On 29 January 2013, an al-Shabaab “defector” made it through a series of checkpoints in the heavily guarded Villa Somalia government compound and detonated himself near Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon’s home.
The attack killed the bomber, two other people, and wounded several others. PM Shirdon was in his home at the time of the bombing but was not harmed.
According to AP reporter Abdi Guled, the bomber was four checkpoints away from the home of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who was out of the country to attend meetings in Europe.
National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) chief for Banadir region Colonel Khalif Ahmed Ereg identified the attacker as Ali Abdi Hared Malin and released his picture.
Reuters, citing security guards at the scene, reported that Malin was able to enter Villa Somalia with an identity card used by security forces and “frequently visited [Villa Somalia.]” This fueled speculation that Malin was a part of the security apparatus.
However, Ereg discounted the rumors that Malin was a member of intelligence or security forces and claimed that Malin defected from al-Shabaab only two weeks before the attack on 14 January 2013 in the town of Wanlaweyn (90 km north of Mogadishu). Malin allegedly was being investigated in a local defectors camp before he later escaped.
Ereg stated that he would be look into how the attacker was facilitated out of the camp in order to carry out the attack.
The bombing shows the acute risk that Somali officials still face from al-Shabaab, which claimed responsibility for the failed operation.
Danger from “Defectors”
Though Malin was not employed by the government, his ability to escape from a defectors camp and penetrate one of the most heavily-guarded zones in Mogadishu draws into question the government’s policies and programs regarding defectors.
The Somali government has come under heavy criticism for absorbing ex-Shabaab members into sensitive intelligence and security positions.
It may believe that this strategy can help it to catch al-Shabaab members and foil potential attacks. But the fact that the government has continued mass arrest campaigns to find al-Shabaab “members” (as opposed to pinpointed apprehensions) and the steady string of attacks in the capital show that using defectors may not be an effective strategy.
Equally important, al-Shabaab has used defectors to infiltrate Somali government circles for some time, which makes it even harder to justify the employment of defectors in security or intelligence capacities.
The Somali government has taken some steps to guard against internal enemies. In addition to the establishment of defector camps and rehab programs, there have been workshops in the past to discuss standard operation procedures for how to integrate former fighters into society.
Paul D. Williams, an Associate Professor at George Washington University, recently published an insightful report calling for greater financial funding, resources, and planning regarding how to disengage the 250 defectors held by AMISOM and 1,500 held by the Somali government. The report also contains many other important details about the issue of defectors and rehab efforts in Somalia.
Another real worry–largely based in rumor–is that the Villa Somalia bombing was not simply the work of an al-Shabaab “defector,” but part of a more intricate plan involving at least one un-named senior NISA official. If this is the case, securing Villa Somalia (and the greater Mogadishu area) has as much to do with identifying nefarious elements in the government as it does with establishing programs for defectors.
Stability at Risk
Al-Shabaab doesn’t control Mogadishu, but the Villa Somalia bombing shows the group has the presence, will, and capacity to attempt more assassinations in the future on officials at the highest level of government.
While this wouldn’t magically bring back al-Shabaab to its former strength or make it more popular locally, it would accomplish the group’s goal of sowing the seeds of instability in a brand new government that still relies heavily on international forces for protection.