On March 29th, 2020 in Puntland, Somalia, an attacker ran toward the vehicle of Somali governor of the Nugaal region, Abdisalan Hassan Hersi, before detonating a bomb wired to the attacker’s vest. The explosion resulted in major injuries for the governor and he was soon taken to a hospital in Somalia’s capital, Garowe. A civilian and a former police commander had also sustained wounds in the explosion and were taken to hospital. Shortly after being admitted to intensive care in critical condition, the governor passed away as a result of his injuries. In a statement, the armed group Al-Shabab, who has long been making an effort to overthrow the Somali government, claimed responsibility for the suicide bomber attack on the governor.
According to Al Jazeera, in an interview with AFP news agency, police officer Mohamed Weli stated, “The doctors tried to save the governor’s life, but unfortunately he died from his injuries. He was in critical condition when he was admitted to hospital.” However, despite the terrible consequences of violent attacks such as the one that took governor Hersi’s life, Al- Shabab has issued statements in the past that convey a desire to limit violence. According to Al Jazeera, in response to another attack in December 2019 in which many civilians were injured or killed, a statement from Al Shabab stated, “We are very sorry about the casualty that was inflicted on our Somali Muslim society, and we are extending our condolences to the Muslims who have lost their lives and or [were] wounded and or had their property destroyed.” This statement seems to express the desire not to harm the countrymen who may still share sentiments of Al-Shabab.
Given the proclivity of Al-Shabab to publicly regret any violence against countrymen in Somalia who might share their beliefs, it seems that the group has a habit of choosing very specific targets for attacks that are based on very specific motivations. It seems like it would be productive to attempt to schedule some kind of listening session or conversation during which representatives from the current Somali government and representatives from Al-Shabab sit down together, or come into contact in some other, more appropriate way, in order to talk out the motivations and sentiments behind recent actions. This could help both groups see the root from which the actions of the other have stemmed in the past and such conversations could help increase the likelihood of a peaceful solution without more violent attacks. On the other hand, violent attempts to quell the problem, such as air attacks launched by the U.S. aimed at eliminating Al-Shabab, have the potential to cause more harm than good. These attacks are dangerous to civilians, who may become victims of the resulting violence, and make no effort to better understand the motivations of Al-Shabab members.
After Al-Shabab announced allegiance to Al-Qaeda in 2010, the group was pushed out of Somalia’s capital city, Mogadishu. However, although this act led the group to lose much of the territory it had controlled in Somalia in the past, they still hold large amounts of territory in the countryside today. Al-Shabab has continued to launch attacks aimed at overthrowing Somalia’s government. In December 2019, one such attack, a car bombing in Mogadishu that took the lives of about 81 people, was allegedly aimed at a group of Turkish mercenaries traveling in the area where the bomb was set off. Due to numerous civilian casualties, Al-Shabab issued an apologetic statement, again regretting the loss of countrymen. Many deaths have also resulted from the U.S. military’s air attacks that have been launched to wipe out Al-Shabab.
It remains unknown whether similar attacks from Al-Shabab will continue in Somalia, or whether U.S. air attacks in the area will continue as well. It seems that a new strategy based on conversation could help to change the tides in such a long history of violence. However, the willingness of both Al-Shabab and the Somali government to engage in such a strategy is yet to be determined.