Policy WATCH:
Mubarak's Musings
National Theater Bombing Reveals Rifts in TFG
By MUBARAK 04/12/2012

Mubarak's Musings is a Somalia Report weekly column published every Wednesday (usually). Follow Mubarak on Twitter, at @somalianalyst.

The fallout continues from the blast at the Somali National Theater during the celebrations of the first anniversary of the reopening of the Somali National Television (SNTV).

The Transitional Federal Government (TFG) security forces are refusing to take responsibility for the security failure that apparently allowed the suicide bomber to enter and blow herself up at the heavily-packed high-level function. They insist that the blame for the security lapse lies with the Minister of Information, Abdulqadir Mohamed Hussein "Jahweyn," who himself refuses to take responsibility for the security breach.

The events following the blast have brought to the forefront the TFG’s perceived lack of effectiveness among local Somalis. The national police and the internal spy agency, the National Security Service Agency (NSSA), both claim that they were not notified of the high-level celebration. They reportedly went on to send notifications of censure to government radio and television, ordering them not to air the Information Minister’s claim that he hadn’t been responsible for allowing the attack to occur.

According to Jowhar.com, the minister claims that the planned theatre celebration was known to all, having notified the security agencies directly and indirectly about the event up to a month earlier.

This in itself is a security problem. I would not publicize any event in Mogadishu if government officials were planning to attend—they have invisible bullseyes on their backs. If it were true that the minister did indeed notify the security agencies a month prior to the party, then we have indentified one clear security violation.

The optimum time to publicize the event would have been three days in advance. And even then, reliable government soldiers should have been placed at the site to prevent any booby traps being laid there by the Shabaab.

Part of the problem is al-Shabaab defectors being absorbed into the TFG security forces. It is apparently hard to find reliable government security operatives in Mogadishu, with hundreds of former Shabaab fighters reportedly having been recruited into the NSSA. These guys have been blamed for every attack inside government territory, but are still duly recruited as if they are the magic solution to the security problems in Mogadishu. Instead, the TFG is now like a thirsty man at sea; gulping sea water to quench his thirst, getting thirstier from the drink, and drinking more. The Shabaab defectors only increase insecurity, leading to the “need” for more defectors, fuelling this almost-infinite cycle.

In the TFG's defense, the Shabaab defectors are useful in identifying Shabaab operatives in government territory. This however is a small benefit compared to the obvious security vulnerabilities concomitant with this policy, such as the real threat of the Shabaab infiltrating their own into the TFG security forces.

The Information Minister is meanwhile apparently fighting for his post. It seems that TFG President Sheikh Sharif is eager to have the minister fired, while the Prime Minister—who was present at the fateful event—is counseling patience; he wants to act when the commission created to investigate the matter reports back.

The Information Minister may be scapegoated, but that will not change the fact that he is not the only party responsible for the lapse in security. There were reportedly three checkpoints one had to pass through to get into the venue; two run by the TFG and one by African Union peacekeepers (AMISOM).

Last time I checked, the information ministry did not run checkpoints. Also, the fact that the bomber managed to get through the checkpoints shows that she had accomplices, perhaps Shabaab members of the NSSA.

Media War

The pro-Shabaab SomaliMeme.com website has been spotlighting the TFG bickering over the National Theater attack, publishing interesting but unconfirmed reports that the Information Minister is now afraid of being arrested and has taken refuge in the home of his fellow clansman, the warlord-turned member of parliament, Mohamed Qanyare. While this may not be the case, it shows how the Shabaab are trying to continue reaping fruits from their attack on the National Theater by illuminating the constant TFG bickering and distrust among its ranks.

Perhaps helping them is the bad press the TFG officials continue to accrue. The pro-Sharif Islamist Mayor of Mogadishu, who is known by the nickname “Tarzan," has threatened to take action against Mogadishu’s independent media, accusing them of working side by side with the Shabaab in destabilizing the city.

Yes, according to Tarzan the same Shabaab who have killed journalists and threatened many more through their proxy websites are also working hand in hand with the same journalists that they target. Who says that some Islamists don’t chew Khat? He has to be semi-high to be making these comments.

Woman or Machine?

The Shabaab have even denied that the attack was carried out by a female suicide bomber, instead maintaining that the culprit was an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) that has been placed at the site prior to the event.

The Shabaab have a track record of denying suicide attacks by women. They made the very same argument last June when they used the niece of the Interior Minister, Abdishakur Sheikh Hassan, to assassinate him through a suicide bombing.

The Shabaab apparently don’t wish to claim attacks by women, likely for fear of attracting more security scrutiny of women, which would in turn negatively affect their popularity.

The Shabaab media, being more credible to the masses than the discredited government, have managed to convince some of my sources that the woman was a victim of the attack, and not the perpetrator.

Given the lack of forensic experts in the TFG, eyewitness testimony, which is notoriously unreliable, remains the main source for the conclusion that the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber. Some photos from the scene of the blast show that the site that may have been rigged prior to the event, as the Shabaab claim.

The Squabbling Must End

The government security forces are not that different from their political leaders, regularly engaging in armed confrontations amongst themselves in Mogadishu and beyond. The looting and robbing by government soldiers of civilians in some Mogadishu areas has also led to a normally pro-government clan (the Habar Gedir) issue a statement condemning government soldiers' conduct in their neighborhoods.

When was the last time you heard of the Shabaab fighters fighting each other? However much the difference between the Shabaab factions in terms of ideology and vision for Somalia, they stick together and fight their common enemy, apparently deciding to put on hold their differences until the situation is calmer and they can afford to engage in routine humiliating public confrontations like the TFG.

The TFG leadership and the security forces are in danger of losing what little standing they have with the Somali people if they continue this habit of not taking responsibility for their failures.

While it is not clear whether the TFG Minister of Information did or did not notify the security branches of government of the National Theater celebration, the security force have indeed failed in preventing a suicide bomber from getting close to the nation’s Prime Minister and killing, among other people, government MPs.

The Shabaab will keep trying until they succeed in killing or maiming one of the top leaders of the TFG. No blame war will prevent that.