New Evidence on Houthi Use of African Migrants as Human Shields


Jeddah – The legitimate Yemeni government has found new evidence on the Houthi militia’s involvement in “using displaced foreigners as human shields on the battle frontline.”

The government also found other evidence that confirms Houthi involvement in attracting non-Yemeni fighters from the Horn of Africa to join the frontlines after making them undergo intensive training.

Non-Yemeni fighters arrive in Yemen for different purposes. Some seek financial gains for participating in the fighting and others arrive with the goal of migration, but then find themselves recruited to fight after undergoing training by Iranian experts, premiership sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Sources noted that the government is preparing a comprehensive file that proves the involvement of Houthi rebels and the Iranian regime in recruiting foreigners to fight against legitimate forces.

The file will be referred to the United Nations Security Council, according to the sources, especially after the conflicts in Mokha and Taiz revealed the presence of fighters from the Horn of Africa among rebel ranks.

According to sources, the file includes documents that prove the involvement of the Iranian regime in sending dozens of ships carrying weapons and mercenaries to support the Houthi rebellion.

They explained that shipments that have been monitored and were conducted over phases during the past 12 months.

Legitimate government agencies noted that non-Yemeni infiltrators, who have been spotted among the ranks of the Houthi rebellion, include Somalis and Ethiopians.

Yemeni Minister of Local Administration Abd al-Raqib Fatah confirmed, in a phone call with Asharq Al-Awsat on Tuesday, that the Houthi insurgency has indeed been involved in using refugees from the Horn of Africa as human shields.

This was revealed days after the International Organization for Migration announced the voluntary evacuation of some 130 Somali refugees in Yemen to their country through the port of Aden in southern Yemen.

40 Somali Refugees Killed off the Hodeida Port, Yemen


London – At least 40 people including women and children were killed aboard a boat carrying Somali refugees in the Red Sea off war-torn Yemen, officials said on Friday.

The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said 140 passengers were believed to have been aboard the vessel. The refugees were hit by light weapons fire in waters off rebel-held Hodeida, but the boat managed to dock in the city’s port, an official there said. It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack.

Despite a war that has cost more than 7,000 lives since March 2015 and brought the country to the brink of famine, Yemen continues to attract people fleeing the horn of Africa. The UNHCR says that Yemen is hosting more than 255,000 Somali refugees.

Several refugee camps in southern Yemen host Somali refugees, although not in the Hodeida area. The UNHCR said that as conditions worsen in Yemen, refugees are starting to use areas further to the north as a transit route. It called on all sides in Yemen’s war to protect civilians.

The International Organization for Migration, which has operations in Yemen, said 42 bodies had been recovered.

The port official said dozens of Somalis who survived the attack, as well as three Yemeni traffickers, had been taken to the city’s prison. More than 30 wounded were reported to have been taken to hospital.

The attack drew condemnation from UN agencies and the International Committee for the Red Cross, with the ICRC also demanding an immediate investigation.

“UNHCR is appalled by this tragic incident, the latest in which civilians continue to disproportionately bear the brunt of conflict in Yemen,” it said.

Seven fishermen were also killed off Hodeida by gunfire from an unidentified source, while a further seven were killed in a car near Mokha, hospital workers said.

The UN’s humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien has called Yemen “the largest humanitarian crisis in the world”, with two-thirds of the population in need of aid.

On Friday, an anti-government missiles launched by Houthis attack killed at least 26 members of the pro-government forces in a camp east of the capital Sanaa, officials at a hospital in Marib town said.

Opinion: Who’s that knocking on Turkey’s door in Somalia?

Had the latest attack that targeted the Turkish embassy in the Somali capital of Mogadishu achieved its desired damage, losses would have been far higher than they were. The vigilance of the guards, who killed some of the attackers before they could detonate their explosives, prevented their plan to take out Turkish diplomats and security figures. It would have been the largest such attack to date.

The Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Shabab movement released a statement claiming responsibility for the attack. In it, the group justified targeting Turkey because its policy of “supporting the apostate regime [in Somalia] and seeking to suppress the Shari’a order.”

We were about to accept this scenario, which is considered logical given that Turkey—especially over the last five years—has increased its reconstruction, development and humanitarian projects, which extend far beyond Somali borders. Turkish embassies have become active missions that work around the clock to block such organizations from finding supporters, according to the Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.

We were also about to believe that the attack was the price paid by Turkey and many other countries for going to Somalia and trying to provide peace between warring groups and end the lengthy civil war. These countries, however, abandoned Somalia amid a political and security vacuum, competing to take a piece of the African pie under international cover and direct intervention of the regional and international organizations as well as military and security presence there.

However, Ankara’s direct accusations of international powers infuriated by Turkey’s involvement in Somalia—an activity that has reversed the traditional considerations in the horn of Africa—have directed attention towards another scenario. This scenario is directly related to new regional players in this region.

In fact, this region contains the world’s most strategic waterways and perhaps what adds to its value and importance is the discovery of oil and precious metals. Davutoglu’s statements regarding the role played by some international powers in the attack leads us to a new conviction about the attack and the reasons behind it. In fact, it prompted us to entertain a number of possibilities, by viewing the attack as an attempt on the part of some sides—whose influence has receded and interests threatened by Turkey—to settle scores with Ankara.

