EDITORIAL: Al-Shabaab raid on Puntland prison must be eye opener
EDITORIAL | Puntland state President Said Abdullahi Deni has this week been dealing with the aftermath of one of the most daring raids by Al-Shabaab masterminds on a prison facility in Bossaso, the state's main financial capital on the Gulf of Aden.
On Thursday, March 11 the president has officially dissolved the local district council following the jail attack, which marked the biggest terrorist assault in Puntland this year.
But this demands much more. On March 6, the terrorists attacked a correctional facility in Bossaso, the northeastern port town of Puntland, freeing hundreds of their members alongside ISIS militants and other dangerous criminals detained there.
The manner and courage in which the Al-Shabaab assailed the facility smelled of sophistication and it was clear they overwhelmed the local guards and were outnumbered and overpowered.
Then the group ventured into propaganda. It claimed some 400 inmates had been freed including 150 who had been jailed for terror-related crimes including being members of the proscribed ISIS, the terror merchants that sprouted in Syria and Iraq but have since found affiliations in Somalia.
The government in Puntland has not given a precise picture of what happened with officials appearing to contradict one another on the extent of casualties, nature of the attack, and how many prisoners were freed.
Witnesses, however, reported heavy gunfire and explosions, an indication the attackers came armed with weapons capable of breaking through barriers and annihilating any fight back.
Yet such a raid is not the first time Al-Shabaab has done so. In Bossaso itself, Al-Shabaab had attempted a raid in 2013 although this time the prison guards stood still, thwarting the attack.
Last year, Al-Shabaab claimed another raid on a prison facility in Mogadishu, taking advantage of sympathetic guards who gave some inmates weapons to facilitate their escape.
The overall thread in these daring moves is that Al-Shabaab is not weak and can always attack whenever it is convenient. But it is also an indication that the government in Puntland and the federal government in Mogadishu must be cooperating, rather than targeting each other’s necks.
Over the past few months, Presidents Deni and President Mohamed Farmajo have laid into each other both in public and private. Of course, the bone of contention has been Farmajo’s expired mandate and delayed elections.
But the outgoing Farmajo has also been accused of fueling local conflicts, ostensibly weakening Deni. Such a scenario can only benefit al-Shabaab who thrive in chaos.
Authorities in Puntland and Mogadishu should be working on a common strategy instead. Fighting Al-Shabaab is always going to require counter-insurgency strategies.
The Al-Qaeda-linked terror group has often used all manner of tools available to it including propaganda, luring with money, force, and political alignments to cause terror in the country.
And Somalia, which still relies on external support for its own security, must do better to work out a cheaper way of fighting the terror merchants. Counterinsurgency will mean that as opposed to simply talking up arms and standing guard, governments continuously cultivate a good rapport with the public, providing assurance and acting as the best alternative to all militant groups.
That means working out programs that keep our youth engaged in useful activities, providing sufficient security, and continuously responding to public concerns. That way, Al-Shabaab, Daesh, ISIS, or all its affiliates had little chance of recruiting or even acting as if they are a savior for the people.
We need to deny Al-Shabaab a chance to ever act like a parallel government in any part of Somalia. But that has to begin with a good working relationship between all levels of government.