Iran tried to obtain uranium from Somalia in return for supplying weapons to the anarchic country’s Islamist movement, the United Nations said yesterday.
A report compiled for the Security Council found that Iran is one of seven countries breaking a UN arms embargo by providing weapons to the Islamic radicals who control most of southern Somalia, including the capital, Mogadishu.
This influx of weapons increases the chances of a new regional war in the Horn of Africa. It also underlines the close ties which Somalia’s Islamists, who style themselves the Supreme Council of Islamic Courts, have forged with radical regimes across the Muslim world, notably Syria and Iran.
The flow of weapons into Somalia has “dramatically increased in terms of numbers of arms, frequency of delivery and weapons’ sophistication”, reads the 86-page report.
While most of the shipments consist of small arms, it adds: “Ominously, new and more sophisticated types of weapons are also coming into Somalia including portable surface-to-air missiles, multiple rocket launchers and second generation, infrared-guided anti-tank weapons.”
Three illegal shipments from Teheran are detailed. On July 25, an aircraft carrying Iranian arms landed at Baledogle airport near Mogadishu. This consignment included 1,000 machineguns, 45 surface-to-air missiles, M-79 rocket launchers and land mines.
After its arrival, the UN says that Iran promised the Islamists further weapons, but only in return for uranium, presumably for use in Teheran’s nuclear programme.
Two Iranians were sent to the Somali town of Dhusa Mareb to negotiate this deal. “At the time of the writing, there were two Iranians in Dhusa Mareb engaged in matters linked to uranium in exchange for arms,” it said.
Somalia’s recoverable uranium deposits, totalling about 6,600 tonnes, are among the smallest in Africa, but the country collapsed into anarchy 15 years ago when its central government was destroyed. The Islamists, who captured Mogadishu from a coalition of secular warlords in June, are now believed to control the area where uranium is present.
Teheran appears to have sought the right to exploit these deposits, which could be shipped to Iran through Mogadishu’s large port.
Six other countries have aided the Islamists. Iran’s main ally, Syria, trained 200 Somali fighters in guerrilla warfare. Libya provided Â£600,000 for training and salaries. Other support came from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Djibouti.
But most of the weapons have come from Eritrea … [which] hopes to place pressure on its larger neighbour by building Somalia’s Islamists into a major regional power and ally. Accordingly, it has sent about 2,500 troops into Somalia.
All this breaches a UN embargo placed on Somalia. The report was compiled by four experts charged with monitoring breaches of this embargo. Their conclusion is that the flow of weapons favours the Islamists and has succeeded in turning them into the “most powerful force in Somalia”.