Monday, February 26, 2024

Somalia: Al-Shabab Militants Seize UN Helicopter and Crew After Emergency Landing

HomeWARSomalia: Al-Shabab Militants Seize UN Helicopter and Crew After Emergency Landing

Mogadishu, Somalia – In a troubling development, Al-Shabab militants have seized a UN helicopter and crew after it was forced to make an emergency landing in central Somalia on Wednesday.

According to officials familiar with the situation, the helicopter, which belonged to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), was transporting four Europeans and five Africans when it was struck by an unknown object that damaged its main rotor blade. This forced the pilot to make an emergency landing in the Galguduud region, which is partly controlled by the Al-Shabab insurgency.

Shortly after landing, Al-Shabab fighters set the helicopter ablaze and apprehended most of the crew members. One crew member was reportedly killed, two remain unaccounted for and may have escaped, while the rest have been taken captive.

A UN spokesperson said a statement will be issued shortly, while an internal memo acknowledged the helicopter “was struck by an object on the main rotor blade, and the flight landed safely with precaution.” The memo did not specify what struck the aircraft.

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UNSOM provides critical logistical and medical assistance to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which comprises about 17,500 peacekeeping troops. An AMISOM official confirmed that none of their personnel were onboard the ill-fated helicopter.

The Al-Qaeda affiliated Al-Shabab has not claimed responsibility yet, but operates extensively in Galguduud. The group has made a habit of kidnapping foreigners, including aid workers, and holding them hostage for years to extract ransoms or leverage other demands.

In 2018, Al-Shabab abducted a German nurse working for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Mogadishu. She remains in captivity to this day.

Al-Shabab emerged as the radical military wing of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which briefly ruled Mogadishu and large swathes of southern Somalia in 2006. After being ousted from the capital by an Ethiopian military intervention backed by the United States, the group morphed into a ruthless Islamist insurgency that still controls significant territory.

The militants frequently assassinate government officials and detonate bombs in Mogadishu and other major Somali cities. Al-Shabab also extorts hefty taxes from businesses and operates parallel Islamic courts in areas under its jurisdiction.

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Somali government forces, AMISOM troops and clan militias have regained ground from Al-Shabab over the years. But the militants retain firm control over rural areas and small towns, allowing them to ambush convoys and launch deadly raids.

In recent months, simmering tensions between Al-Shabab and local clans who disagree with the group’s draconian version of Sharia law have spilled over into violence in Galguduud. Clan militias have liberated several strategic towns from Al-Shabab rule, signaling growing resistance to the insurgency.

Wednesday’s hostage taking harkens back to the notorious Black Hawk Down incident in 1993, when militia fighters shot down American military helicopters in Mogadishu and killed 18 US soldiers.

Somalia has essentially been in a state of civil war since the central government collapsed in 1991. Warlords and clan factions have vied for power ever since, leading to rampant instability, famine, poverty and terrorism.

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Al-Shabab strongly opposes Somalia’s traditional Sufi Muslim practices and seeks to implement its own severe form of Sharia law. The group frequently destroys Sufi shrines and mosques, sparking further animosity from locals.

With Al-Shabab expanding its deadly reach in Somalia and neighboring countries, Wednesday’s seizure of the UN helicopter crew represents a serious escalation of the crisis. It is certain to renew concerns about the safety of humanitarian personnel working in the deeply unstable region.

The US military maintains an active counterterrorism presence in Somalia, working alongside regional partners to degrade Al-Shabab and other militant organizations. While no Americans were onboard the UN helicopter, the incident underscores the complexities and dangers of operating in areas penetrated by Al-Shabab.

As Somali authorities scramble to secure the release of the kidnapped UN crew through negotiations or other means, Al-Shabab again finds itself in the global spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

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Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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