WAS THE BATTLE FOR GALKAYO A CLAN DISPUTE OR A VICTORY FOR PUNTLAND OVER AL-SHABAAB?
A gun battle between militants and Puntland security forces in Galkayo (the capital of Mudug region) on September 1 and 2 has left 68 dead and 153 wounded. The administration of the autonomous Somali province of Puntland announced the defeat of a group of al-Shabaab fighters in the battle in Puntland’s second-most populous city, but there are serious questions as to whether security forces were engaged with al-Shabaab or were actually fighting in a clan-based conflict.
The insistence of both President Abdirahman Muhammad Mohamud “Farole” and Puntland security minister Kalif Isse Mudan that Puntland security forces were battling al-Shabaab militants was challenged by the president’s own terrorism advisor, General Muhammad Dahir Shimbir, who said his unit’s investigation of the incident had revealed only local residents “mostly from one clan” involved in the fighting. The General further suggested that the massive number of killed and wounded could not be justified (Raxanreeb Radio, September 11). A hospital and various hotels were also reported to have suffered from damage inflicted during the fight and subsequent looting by government forces (RBC Radio, September 10). Mortars and artillery are reported to have been used by Puntland forces.
The fighting was concentrated in the Garsor village district of Galkayo, populated mainly by the Leelkase sub-clan of the Darod (RBC Radio, September 10). One report claims that a police unit made up of men belonging to a rival sub-clan was deployed to Galkayo several weeks ago, heightening tension in the town (Horseed Media, September 8). The southern part of Galkayo is administered by Galmudug, an autonomous region of central Somalia with an uneasy relationship with Puntland. Puntland claims that South Galkayo, under the Galmudug administration, is a base for militancy in North Galkayo and supplied the fighters in North Galkayo with “safe refuge, medical assistance and even ammunition” (Horseed Media, September 5; Radio Garowe, September 4). 
To confirm their version of events, Puntland authorities displayed a group of men they alleged were al-Shabaab fighters captured in two separate operations in the Garsor neighborhood of Galkayo. A police official informed journalists that all the men had pleaded guilty and were awaiting arraignment in court (SUNA Times, September 8). Puntland officials say the Garsor neighborhood is a base of operations for assassinations and violence across Puntland. Some of the prisoners displayed were said to have been captured during a raid on an al-Shabaab safe-house in Galkayo as they planned further acts of violence, while other prisoners were said to have been arrested while engaged in combat against Puntland security forces (Horseed Media, August 8). Journalists in attendance apparently did not talk to the prisoners.
A video of young men fighting the security forces in Galkayo did not show the organized and heavily-armed veteran fighters of al-Shabaab, but rather a line of young men hugging a building while waiting for their turn to fire off one of two weapons in their possession.  Al-Shabaab has not issued a statement regarding the fighting, odd for a movement that has rarely shied away from admitting its participation in battles against Somali authorities.
Puntland also condemned Galmudug leader Muhammad Ahmad Alim for telling the BBC the fighting in Galkayo was “clan-based” and asserted that the men killed or arrested by security forces in Galkayo came from a number of different areas and belonged to several different clans.
Most of the fighting on behalf of the Puntland government was carried out by the Puntland Intelligence Service (PIS), the strongest armed group in Puntland, where it absorbs an enormous amount of the annual budget. The PIS is formed largely from the Osman Mahmud sub-clan of the Majerteen (which also dominates the Puntland administration) and has been accused of inciting clan warfare against the Warsangeli clan of the Darod in Bosaso. In the summer of 2010 the PIS engaged in battles against a militia led by Islamist Shaykh Muhammad Sa’id “Atam” (a Warsangeli) in the mountainous Galgala district of Puntland’s Bari Region (for a profile of Shaykh Atam, see Militant Leadership Monitor, October 2, 2010). Local radio reported on September 7 that Puntland security forces had engaged in an hour-long gun battle with militants led by Shaykh Muhamamad Sa’id Atam that killed five people (Radio Shabelle, September 7, 2010). The PIS has been targeted by al-Shabaab in the past, most notably with a pair of suicide car bombs that struck two PIS anti-terrorism offices in Bosasso, the economic capital of Puntland, killing six PIS agents (AFP, October 30, 2008).
According to a report in the Somaliland Press (generally unsympathetic to the regime in Puntland), the conflict started as a traditional dispute over water wells by members of the Issa Mahmud sub-clan of the Majerteen/Darod (the sub-clan of President Farole) and the Leelkase sub-clan of the Darod. The conflict spread to Galkayo, where members of both sub-clans live, before the government sent in troops and armor to subdue the Leelkase, dubbing them al-Shabaab fighters in the process (Somaliland Press, September 5). However, Puntland President Farole stated: “There was no clan fighting in Galkayo. Our forces were fighting against terrorists who target our citizens. This is our duty. Our government stops clan wars. We spend massive resources and manpower to stop clan wars, and presently our forces are deployed in many regions of Puntland to prevent clan wars. But al-Shabaab terrorist group is notorious for using the clan card, for hiding under local grievances, similar to methods they used during the Galgala conflict” (Radio Garowe, September 4).
