Mogadishu's stability under the gun again

Rebel group al-Shabab ramps up attacks in Somali capital, two years after its withdrawal.

    Mogadishu's stability under the gun again
    More than a dozen people died in Saturday’s attack in the capital Mogadishu at The Village restaurant [AP]

    Mogadishu, Somalia - Ahmed Jama is busy picking up the remains after explosions ripped apart his roadside eatery, not far from Somalia's partially rebuilt parliament.

    A broken chair here, burnt bones there. To him, this has now become routine.

    More than a dozen people died in Saturday's attack in the capital Mogadishu. It was the third time in less than two years that Jama's restaurants have been hit - the second time this particular eatery was targeted.

    Last September, two suicide bombers blew themselves up at this restaurant, killing 15 diners.

    This time, a vehicle laden with explosives was detonated in the parking lot. Then, as people gathered around the burning vehicle to help the wounded, a suicide bomber moved in and blew himself up, killing at least 20 and wounding 24 others.

    Jama moved back from London more than two years ago to start The Village restaurant chain in Mogadishu.

    "I'm cleaning today and tomorrow," he said, a day after the attack, in a soft, tired-sounding voice. "The builders are coming to fix the rest of the restaurant."

    With no insurance coverage in Somalia, Jama is footing the bill to bring the business back on its feet again.

    "It's tough financially … I also pay the hospital bills of the injured in the hospitals," he said. "No support from anyone, I pay it alone."

    Al-Shabab strikes again

    The rebel group al-Shabab that is targeting Somalia's fledging one-year old government claimed responsibility for the restaurant attack.

    Al-Shabab attacks since April 2013
    April 14 – Suicide and car explosions at courthouse. 35 killed.
    April 14 – Car explosion kills three including two Turkish aid workers.
    May 5 – Car explosion targets Qatari convoy. Eight killed.
    June 19 – Suicide and car explosions on UN compound. About 22 killed, including four foreign nationals.
    July 12 - Car explosion targets AMISOM convoy. Eight killed.
    July 27 – Car explosion targets Turkish Embassy guesthouse. Three killed, including one Turkish security officer.
    September 3 – Attack on President Mohamud's convoy near Marka town. No one hurt.
    September 7 – Suicide and car explosions at The Village restaurant. Some 20 killed.

    "We attacked this particular place because it is a base for government intelligence officers and Western agents," Sheikh Abdulaziz Abu Musab, al-Shabab's military operations spokesman, told Al Jazeera. "It is not a restaurant but a cover."

    The accusation was strongly denied by Jama.

    "I'm a chef and a businessman. I work for no one. They have been given wrong information," he said.

    Under pressure from Somali government soldiers, backed by more than 17,000 peacekeepers from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), the group withdrew from Mogadishu two years ago.

    They have also lost control of most major cities in south and central Somalia.

    But attacks by the group have been on the increase, especially in Mogadishu. The night before Jama's restaurant was bombed, more than 15 explosions, mostly grenade blasts, rocked this battle-scared, war-weary seaside city of one million inhabitants.

    Only hours before the series of explosions disturbed the city's nighttime calm, the al-Qaeda-linked group ambushed a convoy carrying Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud near the port city of Marka. No one was hurt in the ambush.

    Lately, attacks by the group are becoming more sophisticated and daring. The strikes have evolved from the usual targeted assassinations and laying of roadside bombs to hit vehicles of passing government officials and AMISOM convoys, to ramming vehicles laden with explosives into security gates of buildings housing government and international organisations, before gunmen with explosives strapped to their bodies storm the premises.

    Often explosions are followed by sustained gunfire, either by al-Shabab fighters storming buildings or by panic-stricken security guards, causing the whole city to shut down.

    Road closures

    Most of the attacks occur in the city's three main streets; Maka al-Mukarama road, Airport road and Tarabunka road. The latter two have been partly closed since late June.

    One of the government's well-known responses to these attacks has been to put blast barriers or close the city's main thoroughfares to vehicle traffic, in a bid to prevent future operations by al-Shabab.

    Peace is good. When you have peace, everyone is a winner.

    - Mohamed Ali, fruit seller.

    Businesses, especially those in the public transport sector, are hurting because of the increasing road closures in the city.

    Fuad Haji Abdiweli returned from London to start Som Taxi, a 50-fleet minicab business in Mogadishu. Once a thriving business, the closures are now choking the company's coffers.

    "Every time there is an explosion I have to park all my taxis," Abdiweli said from the company offices on Maka al-Mukarama road.

    "If my cars are not on the road working, I'm not making any money but still I have to pay my drivers and all the other bills. Road closures are not good for my business or finances."

    Smaller businesses have faired even worse because of the closures. Maryan Mohamed, a mother of two, used to sell tea near the busy Kilometre 4 junction, but because of road closure near her stall her customer numbers dwindled almost to zero. With few people to sell tea to, she was left with no choice but to move her stall to Taleeh.

    "They closed the road so I had no customers," she said with a tea kettle boiling next to her on an open-air charcoal-stove. "Business is slow here. I'm new here and not many customers know me. I didn't want to move, but what can I do."

    'Enemy of the people'

    A spokesman said the government is aware of the inconvenience the increasing attacks and road closures are causing to the local populace.

    Somalia marks one year of elected parliament

    "Al-Shabab, the enemy of the Somali people, is weak," Abdirahman Omar Osman Yarisow said. "The barriers and road closures are for the safety of everyone and are temporary. The roads will re-open once the enemy is defeated."

    According to the government, the increase in attacks in the city is an attempt by al-Shabab to discourage Somali diaspora and investors from coming to Somalia.

    The internationally backed government is also marking one year since it came into office. This, the government spokesman said, is also another reason for the spike in attacks in Mogadishu.

    "Al-Shabab is trying to mask the government achievements since we came into office a year ago," Yarisow said. "But it won't work. They are just killing innocent Somalis."

    But the al-Shabab spokesman said their attacks in Mogadishu have nothing to do with the one-year government anniversary, or stopping Somalis coming back to their country.

    "Mogadishu is the heart of our enemy and the enemy of the Somali people," Abu Musab said. "We will attack our enemies at every opportunity.

    "It is the one place they constantly say they have secured. Our attacks show we can strike when and where we want, despite what the apostates say."

    After living through more than two decades of conflict, the city's residents are tired of war and want to see an end.

    But for Jama, moving back to London where his family still resides, is not an option he is considering.

    "Bombs will not make me leave my city. As soon as the builders fix the restaurant I will start serving food. I'm here for the long haul."

    Follow Hamza Mohamed on Twitter

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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