The Somali militant Islamist group al Shabaab attacked the Jazeera Palace Hotel in Mogadishu on July 26 with a vehicle bomb that killed at least 13 people and injured 21. A vehicle packed with powerful explosives was parked within yards of the boundary wall of the hotel and the colossal damage left the building almost demolished. This incident came towards the end of the second leg of US President Barack Obama’s tour of East Africa. In his speech in Ethiopia on July 27, he expressed his determination to root out al Shabaab’s terrorism. Witnesses said that blood and pieces of flesh were spattered around the site of the blast. Nearby was the wreckage of four cars. Reports on the incident were not clear on the motives behind the attack or its timing. One view was that this could be in response to the US President’s African tour, another that this hotel is near the international airport where the African Union’s AMISOM troops fighting al Shabaab are based, yet another that the hotel is known for hosting foreign missions of countries such as China, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It is also popular among Somali government officials and foreign visitors. Al Shabaab while claiming responsibility however, pinned the cause down to retaliation for the killing of dozens of innocent civilians by Ethiopian forces in the south of the country. Somali government and AMISOM troops last week launched a fresh offensive in the southern reaches of the country, where they have succeeded since their deployment in 2007 in retaking towns and territory al Shabaab had held for years. US drone strikes have also taken their toll of al Shabaab, killing senior commanders, including the group’s leader Ahmed Godane in September last year.
Al Shabaab is known for staging such atrocities in its bid to topple Somalia’s government. Somalia is trying to recapture al Shabaab-controlled territory and rebuild after decades of conflict and chaos and the group, although weakened, is proving a stubborn hindrance. Al Shabaab is openly affiliated with al Qaeda, while there are unconfirmed reports it may be toying, like so many similar groups in Africa and the Middle East, with the idea of switching its allegiance to the seemingly more successful Islamic State (IS). These developments serve to underline the fact that the new emerging ‘terror international’, even more virulent since the entry of IS, is now operating in a cross-border manner in many parts of Africa and the Middle East, while governments are trying to fight the affliction within their state boundaries. AMISOM is one of the few exceptions, and its success points the way forward to the region’s, and the world’s countries needing to come together in a holistic strategy against this phenomenon. Individual countries fighting on their own may not be able to contain the menace, whereas an ‘anti-terror international’ appears the need of the hour. *