The terrorist group Al Shabaab still remains a real security threat to Kenyan and East African security agencies, according to the latest report by the UN Monitoring Group.
It warns of pitfalls that cloud concerned states’ commitment to rid not only Somalia but also its neighbours of threats by the group.
Al Shabaab remains a threat to the peace, security, and stability of Somalia and its effect is felt across the hinterland’s borders, calling for the need for extra vigilance.
The report sent to the UN Security Council casts a pale shadow on the way forward in dealing with the militants.
It cites a worrying presence of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) faction in Somalia.
The Monitoring Group says the conflict between Somaliland and Puntland, misappropriation of financial resources, and maritime piracy remains a major hurdle.
The experts also cite loopholes in the handling of arms seized from Al Shabaab as well as those donated by supporting missions like Amisom and the US.
The team also said its investigations exposed cases of violations of international humanitarian law, including obstruction of humanitarian assistance on the side of al Shabaab.
The Monitoring Group led by James Smith also warns of violations of the ban on charcoal trade, being the main source of al Shabaab funding.
Other members of the group include Mohamed Babiker (Humanitarian), Jay Bahadur (Armed groups), Charles Cater (Natural resources), Nazanine Moshiri (Arms), Brian O’Sullivan (Maritime/Armed groups) and Richard Zabot (Arms).
They reveal in the November 7 report that Al Shabaab is moving loads of charcoal to Oman.
“The charcoal is transported by road from the interior of Middle Juba and Lower Juba to the stockpiles and ports at Buur Gaabo and Kismayo. While en route, as with other commodities charcoal is subject to checkpoint taxation by al Shabaab,” the report says in part.
The Monitoring Group had estimated the rate of taxation at Sh257 per bag, generating Al Shabaab over Sh1 billion from four million bags of charcoal per year.
The report adds that the stockpiles located in Kismayu and Buur Gaabo may continue to be the source of illicit charcoal exports.
More worrying in the findings is that several rounds of ammunition seized from al Shabaab had markings of the Federal Government of Somalia.
Despite being denied the chance to take photos of seized weapons, Smiths team says it obtained information that most of the military equipment seized by Amisom and other forces fighting al Shabaab, originated from Yemen.
An (FFV) 651 projectile for Carl Gustav recoilless rifles, which was manufactured in India and supplied to Kenya in June 2008, was also found.
“Tracing requests to member states that manufactured various other seized items, however, failed to result into conclusive information,” Smith’s team says.
“Puntland remains the primary entry point for illicit arms into Somalia, principally originating in Yemen.”
On their dealings, it says financial records show that Laboballe, Dhofaye, and Barre transferred more than Sh16.5 million to Yemen-based arms dealers between September 2017 and March 2018.
“Despite an escalation of airstrikes targeting the militants and leaders since June 2017, there has been no significant degradation of the group’s capability to carry out asymmetric attacks in Somalia,” the UN team says, pointing to the long road ahead for security agencies to wipe out the militants.
Since September 2017, Al Shabaab has killed at least 700 people in eight major IED attacks. Worse still, the study revealed that the group remains capable of carrying out attacks against both Somali and Amisom forces.
The team also cites that the terror group’s improvised explosive devices are advancing by the day.
It cites a vehicle-borne IED which went off in Mogadishu in October 2017, killing 582 people. A similar one was intercepted by Kenya Police while en route to Nairobi.
The police on a routine patrol in Merti, Isiolo county, arrested two Al-Shabaab operatives, Abdimajit Hasan Adan and Mohammed Nanne Osman.
They were travelling with a vehicle-borne IED for an attack in Nairobi. They were also found with several assorted weapons.
"Had the operation succeeded, it would have been the most significant Al-Shabaab attack outside Somalia since the Garissa University College massacre of April 2015," the UN report says.
It says that an analysis determined that at least four of the five rifles had been imported by the Federal Government of Somalia in 2013.
"This is the first known instance of weapons imported by the Federal Government being used for an attack outside Somalia," the team says.
The UN team says the primary material for the manufacture of IEDs remains 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene (TNT), which is harvested from explosive remnants of ammunitions retrieved after an attack on AMISOM bases.
Supporting this is a group manufacturing home-made explosives with improvised detonators, the UN report reveals. The FBI and the Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center is said to be probing this.
But the Monitoring Group says laboratory analyses show that the group combines TNT and other military grade explosives with chemicals like potassium nitrate and potassium chlorate.
It adds that lifting of the arms embargo against Somalia is to blame for the high inflow of weapons.
The plot, the UN report reveals, was orchestrated from within Somalia by an Amniyat operative known only as “Dere”, who organised hawala money transfers of about Sh3 million to Abdimajit Adan.
The investigators further reveal that bribery exposes the nexus between corruption and insecurity.
"Police statements from the arrested al Shabaab operatives show that they were able to pass with little interference back and forth across the porous Kenya-Somalia border, facilitated by bribes to various security forces officials on both sides."
It is for this reason that several members of the February attack plot escaped arrest and are feared to be hiding in Kenya, probably planning another attack.
The UN team advises that member states should choke al Shabaab's revenue streams, primarily taxation on vehicles and goods, business and agricultural produce, and forced alms.
The illicit trade in charcoal from Somalia continues to be dominated by criminal networks linking Kismayo in Somalia and Dubai.