Mogadishu residents question security measures after two nights of explosions

A Somali policeman  frisks residents

By Osman Mohamud
Thursday, February 06, 2014

After two consecutive nights of bombardments in Mogadishu, residents have been left wondering whether the newly implemented security measures in the capital are sufficient to protect them from militant attacks.

Officials said al-Shabaab fired “improvised devices” Sunday and Monday nights (February 2nd-3rd) in the vicinity of the Somali presidential residence and in six other districts of Mogadishu, including Hamarweyne, Hamar Jajab, Waberi and Warta Nabada.

“There are no deaths or property damage caused by the explosions in the six districts,” Benadir Regional Commanding Officer General Mohamed Yusuf Omar Madaale said on Radio Mogadishu. “We know that these are improvised devices from the investigations carried out by a group of explosives experts who are part of the Somali police force.”

A number of suspects have been arrested in connection to the events, and al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attacks via Radio Andalus on Monday.

Although no casualties or damages were reported, the blasts still rattled residents.
“It has been a long time since I have heard such mortar explosions in the city of Mogadishu, especially at night time,” said Hamarweyne resident Samira Ahmed, a 38-year-old mother of five.

“We were terrified along with our children. The children hid under the beds and people were asking others if they were [still] alive,” she told Sabahi. “It was an unexpected event and I thought the terrorist group had stormed the capital city by force.”

Muse Yarow, 35, who owns a restaurant in Hamarweyne, said people fled his restaurant when the mortar attacks began.

“All of my customers who were having dinner ran away and I quickly shut the doors of my place of business because I was afraid we would incur deaths and property damage from the explosions and mortars from al-Shabaab,” he told Sabahi.

Yarow expressed scepticism, however, that the explosions came from improvised devices as the government said.

“I view the statement by the security agencies as one made to reassure the public because al-Shabaab still has weapons to kill civilians and they have no need for improvised devices,” he said. “I would call for security officers to be held highly accountable because the man who created such panic among the people is capable of doing anything else.”

Ahmed: My government will protect its citizens

Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed has made security a priority since he took office in December, and on Tuesday he called together senior government, city and security officials to discuss the series of explosions.
“Our people should be able to live without fear and that is the number one responsibility of my government,” Ahmed said at the meeting. “I want every one of you in this room to come up with a result; this cannot be allowed to happen again. Our people are waiting and expecting an answer on who was behind last night’s indiscriminate violence and face justice.”

“I will not allow these cowards to strike fear into our people and derail the progress Mogadishu and Somali has made,” he said. “My government will protect its citizens.” Soon after he took office, Ahmed ordered increased security measures in Mogadishu, with security forces conducting thorough searches on vehicles and drivers, and police vehicles stationed at all major intersections in the city.

The government’s promises of improved security have been marred, however, by non-payment of security forces’ salaries and rising doubt among the Somali people about the longevity of the operations.
“Police should not do what we have seen them doing several times [before]. They make a good effort to maintain security for about a week or two, and then people wonder where the security forces have gone,” said Dahir Salad, a 45-year-old taxi driver. “This is not something the officers should be blamed for; rather it is up to the government to keep the soldiers accountable.”

Salad said he welcomed the efforts to ensure security, but said the police sometimes go overboard with the searches, especially at night.

“Night time is the most difficult when it comes to operations to ensure security,” he told Sabahi. “Whenever I tell myself you are done with being searched, I come upon other soldiers who are searching other cars ahead of me.”

He said citizens would become more used to the searches if the police make security maintenance operations a regular thing.

“As taxi drivers, we really waste a lot of time, but we console ourselves by saying maintaining security is more important than anything else,” he said.

How long will these operations continue?

Mohamed Guled, a 29-year-old security officer who is taking part in the ongoing efforts in Mogadishu, said he and his colleagues are thorough, yet respectful, when they carry out their searches.

“It is our responsibility to safeguard security like we are doing now and even better so that we can protect our citizens from the dangers of terrorism and anything that can harm security,” he told Sabahi.

“However, what we want is for the public to understand the importance of the work we are doing and we would like to see them encouraging us more than before even if they cannot support us financially,” he said.
Benadir deputy security chief Warsame Mohamed Jodah said the local administration was working hard to protect public safety, even with the limited financial resources.

“We will continue with this effort to improve security and it will not be abandoned,” he told Sabahi, adding that the security forces are still waiting to receive their full salaries. “The troops have been working for the nation under a number of different [administrations] and they will not stop working because they are missing their rights.”

Kadar Ahmed, a 55-year-old Mogadishu elder and Hamarweyne resident, said security forces will be successful if they get full support and respect from the public.

“The police force cannot ensure security by itself anyway, the public has to be supportive in every way,” said Ahmed, who served as a security officer under the Mohamed Siad Barre administration. “[With that support], I believe the police will then be more inclined to always be alert.”

Hassan Ali, a 69-year-old retired colonel, said security forces are doing their best to prevent acts of terrorism, but he expressed doubts about the continuation of such efforts.

“The method that I have seen the police use lately to ensure security is really the only way to prevent acts of terrorism from happening in Mogadishu, but I am afraid that the police will halt their efforts after a few days,” he told Sabahi. “We are used to seeing them wake up from sleep when they face a lot of criticism…. I would say the country’s security at the present time needs extra effort.”