Sunday, February 25, 2024

Somalia says it has blocked websites used by al-Shabab

By Mohamed Olad Hassan
Friday February 2, 2024

Somalia’s National Intelligence and Security Agency said Thursday it has for the first time managed to “completely shut down” 14 news websites allegedly operated by the extremist group al-Shabab.

NISA, in a statement posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, said that following a cybersecurity operation, its cyber division had identified sites working to advance illicit activities by al-Shabab, the East African affiliate of al-Qaida.

It said the operation involved the investigation of suspicious websites and identification of their registered owners.

Somali Deputy Information Minister Abdirahman Yusuf Adala told VOA that operation is part of the federal government’s fight against terrorism and extremism.

“The government intelligence agency has shut down these websites because the al-Shabab terrorist group have been using these sites to disseminate its misguided ideology and their jihadist propaganda,” said Adala.

On Tuesday, NISA said it also shut down 20 WhatsApp groups allegedly operated by al-Shabab for the purposes of “extortion and intimidation.”

In a brief statement, the agency said it also disabled data services for approximately 2,500 phone numbers associated with them.

This cyber security operation comes at a time Somalia is seeking to disrupt al-Shabab’s communication channels and financial transactions as part of a “total war” declared against the group, which for years has controlled parts of the country and carried out deadly terrorist attacks in the capital, Mogadishu.

Al-Shabab has funded itself by extorting businesses in Mogadishu and collecting taxes in the areas under its control.

In January 2023, the Somali government said it had shut down the financial infrastructure that supported al-Shabab. At the time, Somali Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre said his government had closed every known account connected with the militants.

However, the group has continued to function by taking cash from businesses in government-controlled areas.

In December 2023, the United Nations Security Council removed the final restrictions on weapons deliveries to Somalia’s government and its security forces, more than 30 years after an arms embargo was first imposed on the country.

Somalia has also secured a $4.5 billion debt relief deal from its international creditors. The deal is designed to allow the Horn of Africa nation to develop economically and start new projects.

Now, with African Union peacekeeping troops having completed the second phase of a withdrawal from the Horn of Africa nation, Somalia’s federal government is seeking to create conditions for the Somali National Army to take over security responsibilities.

The government has promised for months to initiate the second phase of its offensive against al-Shabab in southern Somalia, historically a jihadist stronghold.

Abdiaziz Ahmed Barrow contributed this report from Mogadishu.

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