Somalia Suffers Its Worst Ever Terrorist Attack

Somalia is continuing recovery efforts in its capital Mogadishu this week following the worst terrorist attack ever experienced in the east African nation. The capital was rocked by a massive explosion outside a hotel in the heart of the city on Saturday afternoon. Authorities believe two bombs within a truck were detonated. The devastation caused by the explosion has been enormous, with the death toll now standing at 276 people and over 300 injured. The details of individual victims have begun to emerge from the attack, with one being named as Maryam Abdullahi, who was due to graduate as a doctor the next day.

No group has yet claimed responsibility, however it is widely believed that the Islamist group al-Shabaab were responsible. The group launched an insurgency against the Somalian government in 2007, and has coordinated attacks across the nation throughout the past decade. According to The Telegraph, al-Shabaab has also previously conducted attacks within Mogadishu itself, with “grenades, guns and bombs [used] in its quest to topple the government.” An attack of this scale and devastation, however, has never been delivered before by this Islamist group. The authorities and emergency services have been pushed to breaking point, with hospitals struggling to deal with the volume of victims and the severity of their injuries.

While Somalian President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo Mohamed has called for three days of national mourning, the shocking nature and scale of this attack will live long in the memory of Somalians. The Aamin Ambulance group noted, “In our ten-year experience as the first responder in Mogadishu, we haven’t seen anything like this.” The attack has received both domestic and international condemnation. Somali Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire blamed the incident on al-Shabaab, claiming, “They don’t care about the lives of Somali people… They have targeted the most populated area in Mogadishu, killing only civilians.”

Meanwhile, head of the UN mission in Somalia Micheal Keating stated, “It was a revolting attack both in terms of its intent and impact. All Somalis must unite to condemn and repulse this kind of violent extremism.” Individual nations within the international community have also made their solidarity with Somalia known. According to Al Jazeera, many have offered to provide medical assistance, including Kenya, Turkey, and Ethiopia. U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson also condemned the attack as “cowardly,” insisting that the U.K. will “continue to support Somalia in the fight against terrorism.” Terrorism has become an all too familiar feature of life within Somalia. It is up to Somalian authorities, along with help from the international community, to ensure violent extremism within Mogadishu and more rural regions is eradicated completely.

According to the Financial Times, al-Shabaab’s insurgency has this year begun to be contained after a cooperative military effort between U.S. and African forces. While the Islamist group has lost a lot of the territory it once dominated, its ability to reign terror among Somalian communities has not subsided. At the start of 2017, al-Shabaab regrouped and reoriented its tactics, staging several high-profile attacks on civilians, including in Mogadishu. While U.S. and African forces should continue to oppose and force out al-Shabaab fighters, progress within Somalia’s domestic political situation is also needed in eradicating terrorism within the east African nation.

While the recent election of President Mohamed has brought hope of a turning point in the Somalian domestic crisis, change is yet to materialize. A range of problems lies at the responsibility of Mohamed’s administration. According to the Financial Times, weak institutions, widespread poverty, under-developed social and economic infrastructure, and high youth unemployment are among the most pressing issues. The UN has stated that these problems are exacerbated by a current drought, which has left 6.2 million people (45% of the population) in need of humanitarian assistance.

With these factors acknowledged, it comes as no surprise that there is a groundswell of dissatisfaction from the grassroots of society. In these conditions, terrorist organizations such as al-Shabaab thrive, and the ability to recruit alienated civilians becomes easier. It is therefore imperative that Somalian authorities work on bolstering key institutions and infrastructure within the country. In achieving successful domestic reform and eradicating al-Shabaab militarily, the long-term stability of Somalia can be secured.