Eritrea 'planned to bomb AU summit'

UN report says Red Sea state's actions a threat to security and peace in the Horn and the whole of east African region.

    The UN report said Isaias Afewerki's government planned to "kill many people" at the AU summit in Addis Ababa [EPA]

    Eritrea tried to attack an African Union summit in neighbouring Ethiopia in January and is bankrolling al-Qaeda-linked Somali rebels through its embassy in Kenya, a UN report has revealed.

    The report, from the body's monitoring group on Somalia and Eritrea, said Eritrean intelligence personnel were active in Uganda, South Sudan, Kenya and Somalia, and that the country's actions posed a threat to security and peace in the region.

    "Whereas Eritrean support to foreign armed opposition groups has in the past been limited to conventional military operations, the plot to disrupt the African Union summit in Addis Ababa in January 2011, which envisaged mass casualty attacks against civilian targets and the strategic use of explosives to create a climate of fear, represents a qualitative shift in Eritrean tactics," the report obtained by the Reuters news agency said.

    The plan was to attack the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital, with a car bomb as African leaders took breaks, according to the report.

    The attackers also planned to blow up Africa's largest market to "kill many people" and attack the area between the office of Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia's prime minister, and the Sheraton Hotel where most heads of state stay during AU summits.

    The UN said while past Eritrean support for rebel groups in both Somalia and Ethiopia had to be seen in the context of an unresolved border dispute with Ethiopia, the new approach was a threat to the whole of the Horn and east Africa.

    "The fact that the same Eritrean officers responsible for the planning and direction of this operation are also involved, both in supervisory and operational roles, in external operations in Djibouti, Kenya, Uganda, Somalia and Sudan implies an enhanced level of threat to the region as a whole," the report said.

    Eritrea has repeatedly denied any involvement in funding rebel groups in the region. In June it rejected claims it had anything to do with the Addis Ababa bomb plot as "nonsensical remarks" with no legal basis.

    Araya Desta, the Eritrean ambassador to the UN, told Al Jazeera on Thursday that the report is "a [work of] fiction", calling it a "fabricated drama" which is "outrageous and ridiculous".

    "Eritrea has no record of acts of terrorism. Ethiopians are our brothers and sisters, there is no reason why we should target them," Desta said.

    He said that the report shows the UN monitoring group's bias against Eritrea and that it is "part of a wider scheme to push for more sanctions on Eritrea".

    "It 2006 they said Eritrea has 2,000 soldiers in Somalia. That was in the report. But when Ethiopians invaded Somalia at the end of 2006, they couldn't find even a single Eritrean," the ambassador said.

    "This is a clear bias of the monitoring group."

    Orders from Eritrea

    The UN has slapped an arms embargo on the Red Sea state, as well as a travel ban and an assets freeze on Eritrean political and military leaders who it says are violating an arms embargo on Somalia.

    Ethiopian intelligence officials uncovered the plot to set off multiple bombs in Addis Ababa at the AU summit, an event typically attended by more than 30 African leaders, in January this year.

    The UN report said all but one of the people arrested received all their training and orders directly from Eritrean officers. The other detainee was also in regular contact with an Ethiopian rebel group, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).

    "Although ostensibly an OLF operation, it was conceived, planned, supported and directed by the external operations directorate of the Government of Eritrea, under the leadership of General Te'ame," the report said.

    The equipment seized included C4 plastic explosives in food sacks, gas cylinders, detonators and a sniper rifle.
    General Te'ame told one of the plotters that the plan was to make "Addis Ababa like Baghdad", according to the report.
    However, in an interview with UN investigators, one of the men arrested, Omar Idriss Mohamed, said the aim was not to kill African leaders but to show them that Ethiopia was not safe.
    "By so doing, some people may start to listen to what Eritrea is saying about Ethiopia. Some Arab States will be sympathetic to this view," he was quoted as saying.
    According to the UN report, Omar is an OLF member who was approached by the Eritrean security services though Colonel Gemachew. Omar, who visited Eritrea in 2009 and 2010, became the Addis team leader for the plot.
    The UN report included a letter from Romania confirming a sniper rifle found in the possession of one of the bomb plotters had been sold to Eritrea in 2004.
    The report included payment slips to the plotters in Addis Ababa through money transfers. The plotters told the UN that an Eritrean colonel had arranged for the transfers via intermediaries in Sudan and Kenya.
    Ethiopia routinely accuses Eritrea of supporting rebel groups. Zenawi, the prime minister, declared in April that his country would support Eritrean guerrillas fighting to overthrow Isaias Afewerki, the Eritrean president.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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