Monday, June 23, 2014

Djibouti: Al-Shabaab's Latest Front

On 24 May, two Ethiopian-Somali suicide bombers, a man and a woman, entered a popular Djibouti restaurant and blew themselves up. Dozens of Western military personnel were wounded, and one Turkish national later died of his injuries. 

Al-Shabaab claimed the attack three days later, announcing in a statement that the target had been "French crusaders" responsible for the "persecution" of Muslims in the Central African Republic (CAR). 

Two days prior to the attack, the two bombers – later identified as Musa Roble Hirad and Hodan Mohamed Isse – entered Djibouti via Loyada, the only land border crossing with Somaliland, assisted by a Djiboutian border officer. They had spent at least 20 days in the capital Hargeisa where they likely received local assistance, according to Muse Bihi, the chairman of Somaliland's ruling Kulmiye party.

There are strong indications that the attack was planned and financed in Somaliland, possibly even with the assistance of government officials. The Somaliland connection will certainly worry the Ethiopians, as the autonomous region has long been the eastern flank of Ethiopia's regional security strategy of isolating itself from Somalia's instability.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Al-Shabaab's New Face in Kenya?

With the notable exception of Westgate, terrorism incidents in Kenya have largely consisted of lobbed grenades and makeshift IEDs. The perpetrators have tended to be sympathetic to al-Shabaab's ideology but unlikely to have direct ties to the group. 

But there are signs that al-Shabaab top brass are beginning to take a more active role in Kenya, where the security climate has rapidly deteriorated over the past year despite the East African country receiving vast intelligence support from American, British and Israeli spy agencies.

In a 23 April suicide attack, two militants detonated a Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) at a police station in the Nairobi neighbourhood of Pangani, killing two police officers as well as the attackers. Many believe that the station was not the intended target, but that the bombers had been on their way to another site – perhaps a nightclub – when they were pulled over for driving on the wrong side of the road. The blast was atypically powerful, and it is possible that the secondary bomber was wearing a suicide belt to augment the main explosives contained in the vehicle's boot. 

It was the second time in under two months that a sophisticated VBIED – bearing the signs of more direct al-Shabaab involvement – had found its way into a Kenyan police station. On 11 March, an impounded car brought to an Anti-Terror Police Unit station in Mombasa was later found to contain six pipe bombs attached to a mobile phone detonator, containing enough plastic explosives to collapse a multi-storey building.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Curious Bank of Julius Wainwright Jr.

I've decided to post my first foray, in many years, into short fiction writing. It's a bit of a weird one-- a satire both of international development and the financial crisis--but I hope it works. 

The Curious Bank of Julius Wainwright Jr.

Julius Wainwright Jr., esteemed industrialist and financier, was bored. He had long ago been universally acknowledged as the foremost businessman of his age, and his professional life no longer offered him any challenge. In the press he was alternatively referred to as a ‘titan of industry’ or a ‘modern robber baron,’ depending on the political inclinations of the journalist. He had a reputation, the accuracy of which was uncertain, for never having taken a loss in any of his business dealings. Even those who blamed him and his ilk for all the ills of the world viewed Julius Wainwright with begrudging respect, and—though they would have been loath to admit it—a concealed streak of envy.

Friday, May 31, 2013

The Wild West in East Africa

The Puntland Marine Police Force
My latest article, "The Wild West in East Africa," appeared Foreign Policy today, co-authored with maritime security analyst James Bridger. In it we detail the transition of northern Somalia's mercenary-trained Puntland Marine Police Force (PMPF) from counter-piracy force to al-Shabaab hunters:

It's not easy to be a mercenary these days. The once-booming markets in Iraq and Afghanistan have shrunk, while lingering controversy surrounding the mercenary poster-boy company Blackwater (or whatever they're called these days) has served to paint private security contractors as reckless and unaccountable war junkies. A good gig as a soldier of fortune is harder and harder to come by.

Yet there's one war-torn country where demand for guns-for-hire is still high. A contingent of mercenaries has managed to carve out a niche for itself in the failed state of Somalia. Initially brought on in an internationally controversial mission to combat pirates terrorizing Somalia's coastal waters, the mostly South African corps have now turned to fighting Somalia's al Qaeda-linked terrorist menace, al-Shabab. In the anarchic world of failed states, private contractors are often able to accomplish what goverments are not. But the consequences are hard to predict.

To read the full article, click here.