UN Report Finds Gulf Financiers Aid Somalia Islamist Insurgency

Firing of Weapons by Al-Shabab

#Charcoal exports to #GulfStates are worth at least $250m/year… About 1/3 channeled to #AlQaeda-linked #AlShabaab

By Ilya Gridneff

Key financiers of Islamist militants in Somalia are operating with impunity in Gulf states, undermining efforts to end an insurgency in the Horn of Africa country, a United Nations monitoring group said.

Traders in the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are fueling the illegal trade in charcoal from Somalia that was banned by the Security Council in 2012, according to a UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea report published on the UN’s website.

“Poor cooperation from state members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, notably in terms of a lack of response to requests for customs documentation,” has hampered the group’s investigations, according to the report.

Charcoal exports to Gulf states are worth at least $250 million a year and “could be much more, given that the group may not have identified all shipments,” according to the report. About a third of that amount is channeled to al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab militants, who have been fighting Somalia’s government since at least 2006 in their campaign to establish an Islamic state.

The monitoring group found that weapons flows have also continued in Somalia unabated, even though there is an embargo on the supply of arms to the Horn of Africa country. That’s impeded efforts by multinational forces to contain the insurgency, the group said.

Somali government forces, backed by African Union soldiers, have made gains against al-Shabaab since forcing the Islamist fighters to withdraw from Mogadishu three years ago. About 70 percent of areas previously controlled by the insurgents have been liberated, according to the Somali presidency.

Naval Force

The Somali government has repeatedly asked the European Union’s anti-piracy mission, known as EU Navfor, to expand its mandate to help curb the trade in illegal charcoal, National Security Adviser Sheikh Issa said in an e-mailed response to questions. The trade is a “lethal weapon” hindering peace and security in the region.

“I’ve raised my concerns on the various illicit activities happening off the Somali coast and the compelling needs to expand the European Union naval force mandate beyond counter piracy, including the illicit activities happening within the area under their jurisdiction,” he said.

EU Navfor has “significantly” reduced piracy incidents since it began its deployment in 2008, EU deputy spokesman Sebastien Brabant said in an e-mailed response to questions. Somali pirates hijacked the fewest merchants ships since 2004 last year, as naval patrols and armed guards helped repel the attacks, the International Maritime Bureau said in January.

‘Future Mandate’

“It is currently not foreseen that combating illegal trade, including charcoal, will be part of the future mandate” of EU Navfor, Brabant said.

Naval patrols currently have “no legal basis” to act against ships involved in the trade, said Major Matthew Allen, spokesman for the Bahrain-based Combined Maritime Forces that patrols about 2.5 million square miles of international waters.

“It is the responsibility of flag and coastal states to enforce the applicable UN Security Council Resolutions,” he said. Somalia hasn’t had a functioning central government since the ouster of former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

Somali charcoal, made from acacia wood, is prized in Gulf states because its slow-burning nature and aroma complement grilled meats and tobacco-based water-pipes known as shiisha, according to the London-based Somali Economic Forum.

Flouting Ban

Gulf states, in particular the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, have flouted the charcoal ban since its inception, said Matt Bryden, the former coordinator of the monitoring group who runs Sahan Research, Mogadishu-based research organization.

“With the exception of a token seizure of 100,000 bags in Dubai over two years ago, they have taken no meaningful steps to enforce UN Security Council resolutions on this subject,” he said by e-mail. “Government officials used to make light of the ban, asking UN monitors: ‘Do you want us to stop smoking shiisha?’”

An average of 20 trucks, each carrying about five to 12 metric tons of charcoal, arrives at the Somali port of Kismayo on a daily basis, according to the monitoring group, which was published yesterday. At least 161 vessels transported the fuel from Kismayo and the town of Barawe between June 2013 and May 2014, while 5 million bags left the towns between September 2013 and mid-April, it said.

Al-Shabaab Connections

The report found 33 percent of the charcoal was shipped by individuals who have repeatedly been named by the monitoring group as being closely linked to al-Shabaab. Two Somali businessmen with links to Saudi Arabia and another who operates in Belgium, Nairobi and Dubai were identified as key traders of the fuel.

The UN investigation, using photographs, satellite imagery and informants, found warehouses in Sharjah, U.A.E., are being used to hold the charcoal before it is transported to Oman, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Dubai. The monitoring group didn’t receive a response after writing to the U.A.E., Kuwait and Oman regarding the allegations, the report states.

The trade in charcoal in Somalia is similar to the opium and heroin trade that funds the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan and should be eradicated, Rear Admiral Alexander L. Krongard, deputy commander of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, said in a phone interview from Djibouti.

While the issue is “outside our lane,” Kongard said he would “love to see” maritime forces in the region fighting the illegal trade. “I certainly think it would do no harm and probably do a lot of good to do something like that.”

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