Al-Shabab: 1977-78 War Veterans Recalled

 

They marched towards the battlefields – at the peak of their prime – overflowing with patriotism and driven by irredentist beliefs and territorial expansion. With guns slung around their shoulders and ardently miming the mellifluous melodies of patriotic songs, the devoted Somali soldiers had one definitive goal in mind: the annexation of Ogadenia or Western Somalia in order to create a Greater Somalia. Today, however, after more than three decades of inaction, the veterans of the 1977-78 Somali-Ethiopian war are singing a different tune and are driven by different motives.

After having survived their sanguinary adventures, the veterans now vow to fight in the name of God to fend off the traditional foe. Burning with vengeance, this time kindled by Al-Shabab’s rapidly spreading ideological beliefs that have engulfed much of Southern and central Somalia, more than 30 of the 1977-78 war veterans from the border region of Gedo have unanimously agreed to join the ranks of Al-Shabab in a move that is considered to be a huge political gain for the Islamists.

Sheikh Mukhtar ‘Abu Mansoor’ Roobow, one of the senior leaders of Al-Shabab, along with the fervent preacher, Sheikh Fu’ad Mohamed Khalaf, are said to have had extensive meetings with the veteran soldiers in Garbahaarey, Gedo’s regional capital. Urging the soldiers to participate in the battles against the Ethiopian troops along the Somali borders, Abu Mansoor called out to the thousands of people that gathered at the scene to welcome the Islamists:

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To Burundi: A Prisoner’s Message

Dear Readers,

This is a rough translation of the Burundian prisoner’s Message as broadcast on Mogadishu’s radio stations yesterday. It must be noted that I have translated the message using the ‘Somali’ translation that was broadcast on the radio stations, not from Burundian language. I will try to upload the original audio message (and a video if I get it) of the Burundian soldier so that readers can verify the translation.


My name is NZOBONANTUMYE THERENCE and I come from Burundi. My father’s name is ANDREA JEBARIKO and my mother’s name is VERONICA NDEREYIMANA. I am part of AMISOM’s SA ONZE battalion. I came to Somalia to fight Al-Shabab but ended up being their captive. I was captured on TUESDAY 22-02-2011

A colonel by name of URATUZA ordered us to go to Somalia in order to fight the Islamists. But when we came to Somalia and engaged AL-Shabab in battles, we realized that they were indeed dangerous and we could not defeat them. After our offensive against the Al-Shabab on Tuesday, the battle quickly intensified and many of our soldiers were killed and injured. In that disarray, the rest of the soldiers retreated and left me behind. And as soon as the soldiers deserted me, Al-Shabab soldiers captured me and then took me to one of their military compounds. That is where I am now

To The Burundian Soldiers in Mogadishu:

My advice to the Burundian soldiers is that you should refrain from waging war against Al-Shabab and the reason why I say this is because I am certain that you will never be able to defeat them. After we launched our offensive against Al-Shabab on Tuesday morning I would estimate that the number of Burundian soldiers killed in the battle to be about 50 in number. As for me I was captured alive by Al-Shabab and I am still alive and doing well. I warn you against waging war with Al-Shabab because you are fighting them in their own land and thus will never be able to defeat them.

I would also advice you to stop shelling the Somali population because whenever you shell populated areas, it is always the innocent civilians that become the victims of your shelling. As a result, when I fell into the hands of Al-Shabab, they transported me in a car and took me to a compound where many people were gathered and waiting for me. They wanted to kill me on the spot. They hurled all sorts of things at me but the Al-Shabab soldiers protected me from them. They were all angry with me and the reason for their anger is our constant shelling of innocent civilians.

To The Soldiers in Burundi:

I want to send this message to the soldiers in Burundi. My advice to you is that do not let your generals and seniors deceive you and lure you to fight in Somalia, because the rewards and the money that they promise you will eventually be of no value. Once you arrive in Somalia the only thing that awaits you here is death. As soon as we arrived in Somalia, we were sent into battles and I was captured in one of those battles along with many other soldiers. What we saw here in battles is gruesome, so I would advise you not to be deluded by your generals. The little provision that you receive in the safety of your homes is better that the fortune that would cost you your lives.

 

Mogadishu: The Burundian Nightmare

Burundian Peacekeeper Killed by Al-Shabab

 

As the battle rages on through its sixth day and the capital rocks with explosions and the rattle of gunfire, so does the journey of the corpses of Burundian peacekeeper’s in Somalia. In addition to the seven peacekeepers killed by the Islamists in Wednesday’s raid on the Ministry of Defense building, the corpses of yet another NINE peacekeepers were yesterday paraded around the capital city and neighbouring towns. Claiming to have killed a total of 16 Burundian peacekeepers (plus one taken as prisoner) in the course of the recent battles, Al-Shabab fighters have been receiving an unusual support from many of the displaced population here.

