Jury selection is underway in the terrorism trial of Mohamed Mohamud, a Somali-American accused of attempting to ignite a "weapon of mass destruction" at Portland's 2010 holiday tree-lighting ceremony, The Oregonian reports Jan. 10. But an NPR report states: "There was no bomb—the defendant was the target of an FBI sting operation... His lawyers are expected to argue their client was entrapped... The car bombing plot—the purchasing of the car, the gathering of explosives, the plan itself—was orchestrated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation." True, the guy came to the attention of the FBI when he started posting to online jihadist forums. But he was only 19 years old when he was arrested, and therefore could try "to convince the jury he was manipulated by the FBI." Good to see the media finally raising some skepticism about a specious terrorism case. Additionally, although no media account has mentioned this angle, we strongly object to calling a conventional explosive a "weapon of mass destruction." Much less one that didn't even exist! What's up with that?
A string of bombings rocked Somalia's port of Kismayo Oct. 3, killing two civilians and injuring many more—five days after the city was taken from al-Shabaab rebels by a combined force of African Union and Somali government troops. The taking of the city followed a two-month siege, culminating in a Kenyan-led amphibious assault, dubbed Operation Sledgehammer. Al-Shabaab leader Abdiaziz Abu Musab stated that his agents had carried out the bombings, boasting that they would continue their fight "until doomsday." He called the withdrawal from Kismayo a "tactical retreat." Kismayo was the last city controlled by al-Shaabaab, but the group and allied Islamist militias still control a broad swath of Somalia's south. The official government has achieved a shaky control over Mogadishu, but the rest of the country (outside the autonomous Somaliland and Puntland regions in the north) is controlled by local militia—some backed by Kenyan or Ethiopian forces, some nominally loyal to the government, and more aligned with al-Shabaab. (Mareeg, Garowe Online, Oct. 3; PRI, Sept. 26)
We are heartened to learn that President Obama is staying away from the funeral of Ethiopia's late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, whose death was announced last week, instead sending a comparatively low-level delegation led by the US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice. (Nazret, Sept. 2) This may indicate a long-overdue distancing of Washington from Meles' odious regime, which we fear may change little with his passing. Meles, who ruled (either as president or prime minister) since 1991, made himself very useful to Washington, "renditioning" terror suspects for brutal "interrogations" in his prisons, and even now providing a military proxy force in Somalia. After Ethiopia invaded Somalia in 2006 (with a US "green light," and probably military advisors), Meles' forces were shortly accused of war crimes by international human rights groups. (NYT, Aug. 16, 2007) Yet this now gets virtually no play in the overwhelmingly and sickeningly favorable media coverage of his legacy—contrary to Julius Ceasar, the evil Meles did is being interred with his bones.
A judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on Aug. 28 awarded $21 million to seven Somalis in a lawsuit against former Somali prime minister Mohamed Ali Samantar. The lawsuit, which started in 2004 and made it all the way to the US Supreme Court, alleges Samantar was responsible for the killing and torture of members of the Isaaq clan in Somalia throughout the 1980s under former dictator Siad Barre. The Somalis bringing the lawsuit, some of whom fled to the US and some of whom stayed in Somalia, were represented by the Center for Justice and Accountability. They claim to have been subjected to torture or potential executions at the hands of the Barre regime and brought the lawsuit under the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991. The judgement included $2 million in punitive damages and $1 million in compensatory damages to the individual plaintiffs. Samantar's lawyers say they will appeal the ruling. The question of whether Samantar was improperly denied immunity is already on appeal.
Even as a measure of stability at last comes to Mogadishu, a push by UN-backed African Union troops on the last bastion of Somalia's al-Shabab insurgency has already added to the country's civilian casualties, and there are fears that more may lie ahead as air, ground and naval operations in the strategic city escalate. The latest, and most senior, person to raise the alarm over the actions of the Kenyan Defence Forces (KDF), which officially operate under the banner of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), was UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Mark Bowden. "I am deeply concerned by recent reports of civilian casualties in Kismayo caused by naval gunfire and airstrikes," Bowden said in a statement issued on Aug. 14. "As fighting for control of the town appears imminent, I reiterate my call for all parties to the conflict to make every effort to minimize the impact of conflict on civilians and to allow full humanitarian access to all people in need," he said.
A judge for the US District Court Eastern District of Virginia on Aug. 13 sentenced a convicted Somali pirate negotiator to a dozen life sentences. Judge Robert Doumar sentenced Mohammad Shibin to serve 10 concurrent life sentences, two consecutive life sentences and two 20-year sentences, and ordered him to pay $5.4 million in restitution. Shibin was convicted in April of piracy, hostage taking, kidnapping, conspiracy, and other charges for his role in the February 2011 hijacking of an American yacht that ultimately led to the murder of the four US citizens taken hostage. Shibin was allegedly paid $30,000-50,000 for his services, which included ransom negotiations and hostage background investigations. The four hostages were killed despite attempts by the US military to negotiate their release. Shibin also served as a ransom negotiator for 22 crewmen who were taken hostage when their German-owned vessel was hijacked in May 2010. The men reported being tortured during their seven months in captivity.