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Iran linking with Somalia’s al-Shabab to funnel weapons to Houthis: Foreign Policy

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Iran has established relations with and is using al-Shabab militant group in Somalia to attack US and other foreign forces in the country and in the region, a Foreign Policy article said on Friday citing Somali government and security officials.

Iran has a proxy network in Somalia and uses facilitators to provide support to “violent extremist organizations” to counter the influence of the US and the Gulf states, the article said.

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Iran, which has established its proxy network in Somalia using financial incentives, uses the country to funnel weapons to the Houthi militia in Yemen and to transit weapons to other countries in Africa such as Kenya, Tanzania, South Sudan, Mozambique, and Central African Republic, the article said.

Iran is present in Somalia through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the article said, adding that the IRGC’s overseas arm, the Quds Force, has established ties with “extremist groups and criminal networks.”

The Quds Force uses these networks to smuggle Iranian oil into Somalia and later sell it at cheap prices across Africa to subvert US sanctions, the article said citing Somali police and finance ministry officials.

Some of the earnings are used to support militants in Yemen and Somalia, the article added.

Photos of the seized cargo and said the weapons came from Iran and were intended for the Houthis. (File photo)
Photos of the seized cargo and said the weapons came from Iran and were intended for the Houthis. (File photo)

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Iran has provided al-Shabab with financial and material support and “may have paid bounties to militants to attack US forces in Somalia and the region,” the article said citing a military official involved in operations against al-Shabab in south-central Somalia.

Iranian money and weapons may have been used in 2019 and 2020 al-Shabab attacks on US military bases in Somalia and northern Kenya, as well as the European Union military convoy in Mogadishu, the article said citing Somali defense ministry and security officials.

Security forces involved in operations against al-Shabab in south-central Somalia discovered weapons as well as bomb-making materials and chemicals from Iran, the article said. These officials claim that al-Shabab attacks since 2017 have become more lethal and attribute the group’s increased capabilities to foreign-sourced weapons, with the majority coming from Iran and Yemen, added the article.

A supporter of the Houthis in Yemen has a poster attached to his waist of Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the Quds Force, who was killed in an air strike at Baghdad airport. The writing on the poster reads: God is the Greatest, Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse on the Jews, Victory to Islam. (Reuters)
A supporter of the Houthis in Yemen has a poster attached to his waist of Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the Quds Force, who was killed in an air strike at Baghdad airport. The writing on the poster reads: God is the Greatest, Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse on the Jews, Victory to Islam. (Reuters)

On January 5, two days after the former head of the Quds Force Qassem Soleimani was killed in a US airstrike in Baghdad, al-Shabab launched an attack on a military base used by US and Kenyan forces in coastal Lamu that killed one American soldier and two contractors.

Al-Shabab did not say its attack was linked to Soleimani’s killing, but the timing of the attack and al-Shabab’s “history of opportunistic strikes suggests that the two events may have been linked,” the article said.

Iran and Russia have been cooperating over the past two years to push the US out of Somalia, the article said citing a Somali military official.

The article suggested the US government uses sanctions to target individuals or groups in Somalia and the region facilitating Iranian proxy activities in Somalia in order to reduce al-Shabab’s access to financial and material support from countries like Iran.

The US can also use sanctions to go after individuals and groups engaging with sanctioned elements of the Iranian regime, the article added.

The US should also increase military, security, and economic assistance to Somalia in order to counter the Iranian and Russian presence in the country, the article said.