
    Around the same time, FBI agents visited Warsame’s apartment and later phoned him, asking to meet. “I said, ‘I don’t want to talk to you without a lawyer,’ ” he recalled saying. He consulted a federal public defender and a private lawyer.
    At first, Warsame said, the FBI told him that he was under criminal investigation. But after his attorneys intervened, he said, the bureau stopped calling.
    Navanti defends role
    In its written response to The Washington Post’s questions, Navanti said it gave its report on United Somalia to the FBI “out of an abundance of caution” because of the law enforcement agency’s role “in investigating people inside the United States with possible ties to an extremist group such as al-Shabaab.”
    The defense contractor also accused the Web site and Warsame of aggregating propaganda on behalf of al-Shabab “for the purposes of recruitment and incitement.”
    But Navanti’s dossier does not specify any instances in which the Web site may have crossed a line by recruiting al-Shabab followers or inciting violence. Black, the company’s chief executive, likewise could not cite examples.
    “We’ve got clear evidence that his Web site is part of the information domain of al-Shabab,” Black said. “This is the United States. We have freedoms and liberties. You’re allowed to defend yourself. And that’s fine. But that’s not between us and him. That’s between him and the FBI.”
    Black disputed that Warsame was a legitimate journalist or that his Web site could be considered a news outlet.
    “I have a very hard time seeing his work as journalistic. I don’t see Walter Cronkite coming through his words here,” Black said. “He’s got comments on his front page that Osama bin Laden blew himself up to avoid being captured. I’m not sure this guy is going for a Pulitzer.”
    Warsame said he began reporting about a decade ago, when he lived as a refugee in Kenya, by submitting pieces to a Web site called Somali Talk.
    He wrote more frequently after he and his family moved to Minnesota in 2005. Five years later, he started United Somalia. He is a dues-paying member of Investigative Reporters and Editors, an association of professional journalists, and estimated that he has conducted hundreds of interviews.
    Warsame said his site attracts more than 100,000 readers a month, with a dedicated following from North America to Europe to Australia.
    Asked for an outside perspective, Matt Bryden, a former senior U.N. official in Somalia, said the Web site appeals to “a range of readers” who dislike the weak national government in Mogadishu. He said the site “publishes a combination of news and commentary, some of which is pro-Shabab.”
    “It is certainly more widely read and more popular than most other pro-
    Shabab Web pages,” added Bryden, who works as director of Sahan Research, a think tank in Nairobi. “Other Shabab-
    affiliated Web sites tend to be more exclusively jihadist in content, which makes them appeal to a narrower audience.”
    As an American, Warsame said, he treasures his free-speech rights and doesn’t hesitate to take unpopular stands, such as the time he ripped Muslim clerics for participating in an interfaith prayer service at a church. The largest mosque in Minnesota banned him from its premises because of his writings.
    “Sometimes he has controversial things, which I may not agree with, but his Web site is definitely well read,” said Abdinasir Abdi, a friend, law student and Somali community activist in Minneapolis. “The irony is that if he was in any country other than the U.S. right now, I don’t think he’d survive.

    Thursday, May 9, 2013

    Remove the UN arms embargo or we cannot defeat al-Qaeda, says Somalia - Telegraph

    Remove the UN arms embargo or we cannot defeat al-Qaeda, says Somalia

    The United Nations should lift its arms embargo on Somalia and Britain should mobilise funds for a new national army that can defeat al-Qaeda, the country's defence minister said today.

