Somalia’s new president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has promised to block revenue streams for al-Shabab terrorists. Islamic militants are reportedly making millions of dollars a year from taxes they levy in areas of Somalia under their control. But security analysts say cutting off terrorist financing will not be easy.
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said this week that his government would crack down on the financing of the militant group al-Shabab.
Mohamud on Tuesday spoke to Somali troops training in Turkey, accusing the Somali group of using extortionate taxes to finance terrorism across Africa and the world.
His remarks were carried on Somali National Television.
Mohamud says they have evidence that the money raised by al-Shabab is being used to fund terrorist groups in Mozambique and Nigeria, with some going to al-Qaeda terrorists.
The Somali president did not elaborate on the evidence, which the militant group dismissed in a press statement on Thursday as “unfounded accusations”.
Mohamud’s remarks were the first by the Somali government to acknowledge that al-Shabab was making money through extortion.
The UN panel of experts’ report on Somalia earlier this year said al-Shabab had about 100 checkpoints across the country where they levy taxes on trucks transporting goods.
The Mogadishu-based Hiral Institute think tank estimates that al-Shabab earns enough to spend $ 24 million a year on weapons.
Security experts say a crackdown on terrorist financing would be a departure from Somalia’s previous government, which has focused more on fighting political battles, but it will not be easy.
Matt Bryden is a security expert and strategic advisor at the UK and Kenya-based Sahan Foundation think tank.
Speaking via a messaging application, he says al-Shabab has a sophisticated system of tax collection while the government’s oversight of banking and Islamic money transfers, called hawala, is weak.
“The group is also able to move its funds through Somalia to do transactions and transfers, in part due to the very weak regulatory framework in Somalia,” Bryden said. “The banking system, the money transfer system, or ‘hawalas’, which is still very poorly controlled by the government. Al-Shabab has exploited these weaknesses to the maximum. And so, a government’s repression of the financial sector and the tightening of the loopholes will also be the key to combating al-Shabab and drying up its resource base. ”
Bryden says Mohamud, who was elected in May, is already taking security measures against the Islamic militants.
Somalia’s Danab special forces were back in action against al-Shabab in several areas of the country.
Abdurahman Sheikh Azhari is director of the Mogadishu-based Center for Analysis and Strategic Studies (CASS).
He says several fronts are needed to defeat al-Shabab, including military operations, fighting their finances and fighting their ideology.
The al-Qaeda-linked militants have been fighting since 2007 against Somalia’s Western-backed government and African Union peacekeepers to enforce strict Islamic law.
The US announced in mid-May that it would restore a military presence in Somalia to help fight the militants after withdrawing troops in 2020.