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Somali Group Claims Responsibility for Suicide Blasts in Uganda

July 12, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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For more on the Somali terror group that claimed responsibility for the Uganda bombing, Gwen Ifill talks to an expert on the region.
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TRANSCRIPT

GWEN IFILL: Now, for more on the attacks and the Somali group that claimed responsibility for them, we turn to Ahmed Samatar, dean of the Institute for Global Citizenship at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He’s written extensively about Somalia, where he was born.

Welcome.

What can you tell us first…

AHMED SAMATAR, dean, Institute for Global Citizenship at Macalester College: Thank you.

GWEN IFILL: Thank you.

What can you tell us, first of all, about Al-Shabab, this — this murky group?

AHMED SAMATAR: Well, Al-Shabab is a cluster of different groups, primarily young people.

They grew out of the Islamic movement in Somalia, which originally came about as part of a struggle to revive Somali national institutions collapsed in the early 1990s. Al-Shabab then became a very heavy presence, particularly during the Ethiopian invasion of Mogadishu in the southern part of Somalia a few years back, and then from there on began to take a whole new momentum in trying to capture the whole country, although they don’t control the whole country. But that’s their ambition.

And the project is essentially to impose a very, very strict, rather cruel form of Islamic authoritarianism on the Somali people.

GWEN IFILL: So, when you talk about Al-Shabab, we’re not talking about a group with a leader, but we are talking about a group that does have links to al-Qaida?

AHMED SAMATAR: Well, they do have leaders, although they are quite elusive. They have leaders. But it is a cluster of different groups, both in terms of their religious orientation.

At the very technical, you know, moment, they might differ in certain areas, but also they come from different ethnic groups or kin groups among the Somali people. What brings them together is a certain desire for power, to pick up power, what’s left of Somali society and national institutions, and then with that power do it through religious mobilization, and a particular kind of a religious mobilization that is heavily grounded in violence and terrorist acts.

GWEN IFILL: But this happened in Uganda. Up until now, Al-Shabab has been focused, as you said, in Somalia. Why Uganda now?

(CROSSTALK)

AHMED SAMATAR: Well, Uganda for a couple of reasons, though the most important one of them is the fact that there are a significant number of Ugandan troops inside Somalia, particularly in Mogadishu and its surroundings.

And they are the leading edge in this organization of African troops from the A.U. — Burundi also has got a significant number — that has been sent there essentially to support the transitional federal authority. And the tragedy is that the transitional federal authority under Sharif Ahmed is not only rather illegitimate, but it is frighteningly incompetent.

And, therefore, the Somali people now are caught up in on one side Al-Shabab movement that is extremely cruel and highly puritanical and a transitional federal government that just cannot do anything at all, and sustained therefore by Ugandan and Burundian troops in Mogadishu and the neighborhood in which the transitional federal authority’s leadership are now living.

GWEN IFILL: So, if countries like Uganda and Burundi and Ethiopia, if they were to pull their support troops from Somalia, would what’s left of the government simply fall apart?

AHMED SAMATAR: Oh, I think so.

The government really has no presence anywhere in the Somali society. In fact, there are regions, particularly in the north, which had rather peaceful elections very recently — Somaliland, it calls itself — which is totally in many ways quite different politically in the way they have handled the Somali crisis than the south.

But the Shabab movement’s project in Uganda is primarily, A, to send a word and put fright in the hearts of the Africans who are now a part of the troops that are protecting the transitional federal government and make them believe that this is impossible to stay in Somalia, a lesson for the Burundians, too, but then also for the international community that they cannot accept — that the Shabab is not going to accept any kind of an international force that comes to help the Somali people pick up the pieces. So the project really is about controlling the Somali territory.

GWEN IFILL: How significant is it where these attacks happened, that they happened at World Cup viewing matches, that one happened at an Ethiopian restaurant and the other at a rugby club?

AHMED SAMATAR: Right. Right. Right.

Well, it’s significant in the sense that first it gives sense clearly that Al-Shabab can reach out beyond the Somali boundary and the Somali republic. And then, second, it is significant that it can kill and kill with a great deal of ferocity.

And then, thirdly, it can put fear, therefore, both in the sense of the international community that might want to do something about the Somali society, including sending more troops, and, then, secondly, of course, put fear in the Somali people themselves and convince them that there is no alternative to Al-Shabab. That’s the underlying, I think, project here.

GWEN IFILL: Professor Ahmed Samatar of Macalester College, thank you so much for helping us out.