    Abdulhakim Haji Faqi
    Abdulhakim Haji Faqi  Photo: AFP/GETTY IMAGES
    On the eve of a conference in London designed to build support for Somalia's official government, Abdulhakim Haji Faqi told The Daily Telegraph that an arms embargo first imposed in 1992 should now be abandoned.
    "To live peacefully within ourselves, we need our military to be equipped properly – and that is why we need completely to lift the arms embargo," he said.
    In March, the UN eased the embargo, allowing the supply of small arms to the official government, but maintained the ban on heavy weapons.
    Mr Faqi said this had made no difference so far in the fight against insurgents.
    "Although the [small] arms embargo has been lifted close to two months ago, still we were not able to bring even one extra bullet or one extra AK [rifle] because of lack of funding."
    Mr Faqi's task is to weld clan militias into a single national army. Last year, al-Shabaab, the radical Islamist movement that is allied to al-Qaeda, was finally expelled from the capital, Mogadishu, and much of southern Somalia, including Kismayo, a vital port.
    But this was largely achieved by 18,000 African Union troops, drawn mainly from Uganda, Kenya and Burundi.
    Mr Faqi's goal is to build a new army capable of securing Somalia without foreign personnel.
    "We should build our professional national army within three years, but it will really depend on the support we receive from our international partners, including the UK, the US and European Union," he said.
    At present, Mr Faqi said the army has fewer than 4,000 trained soldiers. One training centre in Mogadishu is producing another 1,000 every four months. The goal is to open two more training camps and deploy 28,000 troops by 2016.
    But Mr Faqi said this depended on funding from Britain, America and the EU. "Al-Shabaab has been defeated, but they are still dangerous," he said.
    "They lost fighters, they lost territory, they lost their finances, but still they are a danger.
    "In this fight, we need to be together with international partners, such as the UK and US."
    Mr Faqi added: "Margaret Thatcher said 'this is no time to go wobbly'. We have to stick together – we have to fight against al-Shabaab."

    Monday, July 30, 2012

    UK troops in Somalia 'aiding Africa Union force' - BBC News -

    UK troops in Somalia 'aiding Africa Union force'

    African Union peacekeepers take up positions during brief clashes with Islamist militants, June 2012The African Union forces in Somalia have been boosted to nearly 18,000 this year
    The UK has established a small military presence in Somalia, the British Ministry of Defence has confirmed.
    A team of 10 military advisers is based at the headquarters of the African Union force in the capital, Mogadishu.
    They do not have a combat role; their job is to help the AU with planning, communications and medical support.
    But a BBC correspondent says some of the advisers have been seen in Afgoye, a strategic town west of the capital recently taken from Islamist militants.
    The al-Shabab group, which joined al-Qaeda earlier this year, still controls many rural areas in southern and central Somalia but is under pressure on several fronts.
    The country has been without a functioning central authority since 1991 and has been wracked by fighting ever since - a situation that has allowed piracy and lawlessness to flourish.
    Key moment
    "We have sent a small team of advisers to assist the AU peacekeeping mission. They do not have a combat role," an MoD spokesman said in a statement.
    BBC world affairs correspondent Peter Biles says the confirmation of a British military presence in Somalia comes at a key moment in the efforts towards a political transition.
    The UN-backed interim government is supposed to hand over to a new administration by 20 August when a new president and parliament will be elected.
    Our correspondent says it is hoped that this will end the corruption and misappropriation of funds that have tarnished the reputation of the current Somali authorities.
    Ethiopian troops, pro-government militias and the African Union force - which has US and European funding and was boosted earlier this year to nearly 18,000 - have helped the transitional government recently expand its control outside Mogadishu.
    In the last few months, the militants have lost several key positions, including Afgoye, Baidoa in central Somalia and the southern town of Afmadow

    Thursday, July 26, 2012

    Blast in refugee camp wounds 6 in northeast Kenya -

    NAIROBI (Reuters) - An explosive device hit a police vehicle inside a refugee camp near the border with Somalia on Wednesday, wounding all six people aboard in the latest attack in the region, officials said.

    The vehicle, carrying three police officers and three civilians, was escorting aid workers travelling in a separate car to distribute food in the Dadaab refugee camp, police officials said.

    The aid workers were unhurt.

    At least 32 people have been killed in attacks on the Kenyan capital Nairobi, the port city of Mombasa and the northern town of Garissa since October, when Kenya sent troops into neighboring Somalia to crush al Shabaab insurgents.

    The militants, linked to al Qaeda, were blamed for a surge in violence and kidnappings in Kenya.

    Nobody has claimed responsibility for the blast on Wednesday.

    "The injured police officers were escorting officials of Care International to distribute food within the camp when their car hit a device", Philip Tuimur, the regional police chief, told Reuters from Garissa by phone.

    Last month, Kenya witnessed its worst attack when masked assailants launched simultaneous gun and grenade raids on two churches in Garissa, killing at least 17 people and wounding 60.

    (Reporting by Humphrey Malalo and Abdisalan Ahmed; Editing by George Obulutsa and Alessandra Rizzo)