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Dozens were killed in a violent attack by the jihadist militant group al-Shabaab against the Bar-sanguni army base in southern Somalia. The al-Qaeda-linked organization set off a car bomb this past Monday before charging the army base and sustaining heavy gunfire before the base was retaken by officials, reports BBC. After driving the car bomb into a checkpoint, militants sustained gunfire with soldiers for over an hour. At this point, reinforcements were sent in and the base was reclaimed, according to the East African. The number of casualties is contested with a government official reporting six soldiers and 87 militants dead, a colonel reporting only ten militants dead, and an Al-Shabaab representative claiming that they killed 27 soldiers, according to Al Jazeera. Bar-sanguni has now sustained two attacks from al-Shabaab in the past two months, the last confrontation evidently killing a U.S. soldier, two Kenyans and nine Somali troops according to BBC.
Military commander Mohamed Bile reported to the East African that “al-Shabab terrorists attacked Bar-sanguni military base early this morning and there was heavy fighting. The Somali armed forces have repelled the assailants but there were casualties inflicted on both sides during the armed confrontation.” Bile was among many witnesses to have heard the attack from nearby towns where they reported “heavy blasts” and “sustained gunfire” according to the East African. Osman Abdullahi, a nearby resident, stated “we heard a huge blast after early morning prayers. Then heavy exchange of gunfire followed,” as reported by BBC. Al-Shabaab was quick to claim this assault, with the group’s military spokesperson Abdiasis Abu Musab stating “we first attacked the base with a suicide car bomb and then stormed. We killed 27 soldiers and took the base. Some soldiers fled into the jungles.”
The violent actions of terrorist groups such as al-Shabaab are extreme reactions of intolerance as well as the reason why many people in effected areas are forced to flee their homes. The trauma that many Somali Bantu and Somali refugees and asylum seekers face is brought about or aggravated by the mentioned militant group’s violent and extremist agenda. This issue does not have a simple answer but it should be addressed both reactively and proactively. Creating preventive and defensive measures against al-Shabaab is necessary and important but violence needs to be solved at the root of the issue by addressing education, health and the other fundamental requirements of life that will discourage this level of intolerance and violence from the start.
Al-Shabaab, translating to “youth” in Arabic is a jihadist militant group in Somalia that began as a “radical youth wing” of their former Union of Islamic Courts, according to CNN. Al-Shabaab strives to make Somalia a fundamentalist Islamic state and they enforce a “Saudi-inspired Wahhabi version of Islam” noted by BBC. According to PBS, Wahhabism has been the primary form of Islam in Saudi Arabia for the past two hundred years and practices a literal interpretation of the Koran. Those who do not follow this form of Islam are considered “heathens.” Many believe that the inflexibility and conservatism of Wahhabism is in fact a distortion and misinterpretation of Islam, PBS states. Many Somali people follow a different set of beliefs than al-Shabaab as Sufis which further aggravates the tensions in the militant group-controlled areas of Somalia, according to BBC. With past connections to al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab used to control Mogadishu until 2006 when Ethiopian troops forced them out according to BBC. Al-Shabaab currently has 7,000 to 9,000 members and is banned as a terrorist group in the U.S. and the U.K., BBC reports. Though the group has been forced out of most urban areas in Somalia, it still holds a significant threat over the rural regions. In recent years even as the group loses ground, al-Shabaab has violently killed 67 in the Westgate Mall attack in 2013, fired on Garissa University College in eastern Kenya in 2015 (they have in fact executed 150 attacks on Kenya alone) and killed hundreds in 2016 in an attack on the African Union Mission in Somalia according to the Council on Foreign Relations. Thus, it seems that the more the al-Shabaab’s power wanes, the more violent and extreme the attacks get, the group having a history of brutal beheadings and suicide bombings along with their massive assaults, according to Huffington Post.
Though the number of losses is still being contested, Bar-sanguni has been able to recover and reallocate forces since the attack. Al-Shabaab still holds a threat over the area especially given their recent determination to take the base but it holds strong. Officials have yet to report on the next step but the overall waning of al-Shabaab’s power in Somalia is clearly a hopeful sign.