New report: Eritrea is hub for Al Shabaab training and military supplies

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Heavily armed Al Shabaab militants who have waged more than two decades of civil war in Somalia. New report says they receive their arms from Eritrea. PHOTO/COURTESY

By ABDULHAKIM SHERMAN

newsdesk@reporter.co.ke

Eritrea has emerged as the leading hub for military training and logistics provision to Al-Shabaab terror group a new report just released indicates.

The report, Arms Trade in the Horn of Africa by Business Risk Intelligence says weapons being used by Al Shabaab militants that are linked to international jihadist groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State (a type of government based on Islamic religious law sharia) are transported through Eritrea seaports.

“According to three separate security contacts in the region, Eritrea has acted as the leading hub for military training and logistics provision to al-Shabaab since 2006. Weapons transported from their seaports (especially around Assab and Halib) were landed at Baraawe, Harardhere, and El Hur in Somalia,” the report says in part.

It adds that numerous intelligence reports, including those of the UN Monitoring Group, suggested that weapons were also airlifted to al-Shabaab in Somalia’s southern and central regions from Eritrea back in 2009, although this was discontinued in favour of shipping to keep a lower profile given the AMISOM presence in some of these areas.

“The 2014 UN Monitoring Group Reportimplicates several senior Eritrean military officers and officials in the regional arms trade, includingGeneral Teklai Kifle “Manjus” and Teseney branch manager of the Red Sea Corporation Nusredin Ali Bekit,” the report adds.

The report reveals that trade of illegal weapons in the Horn of Africa remains highly lucrative and is comprehensively entwined with transnational terrorist groups, drug smuggling, and the conflict in nearby Yemen.

The focus of the regional arms trade remains volatile to Somalia and its semi-autonomous regions where demand for weapons remains unabated despite various embargoes and other sanctions.

Over the past few years, Djibouti has emerged as an increasingly important hub for weapons trans-shipment to armed groups in the region. There is growing evidence that Djibouti is acting as a strategic transit location for weapons derived from Houthi-held territory in Yemen, which it then ships to the Awdal region of northern Somalia through its peacekeeping deployment in the AMISOM mission.

Djibouti’s enhanced role in regional arms trafficking is occurring at the same time as the country’s government is seeking fresh foreign investment in its important marine port sector and related industries.

How weapons are concealed in containers before being smuggled into Somalia. PHOTO/BUSINESS RISK INTELLIGENCE

Many Djiboutian companies that are engaged in the country’s thriving marine sector have been implicated in the illegal weapons trade, raising reputational risks for foreign investors seeking to participate in Djibouti’s economy.

The proliferation of weapons in Djibouti is also raising concerns over armed criminal activity and rising risk of terrorist attacks in a location frequented by foreign military personnel.

However, none of Djibouti’s international partners are willing to flag such risks, fearing the potential loss of their leases on strategically important military bases in the country. One local source described the arms trade in the Gulf of Aden as a ‘political mess that most western nations do not want to wade into.’ Despite evidence implicating senior Djiboutian officials in the arms trade, there has been no concerted effort to impose punitive sanctions on these individuals.

Djibouti’s role in regional arms trafficking is set to grow even further as old foes Eritrea and Ethiopia seek to agree a lasting peace that will have significant ripple effects on the arms trade supply chain in the Horn of Africa. Armed groups in Ethiopia, Somalia, and the Sudans, as well as al-Shabaab, have long relied on Eritrea to supply weapons. As Eritrea seeks rapprochement with Ethiopia and a return to the international community, its role of arms trafficking hub will become significantly diminished.

Djibouti, which favours a weak Somalia and an isolated Eritrea, is likely to step into the gap and leverage its existing arms trafficking networks to continue to supply illegal weapons to armed groups in the Horn of Africa as Eritrea potentially steps out of the trade.

Since seizing control of the Doraleh port terminal, the Djiboutian government seems to be preparing to increase shipments through the country’s main port. However, most shipments of illegal weapons through Djibouti will continue to be done by smaller dhows via the fishing communities on the south-east coast and via the Garacad port project.

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