The nine corpses were yesterday driven to Ceelasha Biyaha, apparently after residents there requested to see the corpses of ‘the enemy that has displaced us from our homes.’ It is said that hundreds of angry people had gathered at the scene. Many of them accused the peacekeepers of deliberately targeting and shelling populated residential areas in the capital, thus forcing them to relocate to Ceelasha Biyaha or Afgooye. A woman, speaking to local radio stations, said:
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Brundian PoW

Brunundian Peacekeeper captured by Al-Shabab


These are some of the pictures of the Brundian soldier captured by Al-Shabab. The soldier is said to have sustained a minor injury on the legs and is now receiving treatment from Al-Shabab medics. His situation is thought to be stable and is being held in an undisclosed location. I have been informed that he has spoken recently, via a recorded message, to the media and I will attempt to transcribe his message and post it here shortly.

Soldier sips a drink
Speaking to the Media

It is the sixth day of intense battles in Mogadishu between the AU peacekeepers and the Al-Shabab Islamists. The latest reports are stating that dozens of Burundian peacekeepers are trapped inside the Ministry of Defense building for the second day. The Islamists have surrounded the building and blocked off all supply routes – so the soldiers are said to be without food or water for two consecutive days. There has been heavy shelling since last night in the capital. The Bakara market, the city’s largest business hub, has seen a reduced activity as the shelling continued and roads leading to the market have been blocked off because of the fighting. The battles are expected to escalate and the population here is bracing itself for more violent days to come.

 

 

Burundian Peacekeepers Killed in Mogadishu

 

Brundian Peacekeeper Killed by Al-Shabab

 

 

Our message to Uganda and Burundi is this: that as long as a single Somali Muslim remains alive on this soil, erase the notion from your hearts that you will be able to conquer this country – whatever might you exert. By the will of Allah this will never happen, for we are a people who will sacrifice our souls in order to defend our religion, our people and our country. We will never allow you to violate our sanctity’

These were the words of Al-Shabab’s spokesman Sheikh Ali mohamoud Rage ‘Ali Dheere’ as he delivered his speech standing beside the corpses of at least 7 Burundian peacekeeper killed by the Islamists in this morning’s deadly battle. Emphatically expressed in a vigorous tone beaming with certitude, the spokesman’s words, along with the gruesome images of blood-stained corpses of the Burundian peacekeepers, were intended to cause revebreations farther away from home. They were intended for an international audience!

In this open-air mortuary of a city, the ghastly images of the peacekeepers’ bruised and half-naked bodies drew a very large crowd as usual. Chanting slogans of ‘Allahu Akbar’ or ‘God is Great’ that electrified the scene, the crowd danced around the corpses in a tumultuous excitement, each person eager to kick , drag or hurl insults at the fallen soldiers. A gloomy sepulchural atmosphere overwhelmed the senses, but with such an uproarious crowd it is often easy to forget that the corpses that lay beside the puddles of blood were once soldiers who, like the thousands of their comrades in Mogadishu, believed with conviction that they were serving a just cause; that they were saviours of the Somali people.

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Peacekeeper’s Bodies dragged in Mogadishu

Burundian Sodier dragged

The streets of Mogadishu have a long history of brutality. Here the body of a Burundian Peecekeeper, who was apparently captured alive by Al-Shabab fighters after an intense battle yesterday in the Northern districts of Mogadishu, is dragged by children in Baar Ubax, near Bakara market. I was told that he has been dragged for the entire day by children until the body was ripped apart and then finally disposed of in a ditch.

But horrific scenes like these are not as stomach-churning here in Mogadishu as they may seem to the rest of the world. Only a few days ago, dozens of government soldiers’ dead bodies were displayed across Mogadishu’s main junctions. It has become a sort of a daily spectacle, with bodies of slain soldiers often paraded around the city.

Warning! Graphic images…

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Mogadishu: The Imminent Fall

Maj. Barigye Ba-Huko

The voice of Major Barigye Ba-Huko, the African Union spokesman in Somalia, hit the airwaves yesterday evening. Denouncing the attempts by Al-Shabab to overthrow the Somali government along with the AU troops as a mere ‘dream,’ Major Ba-Huko challenged the Islamists fighters to be braver and take on his well-trained soldiers.


‘Let them come and fight us. They know we are at the airport and I challenge them to come there instead of hiding inside the residential areas.’

 

Not more than 48 hours had passed when Ba-Huko’s imprudent dare turned into a grim reality. Al-Shabab has, a few hours ago, carried out another daring attack on the Somali government and the African Union troops stationed at the airport. Two cars, tailing one another and loaded with explosives and armed fighters, infiltrated the government-controlled territory and quietly made their way to Adan Adde International airport, passing by dozens of government bases and hundreds of armed soldiers along the way. They carried neither passports nor tickets and boarding passes; what they carried, however, was a firm conviction in their breasts that, after their operation, they would die as ‘glorious Martyrs.’