Puntland officials never fail to point out that al-Shabaab’s leadership is in the hands of members of the Isaaq clan of Somaliland, and insist that the campaign of bombings and assassinations plaguing Puntland are organized and funded in Somaliland (Garowe Online, September 10). The town of Burao, in particular, is often mentioned as the source of al-Shabaab plots against Puntland (Radio Garowe, September 1).
There is very little incentive for regional governments such as Puntland to admit to clan-based clashes when it is more profitable to claim threatening incursions by al-Shabaab/al-Qaeda and watch the military support and funding roll in, strengthening the hand of the regional government against its neighbors. Admitting to clan clashes is also an acknowledgement that serious clan differences exist, an uncomfortable admission for a government almost entirely based on a single sub-clan. Though Puntland has undoubtedly been a target of al-Shabaab in the past, the ongoing series of killings and bombings is every bit as likely to have its motivation in pre-existing clan rivalries or in disputes over the unprecedented amount of cash that is rolling into Puntland as a result of the Puntland-based piracy industry.
1. Video provided by Waagacusubmedia on Sep 2, 2011, available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=awoaw7Ax2Bk&feature=related.
2. Press Release, Ministry of Security and DDR, Government of Puntland, September 2, 2011.
3. Press Release, Communications Office, the Puntland Presidency, August 28, 2011.
OPPOSITION CLAIMS UGANDAN GOVERNMENT MANIPULATING TERRORIST THREAT
Proceedings have opened in the Kampala trial of over a dozen East African men suspected of involvement in the July 11, 2010 suicide bombings of crowds gathered in Kampala to watch the World Cup soccer championship (see Terrorism Focus, September 24, 2008; Terrorism Monitor Brief, July 15, 2010). Responsibility for the attacks, which killed 74 civilians and came to be known in Uganda as the “7/11 bombings,” were later claimed by al-Shabaab spokesman Ali Mahmud Raage, who described them as “a message to Uganda and Burundi” to withdraw their troops from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) (Shabelle Media Network, July 12, 2010; Daily Monitor [Kampala], July 13, 2010).
The trial began with the liberation of Kenyan human rights activist Al-Amin Kimathi and four other men, bringing the total number of suspects on trial to 14 (Daily Nation [Nairobi], September 12; September 13). Kimathi, the head of the Muslim Human Rights Forum, was detained along with his lawyer Mbugua Mureithi on September 15, 2010 when they visited Kampala to oppose the extradition of Kenyans to Uganda to face charges related to the 7/11 bombings. Mureithi was quickly freed and deported, but Kimathi was forced to spend a year in prison after being charged with murder and terrorism (Daily Nation [Nairobi], September 12).
Two of the suspects pleaded guilty on September 12 to playing a role in the Kampala bombings. One of the two, Mohamoud Mugisha, told the court that he had participated in a conspiracy drawn up in Somalia, Kenya and Uganda, revealing the growing regional scope of al-Shabaab (New Vision [Kampala], September 13).
Of the remaining suspects, the most prominent are Omar Awadh Omar (a.k.a. Abu Sahal), a Kenyan described as the deputy leader of al-Qaeda in East Africa and an important logistician for both that group and Somalia’s al-Shabaab movement, Hijar Seleman Nyamadondo, a Tanzanian deported from that country to face charges of being second-in-command of the Kampala plot, and Issa Luyima, a Ugandan arrested in Mombasa who is believed to have fought with al-Shabaab (New Vision [Kampala], September 12).
Despite the high local profile of the Kampala bombing trial, there are reports that the once heightened vigilance that followed the bombings has now declined to almost nothing (The Independent [Kampala], September 10). Uganda’s opposition has complained that the government is using terrorist alerts to suppress public assembly and foil attempts to demonstrate against the government. Many alerts have come at the same time as popular “walk-to-work” protests over economic conditions within Uganda. Uganda’s Director of Counter Terrorism, Abas Byakagaba, suggests that such complaints are the work of “cynical people” who “misinterpret us” (Daily Monitor [Kampala], September 9).
Kenyan Muslim groups such as the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims have appealed to the Nairobi government to bring the ten Kenyan 7/11 suspects back for trial in their homeland, citing a willingness expressed by the Ugandan government to allow the transfer (Daily Nation [Nairobi], September 14). A September 11 rally of concerned Muslims in Nairobi called on the government to work for the release of Kenyans being detained in Uganda and the United States. National Human Rights Commission member Hassan Omar said at the rally that the Ugandan government had “indicated it is waiting for Kenya to claim her people.” Omar and three other Kenyan human rights activists were deported from Uganda in April after arriving in Kampala to seek the release of the Kenyan suspects (Nairobi Star, September 11).
Kenyans underwent a scare recently when reports emerged that security services had arrested 40 to 50 Ugandans at a guesthouse in Nairobi who were reportedly on their way to Afghanistan, possibly for involvement in terrorist activities according to local security services. However, after the men were deported to Uganda and taken to Kampala for questioning, it turned out that the suspected jihadis had actually been duped into making payments to a bogus recruiting firm claiming to place security guards for high-paying jobs in Afghanistan and Iraq (Daily Monitor, August 20; New Vision, August 18).