Al-Shabaab pulled out of Mogadishu in early August, at which point we observed that the jihadists were now simply in a position to do what they do best: not to fight like men, but to engage in asymmetrical warfare, targeting civilians to terrify and demoralize the population, and thwart any attempts at rebuilding or even at achieving some semblance of a normal existence.
They aim to create a vacuum in security in order to offer the imposition of Sharia as the “only” solution — the only one they will accept, in any case. “Truck Bomb Kills Dozens in Somalia’s Capital,” by Jeffrey Gettleman for the New York Times, October 4:
NAIROBI, Kenya “” A huge truck bomb exploded on a busy street in central Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, on Tuesday morning, killing more than 50 people and possibly signaling a comeback for the Shabab militant group, which has lost territory in recent months.
Witnesses reported horrific scenes with dozens of bodies strewn across the streets, including those of students who were registering for scholarships to study in Turkey which has become a major aid donor to Somalia in recent months.
Local health officials said 55 people were killed and scores badly wounded, with the injured flooding into dilapidated hospitals already full of victims of Somalia’s famine.
According to witnesses, the bomber was driving a large truck piled high with scrap metal, apparently to conceal the explosives, and the target was a building used by Somalia’s transitional government. According to news agencies, the Shabab militant group claimed responsibility for the bombing.
In August, the Shabab withdrew most of its fighters from Mogadishu for the first time in years, though the group’s leaders vowed to step up guerilla attacks.
The Shabab still controls most of southern Somalia and has imposed draconian measures in its areas, banning music and Western dress. Last month, Shabab leaders awarded school children assault rifles and grenades as prizes for a quiz show.
The event was reported to be a Qur’an recitation contest.
Somalia has lurched from crisis to crisis since 1991, when clan warlords overthrew the central government and then fought among themselves. Since then, there have been more than a dozen failed attempts to create a functioning central government.
In recent years, Somalia has remained mired in chaos, torn by Islamic militancy, starvation and piracy.
A weak, fractious transitional government loosely controls parts of Mogadishu but as the bombing on Tuesday showed, even those areas are not safe.
This summer the United Nations declared a famine in Somalia, saying that tens of thousands of people have already died and as many as 750,000 may soon starve to death unless aid efforts are rapidly scaled up. The Shabab have refused to allow many Western aid organizations into their areas and have even blocked people from leaving drought zones.
A desperate populace only concerned with securing its next rations is in no position to resist. By controlling access to aid, al-Shabaab can keep resistance in check and blackmail Somalis over their very survival, leveraging the famine situation (which they deny exists) to take their real or imagined enemies for them.
The Shabab have pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda and have imported many Qaeda tactics to Somalia, including suicide bombs and remote-controlled roadside bombs. The Shabab have used suicide bombs many times before to attack targets including government forces, African Union peacekeepers based in Mogadishu, Somali lawmakers and even students at a medical school graduation. But Somali analysts said the bombing on Tuesday may have been the deadliest yet….