October 18, 2013 | Quote

Exclusive: U.N. Uncovers ‘Credible’ New al-Shabab Terror Plot

The United Nations recently uncovered a “credible” plot by the Somali Islamist group al-Shabab to mount a major terrorist attack against the U.N. compound in Mogadishu, according to senior U.N. officials briefed on the plan. It's another sign that the militant outfit, once thought to be all but expired, has once again become a major force for terror in East Africa.

The warning, one of several threats against the U.N. in recent months, drove home the harsh risks of life in Somalia for the United Nations nearly three months after the Islamist movement attackedthe organization's humanitarian compound in downtown Mogadishu, killing eight U.N. employees. It also reinforced the fact that al-Shabab, which was widely considered to be organizationally spent earlier this year, has regrouped. Late last month, al-Shabab killed dozens at the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya.

“U.N. premises in Mogadishu may come under direct terrorist attacks,” according to a confidential security assessment of Somalia produced jointly by the African Union and the United Nations. The report, which was shared with U.N. Security Council members, said the ongoing “risk of asymmetric attacks has significantly curtailed the mobility of U.N. staff in Mogadishu and hampers delivery of critical UN programs in support of [Somalia's] Federal government.”

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, who studies terrorist groups at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the United States, the United Nations, and others frequently have to make hard choices about working with states that are not entirely democratic.

“The question is 'how much is legitimate enough,'” he said, noting that al-Shabab's standing in Somalia has never been lower. Many countries, including the United States and its African allies, “have invested in the idea that it is.”

Gartenstein-Ross said that two years ago many analysts were skeptical that African troops possessed the power to dislodge al-Shabab from key urban centers, including Mogadishu and Kismayo. But they did it.

A new military surge, he said, carries risks, but “certainly there is a chance that these operations against Shabab will succeed,” he said. “Military operations against Shabab over the past year and a half have been more successful than analysts anticipated.”

“Putting people in danger in an environment like Somalia may be worth the cost. That's a judgment the U.N. or the U.S. government makes all the time when deploying people in unsafe environments,” he said. “Is it being unwise?… On its face, it seems the only way to build a functioning government is to try to put services and the like in place as ground is captured.”

Read the full article here.


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