Al-Shabaab Increases Attacks as Elections Drag in Somalia


Al-Shabaab mounted one of its deadliest attacks Wednesday, targeting elections at the regional presidential palace in Beledweyne town. Forty-eight people were killed and more than 100 others were wounded.

Among the dead was a firebrand woman member of parliament, Amina Mohamed, who was on the campaign trail when she was targeted and killed by a suicide bomber.

The incident brings to five the number of parliamentary candidates who have been killed in the last two months.

Hours earlier, two Shabab militants breached the heavily fortified compound at Mogadishu’s airport, where presidential elections are scheduled to take place. Offices for the U.N., Western embassies, and the African Union peacekeeping mission are located in the same area.

Attacks are brazen

Security analysts said the brazen attacks were a fresh demonstration of al-Shabab’s goal of destabilizing the government in Mogadishu.

Professor Abdiwahab Abdisamad, the chairperson for the Institute for Horn of African Strategic Studies, contends the militant group is trying to prevent the elections from moving forward.

“They will make sure that they have to fail the western system of governance at any cost,” Abdismad said. “If you look at what happened in Barawe, in Beledweyne, in Mogadishu, that is a clear indication, they want to increase the attacks during the election period.”

Somalia has been in election mode since last July to fill the 329 seats in its parliament.

However, that process has been marred by delays caused by political wrangling, both at the local level and between the president and prime minister.

Last September, President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo briefly tried to suspend the powers of Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble, accusing him of misuse of power.

Vote said to be secure

But Ahmed Safiina, the spokesperson of the Federal Elections Indirect Team (FEIT), said the elections remain secure despite the difficulties and violence.

Safiina said security has been tightened at all polling stations and is provided by national police as well as the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Safiina said anyone who wants to undermine the election by acts of terrorism or disruption will fail.

“The election is going well for us now,” he said. “We are not worried about terrorist acts.”

Election deadline missed

Parliamentary elections were set to end on March 15 but that deadline was missed. The federal poll agency has now set the opening of parliament for April 15, when newly elected lawmakers will be sworn in. A joint session of the Federal Parliament will subsequently elect a new president.

But the remaining three weeks provide time for al-Shabab to wage its violent campaign against the election, said Abdisamad.

“If the election is being delayed then they must have got time, so that at least they can easily target the elders, who select the candidates,” Abdisamad said. “They can easily kill candidates vying for the seats. They can easily interrupt the entire election process, so that they see failed outcome at the end of the day.”

The twin attacks this week affirmed fears that al-Shabab remains a potent force, one the new government will have to deal with.


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