New Year’s Day was greeted in Somalia by a mortar attack on Mogadishu airport. A fortnight earlier 62 al-Shabaab fighters were killed in 48 hours of airstrikes, the US announced. There were 52 fatalities from three car bombs in the capital two weeks before that, an attack that followed soon after 20 deaths from a truck packed with explosives. Still the level of violence is said to be down, by Somali standards. The latest crisis for the country is one of internationalpolitics.
The government has expelled the UN special envoy to the country and this directly led to the British defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, cancelling a visit to Mogadishu and a meeting with President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and his ministers while on a trip to the region. The UN envoy, Nicholas Haysom, was asked to leave after he had questioned the arrest of Mukhtar Robow, the former deputy leader of al-Shabaab and one of the founders of the Islamist group, who had defected 18 months earlier and was running for a regional presidency. The special representative of the UN secretary general also raised concern over allegations of police brutality at protests which followed the detention.
Mr Robow was seized by Ethiopian troops, part of an international peacekeeping force, two weeks ago in the city of Baidoa and flown to Mogadishu. Twelve people, including an MP from the regional parliament, died in the ensuing violence and a government minister, from the area, resigned from President Mohamed’s government. The arrest is viewed by Western officials as a blow against getting others in the Islamist hierarchy to lay down the gun and join the politicalprocess in a country that has been largely kept afloat through international aid.
Mr Robow, who had fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan, is the most senior member of the group to change sides in a project to “turn” extremists, one which Britain has played an important part in putting together. Mr Robow, The Independent understands, was rescued from al-Shabaab territory by US special forces in a mission with British help. A western security official who was involved in the operation said: “His seniority and the standing of Robow in the community means that his defection was a big blow to al-Shabaab.