14 January 2020

The enemy of my enemy is my friend

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

This old saying comes from the Arab space and the Middle East. In hindsight, we can state that, in some cases, world leaders’ actions seemed and still seem unclear; however, they are reasoned through the above mentioned saying. Could this also be the case of Iran and the al-Shabaab terrorist organization, Al-Qaida affiliated?

Image source: Mediafax

Economic connection between Iran and Al-Shabaab

One of Al-Shabaab organization’s funding methods is the illegal charcoal traffic. The Somali carbon, made of locust trees, is highly appreciated in the Gulf, thanks to its energy power that’s greater than any other tree in the area, it has a sweet flavor which is good for meat and tobacco browning. According to Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), Al-Shabaab gets, annually, around $ 7 million from illegal charcoal traffic. In an UN report from October 2018, it was stated that seven years after the UN Security Council prohibited (2012) the charcoal export from Somalia, almost 3 million bags of charcoal are annually exported from this country. The main destinations are Iran’s ports, where the charcoal  already falsely branded as coming from Comore, Ghana or the Ivory Coast, gets transferred into different bags branded as produced in Iran. The bags are then charged on Iranian ships and sent to Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, with certifications guaranteeing their provenance. Al-Shabaab’s incomes comes from feeing traffickers in different temporary “check points”, installed on known transport routes.

Within an UN summit from May 2018, wherein it was discussed the illegal carbon traffic from Somalia, the Somalis officials have asked for international cooperation to stop the traffic, stating that it increases insecurity by funding Al-Shabaab and destroys the environment due to the illegal cut of trees in a country that’s already affected by drought and starvation.

Therefore... an economic connection between Al-Shabaab and Iran already exists. Will this cooperation be extended after the death of Qods force leader, Qassem Soleimani?

The Kenya attack

 Sunday, January 5th 2020, members of Al-Shabaab attacked Camp Simba, Lamu district, a military base used by US antiterrorist forces from Kenya. Inside this base, there is the military airport Manda Bay. Camp Simba is used by AFRICOM American forces to train the Kenyan partners to fight terrorism and protect US’s interests in the region. According to Pentagon, US has less than 100 soldiers dislocated in Camp Simba.

After the attack, which lasted a few hours until the area was cleared, American and Kenyan officials have stated that three Americans were killed (a soldier and two contractors) and six aircrafts were destroyed. A police report in Kenya talks about the same number of victims, but more material damages, including two Cesna aircrafts (one from US and one from Kenya), two American helicopters, as well as many vehicles. The Al-Shabaab release that claimed the attack mentions 17 American victims, nine Kenyan soldiers and seven destroyed aircrafts. Despite this attack, airport’s airstrip stays functional and its operational capacity was affected only for a short period.

Last year (2019), Al-Shabaab attacked a US military base from Somalia (Baledogle), which is used to launch unmanned aircrafts attacks, but the attack was fought back without giving Al-Shabaab the chance to enter the military base.

The January 5th attack marks a significant escalation of the Somali terrorist organization’s actions in Kenya. This attack was the first of this kind (against an American-Kenyan base) executed on the Kenyan territory by Al-Shabaab. The terrorist organization developed several attacks on the Kenyan territory, starting with 2021, when this East-African country decided to send troops in Somalia to support the fight against Al-Shabaab terrorist organization, under African Union’s aegis. Did something changed only two days after the death of Qods force leaders, general major Qassem Soleimani?

Is there a different kind of cooperation between Iran and Al-Shabaab?

Al-Shabaab stated that the Kenya attack was part of a pro-Palestinian “Jihadist” campaign called „Al-Qods (Jerusalem) will never be Judaized”, started with the attack against the hotel Dusit, from Nairobi, January 2019, which ended with 21 deaths.

If we analyze the commentaries of witnesses and the official statements, the attack was not too sophisticated, the weapons were what Al-Shabaab usually uses, and attack’s final results have confirmed this information. The attack was „classic”, as we can state that attack’s objectives were: human loses and material damages, showing the operational capacity and publicity to attract funds and human resources. Also, most likely, they wanted revenge for the failed action in Baledogle (Somalia).

If from the way they worked we cannot state there is a connection between Iran and Al-Shabaab, from the point of view of the chosen moment things are different.

The death of Qods forces leader, Qassem Soleimani, offered and continues to offer a reason to start an attack against American facilities or personnel in Middle East and more, regardless of attackers’ religious orientation- Sunni or Shiite. Coincidence or not, the campaign Al-Shabaab developed aims at freeing Al-Qods (Jerusalem) from Judeans, which is similar with the rhetoric used by Iranians to legitimize the operations of Soleimani... who led the „Al Qods” forces.

Some final thoughts...

At a first sight, cooperation between Al-Shabaab and Qods forces would be impossible due to ideological differences between Sunni and Shiites. But, as I was stating in the beginning of this article, the economic connection already exists between Al-Shabaab and Iran. And, as both parts would benefit from such a relation, we cannot count out that „the enemy of my enemy is my friend” or „If you can’t beat them, join them”. Maybe the January 5th attack was a warning Al-Shabaab gave to Iran for a „tactical” cooperation... following clear objectives. Why would not Iran take advantage of a closer cooperation with Al-Shabaab? The first one wants to attack the American interests all over the world and the terrorist group wants new funds. The military counselling or material, financial or logistic support could „ease” Al-Shbaab’s actions, and religion, the economic transactions and politics can be, in the end, treated differently.

Translated by Andreea Soare