Pro-Islamic State Somali militants have grown in numbers and are receiving financial and military support from Yemen; a top intelligence official told the VOA Somali Service.
Abdi Hassan Hussein, the former Director of the U.S.-backed Puntland Intelligence Agency (PIA) said when the pro-IS Somali faction was founded in October last year it had about 20-30 men but has since set up training camps and recruited more fighters. He said the group’s fighters now number between 100-150 soldiers. “They have graduated their first units, and they have received their military supplies,” he said.
Hussein led PIA until a year ago when he was replaced. His primary job was to detect militant threats and plan counter-terrorism operations.
He said Islamic State has welcomed its Somalia branch and has started delivering supplies through their affiliate faction in Yemen.
“They received military supplies from Yemen – weapons, uniform, ISIS sent trainers who inspected their bases, and they have started sending financial support,” he said. “The weapons’ shipment was delivered by sea from Mukallah city in Hadramouth, and it has arrived from the Red Sea coast of Somalia in February and March this year.”
Hussein pointed to a recent video posted by the group that he said shows the group received new uniforms. He said there is also evidence that the group has received financial support from Islamic State. “Evidence of financial assistance can be seen in the area; they are buying supplies, they are buying vehicles, they bought livestock, they invested in the community by delivering water supplies to a nearby community affected by the drought,” he said.
Hussein said reports he has received indicated administrations in Somalia have underestimated the threat of the pro-IS group led by former al-Shabab cleric Abdulkadir Mumin. He criticized the Somali government and regional administrations for not taking the threat seriously. He said Islamic State will pose the tougher challenge than al-Shabab. “Daesh is more dangerous than al-Shabab. They are known for committing large scale destruction. They have more finance. They have more impact. They declared to start attacks within Somalia, and they readied units to carry out attacks.”
He said the faction now has a base in Al-Bari Mountains in Puntland, where it gives training and has erected a flag used by Islamic State militants. He said the base also provides logistics and has cemented connections with Yemen.
He said opportunity was missed to neutralize the group at an early stage. “It would have been better to destroy them when they were 20 or 30 men before they adapted to the environment; but now the terrorists got used to the climate, they secured access to water wells, routes, and hiding places, “ he said. “Now to defeat them would require the same resources and effort that was put against al-Shabab.”
The Somali military this week stated that they destroyed a training camp by pro-IS Somali and foreign militants in Jannaale town area, about 120 kilometers south of the Somali capital, Mogadishu. It followed after Islamic State for the first time claimed credit for an attack against African Union forces just outside Mogadishu last month.
Hussein said the government and African Union troops can’t win against al-Shabab or IS factions militarily, and urged them to confront the groups ideologically. “The youth they are sending are assets, but misguided; they need to be saved from harming the people and harming themselves,” he said.
“They need to be confronted ideologically, and they need to be shown different ideology, given an opportunity to leave the group, given protection against prosecution from the government and retaliatory attacks from Al-Shabab if they decide to leave a group. We need to create opportunities for the youth,” Hussein said.