Lawlessness in Somalia might allow al-Qaeda to create a safe haven in the Horn of Africa, Yemeni Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Abubaker Abdulla Al-Qirbi said on Thursday (April 8th).
In an interview with Al-Shorfa, he added that Somalia may also "serve as a launch pad for their attacks in the region, given their previous announced plans to control the navigation routes, especially the Straits of Bab al-Mandab".
Al-Qirbi was responding to Somalia's Minister of Treasury Abd al-Rahim Othman who told Reuters Wednesday that 12 senior al-Qaeda commanders arrived in Somalia from Yemen and brought cash and military expertise to Somali rebels who are fighting against the government.
The Somali minister said this information was intercepted by Somali intelligence services.
The Al-Shabab al-Mujahideen movement, which is linked to al-Qaeda, is leading a bloody insurgency against the transition government of Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, the former leader of the Islamic Courts Union. Al-Shabab seeks to implement a strict version of sharia in all parts of war-torn Somalia.
"They brought money for Al-Shabab which is facing difficulties in recruiting more fighters because of financial constraints," Othman said.
He added that several [al-Qaeda] military commanders arrived in airports in the south under the cover of relief officers and that two of them are now in Mogadishu.
Al-Qaeda affairs analyst Ahmed al-Sufi told Al-Shorfa that the move of al-Qaeda leaders from Yemen to Somalia with their financing and field expertise, as well as the possible move of the organisation's command to southern Somalia, is likely because of the state of lawlessness that exists there. This has created a suitable environment for the growth of al-Qaeda, al-Sufi said.
"There is co-operation between the elements and cells of the organisation in several countries, especially Yemen and Somalia. The Al-Shabab movement voiced its readiness to support the organisation in Yemen following pre-emptive strikes by Yemeni security forces against al-Qaeda in Abyan province [southern Yemen] last January," he said.
Al-Sufi said Yemen has been the main battleground against terrorism recently, which put pressure on al-Qaeda members. By moving their command to Somalia, al-Qaeda is taking advantage of the security situation, where the current Somali government, backed by African Union peacekeepers, could not control the capital Mogadishu because of the rebels.
The Al-Shabab movement controls wide areas of southern Somalia and Mogadishu, prompting concerns by the international community that the porous Somali border and the absence of a strong central government could transform the country into a safe haven for extremists to carry out attacks in the region and beyond.
Political analyst Muhammad Al-Ghaberi, agrees that the move to Somalia is likely, adding that by attempting to control the water routes, al-Qaeda seeks to portray itself as a stronger power than the major powers in the world in addition to drawing media attention. But in reality the organisation cannot control the straits of Bab al-Mandab, he said, because international forces are protecting international navigation routes. In addition, controlling the straits of Bab al-Mandab requires huge military resources and cannot be achieved.
Al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula rose to the top list of international security concerns after the leader of the group in Yemen claimed responsibility for the attempted attack of a US passenger plane in December 2009.