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Somalia: Legitimizing the Illegitimate

Al-Shabab Parade

 

As I type this, a fierce battle is underway in the northern districts of Mogadishu. The rapid sound of machine guns and other firearms combined with the loud reverberations of tanks firing and mortars exploding can be heard from miles away. Since the beginning of Ramadan, there has been no respite from such daily battles, but as the month of fasting comes to an end, the battles here have become increasingly intense, particularly in the last few days. And with the ever changing formations of the battle lines and territorial boundaries that define the authority of the warring sides, the battle for Mogadishu, and eventually Somalia, has entered another new neighbourhood.

After a series of co-ordinated attacks yesterday that targeted the Ugandan forces in the vital artery of Makka Al Mukarrama and Shangani district, the Burundi forces in Boondheere district as well as the Somali troops, the Islamists seem to be getting ever closer to achieving their goal. At around evening the loud sounds of heavy artillery fire echoed throughout the city and the sparks of fireworks glowing against the setting sun could be seen from every corer of the city. After several hours of the rapid exchange of bullets came the deadly silence. In this bullet-scarred city, where the gun wreaked havoc for nearly three decades, the sound of a gun has become a part and parcel of life. Silence, especially after a fierce battle, often signalled that something ominous was in the air. People immediately scampered to safety, and not before long, the mortars made their daily rounds, tearing apart the tin-roofed ramshackle buildings and huts. In response to the attack, Amisom began shelling the residents. Soon the news hit the airwaves that up to 23 people were killed and dozens more injured. And though up to 230 are reported dead this month alone and more than 400 injured, the numbers are far greater than that. Estimates here are at around 500 killed and more than a thousand injured.

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The Ramadan Remedy

Mogadishu Morning

As the sun rises in Mogadishu this morning, it does so with a new spirit and a new prospect. Its luminous rays glow with the promise of hope and suffuse the hearts of these suffering souls with renewed optimism; it is optimism intertwined with some pessimistic undertones. But with the spirit of Ramadan saturating the surroundings of this bullet-battered city with its unique sense of jovialty and peace, some of the long-lost passions of the people have also been revived. Just like in its glory days, when Mogadishu was pulsating with youthful vitality, an animated public move about the city in preparation for the month of Ramadan. Ebullient Mogadishan women fill their baskets with dates in preparation for the holy month and buoyant kids are already counting down towards the Eid festival. All around, the city is bustling with a fertile effervescence and yet has a distinctive aura of tranquillity about it. It is surrounded by a peculiarly soothing ambiance which has somehow managed to remain defiantly placid despite the ricocheting bullets and the menacing mortars.


But while the high spirit appreciably diffuses some of the tensions in Mogadishu, a strong sensation of hostility also seems to pervade every part of the city. Ramadan, as the people of Mogadishu have come to learn, is a month of intense battles. The UN is increasing its international and local personnel in Somalia, though they are still not venturing out into the deadly Mogadishu streets. The African Union troops are positioning their mortars and have promised to increase the war. The mystic Sufis have declared war on Hizbul Islam and Al-Shabab. And the Islamists, on their part, have also vowed more attacks during Ramadan and have promised to defeat the ‘Christian Crusaders’ and the ‘enemies of Allah’ in the path of their holy war.

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Maxamad Dheere: An Incompetent Appointee


Imagine that a stray bullet, one of the thousands that constantly whiz past you in this deadly city, dislodged itself in your mother’s heart. Quite a normal thing, considering the situation we are in. So you quickly rush her to hospital, hoping that she stays alive at least until you reach there. You put her on the stretcher expecting that the doctor, assessing the severity of the situation, would instantaneously drag her into the theatre for that life saving operation. But no – you are told, instead, to pay upfront the operation cost, the admin fees as well as extra for the services of the handlers; all this while she profusely bleeds beside you. You came in a rush and were perhaps a little too traumatized to remember bringing some sacks of money along with you, so throw yourself at the compassion of the doctors. You march restlessly to and fro pleading with them and promising them that you will bring the money. ‘Just begin the operation please, I will go and get the money,’ you scream but to no avail. The doctor informs you that the hospital operates under the instructions of the governor and he has laid down these rules.

You stare on despairingly as your mother convulses with agony on the stretcher, her blood gently dripping onto the concrete. Her listless body begins to deteriorate as life slowly seeps out of it; her face gradually loses colour and her eyes fade away against her pallid features. Only a few meters away from the operating theatre, she breathes her last as you look on helplessly.

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