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Somalia’s Al-Shabaab Still Potent Threat, UN Report Warns

Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab group remains capable of launching large-scale attacks despite claims that the insurgency is weakening, a UN report warned on Friday.

The Islamist group carried out six new hotel attacks in Mogadishu from November 2015 to June of this year, the report by UN sanctions monitors said.

“Contrary to prevailing narratives of successful counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism efforts, the monitoring group assesses that the security situation has not improved in Somalia,” they said.

The Shabaab group “represents the most immediate threat to peace and security in Somalia and continues to be a destabilizing force in the broader East and Horn of Africa region,” they added in the report sent to the Security Council earlier this week.

While the jihadists have not launched a major attack outside Somalia since the 2015 massacre at Kenya’s Garissa University, the group “retains both the ability to carry out another such attack and a self-proclaimed motive about targeting countries contributing troops to AMISOM,” they said.

The African Union’s AMISOM force in Somalia includes mostly troops from Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Burundi.

After a bomb concealed in a laptop exploded on a Daallo airlines flight in February, the monitors warned that the Shabaab were resorting to more advanced tactics targeting aircraft.

They cited indications that the Islamists are “likely to have had external assistance in the construction of the device,” but those findings were detailed in a separate strictly confidential annex to the report.

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Assassinating leaders

Allied to Al-Qaeda since 2012, the Shabaab controlled Mogadishu for several years until it was pushed out in 2011. But the extremist group continues to fight to overthrow the Western-backed government.

A series of drone strikes and raids that killed at least three senior Shabaab leaders may have failed to have a serious impact on the Islamist group, the UN report said.

“Al-Shabaab possesses a robust and ideologically committed ‘middle management’ capable of seamlessly stepping into positions vacated by assassinated senior leaders,” it added.

After the council slapped a ban on charcoal exports, a major source of Shabaab funding, the insurgents turned to the illicit sugar trade and “taxation” of agricultural production.

The Shabaab derive up to $18 million a year in revenue from checkpoints demanding payment from trucks carrying sugar, according to the report.

It cited a Somali intelligence estimate that some $9.5 million go into Shabaab coffers per year from taxing agricultural production.

The report criticized the Somali government for failing to pay soldiers’ salaries, which led to withdrawals from areas in the south and center of the country that allowed Shabaab forces to return.

It cited continued corruption and a likely misappropriation of funds and supplies intended for soldiers, some of which came from outside countries.

Attacks on AMISOM have continued, the report said, including a deadly twin truck bombing of a Kenyan military compound in January that left some 150 soldiers dead.

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