Country Report on Terrorism 2016 - Chapter 2 - Somalia

Overview: Security and counterterrorism efforts in Somalia continued to progress through a combination of African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) offensives, U.S. military strikes against al‑Shabaab operatives, law enforcement operations in major urban centers, and countering violent extremism initiatives. Despite major security gains against ISIS cells in Puntland and al‑Shabaab safe havens in southern Somalia, AMISOM, the Somali National Army (SNA), and other allied militias were unable to degrade al-Shabaab’s ability to plan and execute attacks. Al‑Shabaab leveraged clan politics and disputes to fuel noncooperation and distrust among local communities toward security forces operating in these areas. They also exploited poor economic conditions to recruit new fighters. These vulnerabilities helped to undermine AMISOM and SNA territorial gains. Federal, local, and regional security authorities lacked sufficient capacity and efficient command and control to prevent most al-Shabaab attacks.

Al-Shabaab experienced increased defection rates and weakened leadership in 2016, yet retained the capacity to conduct asymmetric attacks throughout Somalia. The group executed attacks against harder targets in Mogadishu, including the Mogadishu International Airport (MIA), the Presidential Palace, and popular hotels with security guard forces. In the run-up to the oft‑delayed electoral process, al-Shabaab increased the frequency of assassinations of government personnel, many of whom were associated with AMISOM, Somali security services, and the federal government.

In 2016, Somalia remained a safe haven for terrorists who used their relative freedom of movement to obtain resources and funds, recruit fighters, and plan and mount operations within Somalia and in neighboring countries, mainly in Kenya. While ISIS senior leadership did not formally recognize a Puntland-based ISIS-aligned faction in 2016, they have provided some support in an effort to establish a branch in East Africa. In October, the ISIS Somalia faction temporarily took control of Qandala, a coastal town in Puntland’s Bari Region. Puntland’s security forces organized an operation that dislodged the ISIS fighters with little resistance, forcing them into mountainous camps south of the coast.

In September, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud launched Somalia’s national Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) strategy, which aims to tackle radicalization to violence and violent extremism across Somalia. In the same month in Mogadishu, the president hosted an Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) meeting attended by several African heads of state, to discuss security and common counterterrorism strategies. Somalia is an active supporter of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.

2016 Terrorist Incidents: Al-Shabaab used a range of asymmetric tactics to execute its targeted campaign against AMISOM and Somali security forces, members of parliament, and other government personnel, as well as popular gathering places, such as hotels, restaurants, and cafes. The group managed to launch several attacks per month in 2016 using suicide bombers, vehicle‑borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs), ambush-style raids, assassinations, and mortar attacks. Notable incidents in 2016 included:

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: The Federal Government of Somalia continued efforts to improve civilian security, although some efforts suffered for lack of legislation and human resources. With the exception of specific legislation to address anti‑money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT), Somalia’s counterterrorism legislation remained under review through several parliamentary readings. In the absence of counterterrorism legislation, the Federal Government of Somalia tried all terrorism cases in its military court system.

The Somali Police Force (SPF) continued to conduct security investigations and operations targeting known locations of weapons caches in private homes and businesses, often in coordination with other Somali security services and AMISOM. In 2016, the United States made considerable contributions toward the development and capacity building of the law enforcement sector. Somali law enforcement capacities have improved markedly with U.S. mentoring and training initiatives launched in prior years, but additional training is needed to enhance basic police investigation skills and interagency coordination. The U.S.-funded SPF Joint Investigative Team (JIT) responded to more than 100 terrorist incidents, during which they collected evidence, maintained the integrity of the evidence by following chain of custody protocols, and ensured a safe hand-over of the evidentiary materials to the Criminal Investigative Division (CID) for further processing. NISA, Somalia’s lead counterterrorism organization, also began coordinating with the JIT during responses to critical incidents. While the SPF made measurable gains to manage terrorist incidents, the judicial system remained weak and underdeveloped, suffering from limited capacity, technical expertise, and poor interagency coordination.

Somalia’s porous borders contributed to regional insecurity as al-Shabaab and others continued to move throughout the region mostly undetected. Most countries do not recognize Somali identity documents, leaving Somalia with few options for travel document verification and regional partners unable to properly vet Somali travelers. Somalia does not have a central or shared terrorist screening watchlist, nor does it possess biographic and biometric screening capabilities at ports of entry. There was little law enforcement cooperation between the Federal Government of Somalia and regional governments, limiting U.S. law enforcement’s ability to investigate suspected terrorists, kidnappings, and other terrorism incidents committed in the region.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Somalia has observer status in the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF), a Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-style regional body. In February, Somalia signed into law the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism Act that had been passed by Parliament in late 2015. Somalia continued efforts to formalize its nascent financial sector and to develop the Central Bank of Somalia’s (CBS) capacity to supervise and regulate the informal financial sector, including money service businesses. Somalia has taken initial steps to ensure compliance with the new laws and procedures requiring the collection of data for money transfers or suspicious transactions. Implementation of the new anti-money laundering/countering the financing of terrorism law requires the development of specialized capacities, in both the public and private sectors, to regulate the financial sector and ultimately allow for the identification, investigation, and prosecution of terrorist financing cases.

The Licensing and Supervision Department of the CBS continued limited on- and off-site inspections and instituted procedures governing the licensing of commercial banks and money services businesses, in part due to the training, technical assistance, and direct mentorship programs of international partners, including the United States and the World Bank.

The Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism Act also established Somalia’s financial intelligence unit, the Financial Reporting Center (FRC). Still in its nascent stages, the FRC began to create policies and procedures, develop regulations, and coordinate with the CBS to establish its role as a key agency for the prevention of money laundering and terrorist financing.

For additional information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2017 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INSCR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes:

Countering Violent Extremism: The Somali government is taking steps to initiate nationwide efforts to counter violent extremism, particularly through counter-messaging. In September, the government launched the region’s first national CVE strategy to tackle radicalization to violence and violent extremism across Somalia. The Somali government continued to fund a position within the Ministry of Internal Security to propagate the CVE strategies and promote greater community involvement to counter the influence of terrorist groups. Radio Mogadishu and state‑owned television stations broadcasted counter-messaging programming.

As of November 2016, the revised reintegration program that combines funding from Germany and the African Development Bank aimed to reintegrate 50 disengaged combatants per month. International organizations estimated that defections from al-Shabaab to Somali government-led defection programs increased from 2015, although exact estimates were difficult to verify given limited government oversight of these programs. Higher defection rates have been attributed to ongoing counterterrorism pressure from U.S. airstrikes, as well as funding shortfalls that often strain al-Shabaab payments to low-level fighters.

International and Regional Cooperation: Somalia is a member of the African Union, IGAD, the Partnership for Regional East Africa Counterterrorism, the League of Arab States, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. The Federal Government of Somalia has expressed greater interest in increasing intelligence sharing and conducting joint operations against al-Shabaab with regional neighbors.