Somalia: A Reporter's Search for Al Qaeda
BY Dominique Christian Mollard
February 16, 2007
Background Facts and Links
Follow a synopsis of events leading up to the recent upsurge in violence in Somalia, and links to news and analysis of the country's political situation.
Read a full account of the reporter's journey from Mogadishu to Ras Kamboni, near the Kenyan border, in search of radical Islamists.
Dominique Christian Mollard is an award-winning international journalist whose work has taken him around the world. He was born in Morocco to French military parents and has lived most of his life abroad. Mollard worked for the Associated Press for 20 years, covering stories on five continents. He served as a senior producer at AP, after heading its news photo operation in Iberia and North Africa. Mollard is a veteran war correspondent. Most recently, he has been producing and shooting documentaries about terrorism in Algeria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia.
Editor's Note:A few months after 9/11, French journalist Dominique Christian Mollard traveled to Somalia to investigate reports that al Qaeda operatives were hiding there, sheltered by a radical Islamist group that had taken control of much of the country. (Last month, the region of Ras Kamboni in the south, where Mollard traveled, was bombed by U.S. forces. The targets were al Qaeda figures still thought to be operating there.)
In something of a departure for us, this week's Rough Cut is a video excerpt and written dispatch recounting the reporter's search for the extremists and their training camps... and clues to the strength of their ties to Osama bin Laden. For Mollard, a veteran news reporter with the Associated Press, it was his second assignment to Somalia; he first went there in 1993, two days after two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters were shot down by warlords. The incident shocked the American public, and soon after, the U.S. pulled out of the country. What Mollard reveals on his intrepid journey -- taken with a crew of mercenaries he hires at a gun market in Mogadishu -- is a shadowy and dangerous country blighted by years of anarchy. For the past 16 years, the country has been ruled by powerful warlords and Islamist extremists. In recent months, troops from neighboring Ethiopia joined forces with Somalia's interim government to help drive the extremists out. As gun battles flare up again across Mogadishu, and the government struggles to get a grip on power, Somalia remains a defunct and lawless place. -- Jackie Bennion
I was fascinated and really impressed by this "reportage". I think that Mr. Mollard has shown courage, professionalism and determination in his attempt to investigate the seeds of radical Islam in Somalia. I am very, very puzzled by the negative, almost vicious coments of some other viewers. They make me wonder if they have their own agenda. Sure there are some positive stories from that region that deserve to be told (such as the microcredit financing) but they certainly do not exclude the other. And finally how can you dismiss the huge problems of Somalia only because in Somaliland (which is struggling for recognition as separete state) the situation is better? What kind of argument is that? Keep up your good work Mr. Mollard! I was inspired by your journey. Thank you.
The two comments on this site thus far are unfortunate. In regards to the first, this is not a piece about Mogadishu (where the Times was, and not until several days after the city was captured) - i'm not sure what you were expecting. And I'm also not sure exactly what is "fake" about the piece, or what was inaccurate, but please enlighten us because you forgot to in your post. In regards to the second comment, you don't think this is what it's like in parts of Somalia? Or that it offered any insight at all? Were you not watching the tape Dominique got in a place that almost no journalists go? You actually think that the fact that there was just a major millitary operation in this part of Somalia shouldn't be reported on and Dominique should have gone to Somaliland instead to report on microcredit? Are you two serious people? It takes an extraordinary amount of courage to cover this country - dozens of journalist have died there over the last decade, and the difficulty we have reporting from Somalia has meant that our governments have been able to ignore the problems there. If you don't think that all the many different problems in Somalia are worth investigating, or if you think that we should just pretend that Somaliland is all of Somalia, or pretend that acts of terror perpetrated on civilians by fundamentalists who have found refuge in Somalia aren't important, you are both crazy. And having the balls to go to Ras Kamboni, even if it's only to find out that there are no longer training camps there, is - at least - a useful piece of reporting.
Excellent journalism! Your far the bravest man alive to go to somalia and educate ignorant people on what's going on in these parts of the region. once again...thank you mollard!
First of all I am from Somalia. I have enjoyed what this reporter had to report about Somalia and he knows how hard it was to achieve this video. You only get one window of reporting in Somalia if you are a foreigner. It's hard to get the truth, that is why you ask everyone you see so you can hear the diferent stories and use the best one. My hats off to you. Next time they should give you the key to the cities. If that was only possible.
Mr. Mollard's courage is commendable, however, his report doesn't add new info. to our understnading of Somali radical fanatics. This type of journalism is perhaps suitable for someone already aware of the situation and and can easily intermingle with the local population (a Somali journalist). Secondly, if Al-ithad had the opportunity to catch Mr. Mollard, he would have been decapitated. Thank goodness he came back alive.
Tessa Brown - Allen, Texas
This report of Monsieur Mollard's investigation of the al Qaeda was very hard for me to watch. It is unbelievable that he had enough courage to attempt tracking down this terrorist group, which is still being searched for even today. Considering the fact that a female missionary was murdered by her own bodyguard/escort not too long before Mr. Mollard's own trip, I am truly amazed that he was able to return home unharmed. I am thankful that we have men and women willing to put their lives on the line to protect this world, and thankful for journalists like Mollard who still are searching for the truth.
Derrick Holmes - minneapolis, minnesota
I like the information.
Larry McGuillacudy - Minneapolis, MN
The whole report seems like a waste: if he would have found active millitants they would have killed him; insead we're left with footage of 70 yr. old war veterans and a girl filling up her water container. It's a relief that no one was hurt, and a bigger relief that PBS din't waste any public money on this sorry excuse for a report.
