Financing Al Shabaab: How Qatar calls the shot in Somalia

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Al-Shabaab, a Somali militant group commonly known as a “Salafi-jihadist movement”, is the major instigator behind the ongoing political crisis and frequent attacks in Somalia. The Islamic extremist group which holds strong ties with Al Qaeda has been designated as a terrorist group by various countries including US. The group which has turned into a transnational threat, only seems to be growing stronger as the African Union and the struggling Transitional Federal Government of Somalia, along with support from United States, were unable to make much progress in suppressing its terror activities in the region.

To control the group’s activities it’s important to nab its source of revenue which is pumping life in it. So far the group’s life line is its financial backing it receives from Iran, Qatar, Turkey, Eritrea and some terrorist organisation to help it to spread extremism in the Horn of Africa. Somalia has been struggling to achieve political stability for past two decades and its war against terror is economic than political or ideological.

According to a study conducted by the Clingendael Institute, a think-tank in the Netherlands, after the food crisis led to price rise in 2008, wealthy Gulf states rushed to buy farmland in Sudan and Ethiopia to gain food security. The study reported that from 2000 to 2017 Gulf states invested $13bn in the Horn of Africa, mainly in Sudan and Ethiopia. Besides, the eastern African nations are seen as potential extension of the Arabian oil province. This economic trade off to launch investment project in the African country sounds fine and fair, the issue arises when some nations try to vandalise investment projects of their rival nations and in that pursuit they start supporting terror groups. Qatar is one such nation.

Last year, a recorded telephonic conversation between Khalifa Kayed Al-Muhanadi, a Qatari businessman, also considered a close aide to Qatar’s emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, and Hassan bin Hamza Hashem, the Qatari ambassador to Somalia. The attack claimed by the group last year, on the port of Bosaso, revealed that the key motive of the attack was to push the Dubai company DP World, which controls the operation the port, out of the African land.

“The bombings and killings, we know who is behind them,” Al-Muhanadi says in a recording of the conversation leaked to The New York Times. “Our friends were behind the last bombings.” The attacks were “intended to make Dubai people run away from there,” he said. “Let them kick out the Emiratis, so they don’t renew the contracts with them and I will bring the contract here to Doha.”

The ambassador replies: “So that’s why they are having attacks there, to make them run away.”

Besides, in a sensational disclosure Abdullahi Mohamed Ali (a.k.a. Sanbalolshe), the former director of Somalia’s spy agency NISA said that Qatar funnels money into Al-Shabaab by arranging the ransom payments after the terror group kidnaps Western hostages. The revelation came with the recent release of Italian aid worker Silvia Romana from the grip of terror group, Al-Shabaab. The entire game flipped as Qatar, who played a major role in release of Romana was accused of conniving the entire plan in the first place.

“Allegations of Qatar having ties and relations with extremist groups and its financial support to fund their activities isn’t new.Qatar has been a main sponsor of Al-Shabaab for a decades. It uses many tricks and channels to provide financial, logistical and intelligence support. One of their main ways is through a group of individuals who are currently in the Somali government particularly the intelligence agency. In Somalia, no one knows whether Qatar can be considered as friend of foe but for sure it has been a seed and force for instability and chaos,” said Sanbalolshe.

During an interview to Arabic Al Arabia TV, he added,“Ransom is not the only source of funding for Al-Shabaab, but one of many avenues. The group carries out attacks on behalf of Qatar inside Somalia and outside in exchange for significant financial resources.”

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