US Focused on Disrupting Finances for Somalia’s Al-Shabab

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United States strongly backed efforts to disrupt the illegal financing methods used by Somalia’s al-Shabab extremist group, which according to U.N. experts raised more than the $21 million it spent last year on fighters, weapons and intelligence.

U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft told the Security Council on Wednesday the Trump administration is committed to partnering with other countries and using U.N. sanctions to counter al-Shabab’s “financing of terrorism” and the threat from homemade bombs the group is making.

The United States also remains focused on limiting the ability of al-Shabab to conduct attacks against civilians, she said.

The Security Council was focusing on the panel of experts whose latest report stresses the continuing impact of al-Shabab’s operations not only in Somalia but in neighboring Kenya.

“The threat posed by al-Shabab to peace, security and stability in Somalia goes beyond the impact of the group’s conventional military action and asymmetric warfare to include sophisticated extortion and `taxation’ systems, child recruitment practices and an effective propaganda machine,” the report said.

Al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab remains the most active and resilient extremist group in Africa, controlling parts of southern and central Somalia and often targeting checkpoints and other high-profile areas in the capital, Mogadishu. It has fired several mortars this year at the heavily defended international airport, where the U.S. Embassy and other missions are located.

The panel said al-Shabab lost territory as a result of military operations by the Somali National Army and the joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force and the increased intensity of airstrikes “by international actors,” including the United States. But since last December, it said the group was able to carry out three large-scale complex attacks, including on a U.S.-Kenyan military base in January and Mogadishu’s Elite Hotel in August.

The experts stressed that military operations against al-Shabab “must be accompanied by non-military efforts to degrade the group’s capacity and combat its propaganda.”

The panel of experts focused on one al-Shabab “taxation” checkpoint in Lower Juba, the group’s extortion of businesses in Kismayo, and two bank accounts associated with the group’s collection of taxes on imports into the port in Mogadishu, and “zakat” — an annual religious obligation.

Its investigation found that al-Shabab generated approximately $13 million in these four case studies alone. It assessed that the group remains “in a strong financial position and is generating a significant budgetary surplus, some of which is invested in property purchases and businesses in Mogadishu.”

The experts’ report said the Somali government has taken steps to strengthen the country’s financial sector to combat terrorism financing through legislation and oversight, and the private sector has also implemented measures to protect its systems.

The government, supported by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime and the panel, is developing a disruption plan for al-Shabab finances that builds on current reforms and requires engagement from across government, the private sector and the international community, the report said.

Belgium’s U.N. Ambassador Philippe Kridelka, who chairs the Security Council committee monitoring an arms embargo and other sanctions against Somalia, reported on the panel’s work Wednesday, emphasizing its financial analysis of al-Shabab’s revenue and insights from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime into the trafficking of improvised explosive device components.

In their 2019 report, the experts said al-Shabab was manufacturing its own explosives, and in the latest report they said IEDs continue to be its “primary weapon of choice.”

The panel said an analysis by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation confirmed that al-Shabab was using nitroglycerine as an explosive, potassium nitrate as an oxidizer, and charcoal as fuel in some explosives — and it said the group was using a variety of switches to trigger explosions.

Craft, the U.S. ambassador, said: “Addressing the ongoing al-Shabaab threat requires close cooperation between the federal government of Somalia, the Somali private sector, and international partners in order to disrupt their sources of financing.”

“We are encouraged to learn this cooperation has been gaining momentum,” she said.

Craft also urged council members to renew the U.N. sanctions next month, including a ban on IED components.

Germany’s U.N. Ambassador Christoph Heusgen welcomed the panel’s improved cooperation, saying it is needed to tackle “the continuing challenge that al-Shabab poses to the stability and security of the country.”

Therefore, he said, “it is very important that the sanctions regime will be continued to really prevent al-Shabab to do what they try to do.”

Russia’s Deputy U.N. Ambassador Anna Evstigneeva said Moscow considers sanctions, including the restrictions on IED components, an important instrument to assist the Somali government in establishing peace and security. But she stressed that sanctions “should under no circumstances be an impediment” to the Somali National Army in the fight against al-Shabab.