I would like to command the courage of this journalist, I am from Somaliland myself, and I think that this journalist must have lost his sanity to go to Somalia in search of Al Qaida camps. The place is so dangerous to someone from Somaliland such as myself that I am sometimes amazed to see others foreigners go there. I think that Somalia is a strategic country where sadly people have lost their minds, and I know what I am talking about as I am Somali myself. The only place where people have any sanity left is Somaliland, and it is imperative that Somaliland be granted the status of a [separate]country. Just look at the driver who is singing at the wheel when we know that at any moment some crazed Somali gunmen can shoot at them with rocket propelled grenades. Once again my hats off to this jounalist.
John C. Pastor - Cairo, Egypt
I just wanted to pass on special kudos to this journalist, whoever he was, who did an outstanding job at tracking down, or trying to, since he never got the formal proof of their very existence, the Al Itihad radical group. Having been posted myself in neighboring Kenya for 8 years, I know too well the difficulties, no to say the sheer madness, involved at trying to move around in Somalia.
One could breath the fear perspiring all throughout this mad trip he made, traveling alone in a completely unknown and lawless region of Africa. I did, by the way, learn a lot about what is going on in this " Terra Incognita".
Keep up the excellent work, "Monsieur" Mollard
And to those who enjoy "journalist bashing", I will only suggest just to travel to Mogadishu, where I once was, for you to understand better why Mollard had to travel escorted at all times, and was lucky enough to come back in one piece to tell this very scary story.JC Pastor
Luis Rafael Perez - Barcelona, Catalunya
Thanks and Bravo! to Dominique and to have the guts to invest his money and life in such a journey. And now we can enjoy seen what kind of welcome white people may expect due to our great job from the "first world". When I was young, I liked Jose Feliciano's music; he could see without the eyes. Now, being much older, I need my eyes like Santo Tomas and the ones independent like Dominique rather than Big News Agency. To Joe who wrote in -- maybe the crap/money filters your vision. From Barcelona (North of Africa.)
I agree with the others. This was very second-rate reporting. It is only worth a view to see what rural Somalia looks like--just don't listen to what is being reported. There certainly are problems in Somalia, but Monsieur Mollard didn't unearth any as he hoped to.
After watching this footage I am sorry to say this is "staged". A sorry state of journalism that simply denegrates the quality of journalism we expect from PBS. I wonder how much PBS payed this "journalist" for regurgetating phrases like Black Hawk, islamist extremist, Ras Kamboni, etc, just to sell another story of the "war on terror". PBS viewers will be better served if you did a real journalist work and presented an accurate account of what is going on in Somalia. For your information there were present a number of international journalist in Somalia during the recent conflict between UIC and Ethiopia, among them a New York Times report with video footage. These present an honest account rather than the fake reporting you got from a "French journalist". I wonder how much he was payed for it? I hope PBS will be critical in choosing reporting material next time.
FRONTLINE/World's editors respond:
RESPONSE FROM DOMINIQUE CHRISTIAN MOLLARD:
To the anonymous viewer who has written in to suggest that my journey was "staged" and "denigrates the quality of journalism we expect from PBS," I would only advise him to do a more careful read of the introduction, which states clearly that my journey was made 5 years before this January's U.S. offensive in Southern Somalia. Ras Kamboni back then, and more than ever today, is a no-go zone in East Africa. If in doubt, consult the U.S. State Department travel advisory. As for the query about payment, I will say this: My trip was not funded by PBS but by myself. To Mr. Joe Frazier's criticism of my "shabby journalism," I will say that I learned my craft through the impeccable school of the Associated Press, with its rigor, accuracy and utmost respect for its readers and viewers. While I respect your right to your views, I would have appreciated substantiations rather than short calls to judgment. You should know, since you seem to have been there, that Somaliland is a breakaway state that has been politically and practically independent since 1960. A recent referendum in Argeysa, its remote capital 2,000 miles from Mogadishu, has shown that 97 percent of its population vowed to continue to rule itself, given the lack of a central government in Somalia.
As for the Somalis, who are effectively Africans, Mr. Frazier, you seem to forget or ignore that they are overwhelming Muslim (more than 95 percent). It is generally accepted that they are rather sympathetic toward the Islamic cause, not to say the Islamist one. And the Islamists, who were recently flushed out of Mogadishu by the Ethiopians, are back in town and have just started their "Jihad" against the "foreign miscreants," with the population's tacit support and Bin Laden's lieutenant's televised blessing. That is not to say all Somalis are radical Muslims, but the population had come to appreciate the commitment of the "Islamic Court" warriors to bring back - albeit by ruthless methods -- law and order to a country bedeviled by warlords.
If still unconvinced, please look at today's March 6th wire reports about the latest ambush on Ugandan U.N. peacekeepers arriving in Mogadishu: 2 civilians killed and scores injured after 2 hours of mortar attacks on the airport and nearby Ethiopian military barracks.
The standard of reporting by PBS is usually good. This is my take of this shabby journalist. He wants to sell the story that sells: islamic extremists, black hawk down, terror etc. The problems in somalia are armed gangs, sometimes called warlords, sometimes allied through clan affiliation for convenience. The saying goes: "the man with the gun eats". Where does the U.S. fit in this poor, God forsaken land? The CIA has been funding various warlords the past years to fuel the civil unrife in this country. There is no strategic value actually other than the fact that this is part and parcel of the "war on terror". The embassy bombings, as most terror activities, were done by Arabs from countries allied to the U.S. like Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Somalis are Africans and need no part of this conflict between the U.S. and the terrorists they themselves (read CIA) spawned in Afghanistan. By 2007, I think the American public is also fedup with these wars that benefit only a few individuals. Coming back to this report, it is crap and not worthy of your site. The kinds of report from Africa should be like the one you had on microcredit financing (Kiva). If you visit Somaliland you will find people living happily despite the ignorance of the rest of the world.