Turkish political and security analysts dramatically took us back to the starting line by talking about those responsible and their interests in carrying out such an attack. This time, we were told that internal and external forces were conspiring against Erdoğan’s government and wanted to exclude Islamists from power. This was in the framework of a comprehensive plan, that had been developed, funded, and then carried out by Al-Shabab for the conspirators’ advantage.

A few days ago, the Greek Navy intercepted an inflatable boat transporting weapons and explosives to Turkey. Those detained confessed to preparing a campaign of assassinations of senior politicians and officials. This strengthened the argument that forces inside and outside of Turkey were behind the Mogadishu plot.

But the most likely possibility remains that Turkey is paying the price for changing its policy and attitudes towards extremist organizations that have obtained services and facilities, disregarding the movements on the Syria-Turkey border. Ankara and its allies are involved in more than politics and diplomacy with those that are against them. These forces wanted to warn Erdoğan’s government from any attempts to block their important supplies, and that any attempt to make new alliances in Syria should take them into consideration.

The message from Mogadishu reminded Turks of the bombings in Istanbul nearly a decade ago, carried out by Al-Qaeda. It also reminded them that Ankara cannot trust or be involved with these groups, which refuse partnership with any party unless it sets the terms and conditions. Moreover, that Salih Muslim Muhammed, the secretary-general of the Democratic Union Party, and Turkey’s arch enemy, has been welcomed by Syria will not be accepted even if Ankara had to prioritize fighting Kurds in Syria over fighting the Syrian regime.

Somali pirates now protecting illegal fishing business

An armed pirate stands on the coastline at Hobyo town in northeastern Somalia. Source: Mohamed Dahir/AFP/Getty Image
An armed pirate stands on the coastline at Hobyo town in northeastern Somalia. Source: Mohamed Dahir/AFP/Getty Image

Nairobi, AP—Frustrated by a string of failed hijacking attempts, Somali pirates have turned to a new business model: providing “security” for ships illegally plundering Somalia’s fish stocks—the same scourge that launched the Horn of Africa’s piracy era eight years ago.

Somali piracy was recently a fearsome trend that saw dozens of ships and hundreds of hostages taken yearly, but the success rate of the maritime hijackers has fallen dramatically over the last year thanks to increased security on ships and more effective international naval patrols.

Somali pirate gangs in search of new revenue are now providing armed protection for ships illegally fishing Somali waters. Erstwhile pirates are also trafficking in arms, drugs and humans, according to a report published this month by the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea.

The security services for fishermen bring piracy full circle. Somali pirate attacks were originally a defensive response to illegal fishing and toxic waste dumping off Somalia’s cost. Attacks later evolved into a clan-based, ransom-driven business.

Up to 180 illegal Iranian and 300 illegal Yemeni vessels are fishing Puntland waters, as well as a small number of Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean and European-owned vessels, according to estimates by officials in the northern Somali region of Puntland. International naval officials corroborate the prevalence of Iranian and Yemeni vessels, the UN report said.

Fishermen in Puntland “have confirmed that the private security teams on board such vessels are normally provided from pools of demobilized Somali pirates and coordinated by a ring of pirate leaders and associated businessmen operating in Puntland, Somaliland, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman, Yemen and Iran,” the report said.

The “security” teams help vessels cast nets and open fire on Somali fishermen in order to drive away competition. “The prize is often lucrative and includes large reef and open water catch, notably tuna,” the report says.

The nearly 500-page UN report also accuses Somalia’s government of wide-ranging corruption. Somalia’s president said in response that the report contains “numerous inaccuracies, contradictions and factual gaps.”

“We are pleased to see the huge reduction in piracy, and yet equally concerned by the reports of increased criminality. We have much work to do to create legitimate livelihoods and deter Somalis from crime,” President Abdirahman Omar Osman said.

Somali piracy has been lucrative. The hijackings of 149 ships between April 2005 and the end of 2012 netted an estimated USD 315 million to USD 385 million in ransom payments, according to an April World Bank report.

But fishermen who have participated in piracy might argue that the attacks were merely bringing back money stolen from Somalis. A 2005 British government report estimated that Somalia lost USD 100 million in 2003-04 alone due to illegal tuna and shrimp fishing in Somali waters.

In Somalia, pirates sometimes refer to themselves as “saviors of the sea.”

A piracy expert at the International Maritime Bureau, said the protection racket makes for a “potentially dangerous situation at sea.”

“I guess the region has always been rich in this kind of organized crime,” said Cyrus Mody. “I think that probably the positive side of all this is it’s being highlighted which would hopefully give the government in place now enough movement to try and do something about it with the help of the EU and UN.”

Piracy peaked in 2009 and 2010, when 46 and 47 vessels were hijacked respectively, according to the European Union Naval Force. Hijackings dropped to 25 in 2011, five in 2012 and zero so far this year. Still, Somali pirates netted an estimated USD 32 million in ransoms last year, the UN report said.

One current pirate said he did not know about pirates providing protection to foreign fishing vessels, but he said some pirates are using Yemeni fishermen to smuggle weapons into Puntland.

“That’s our current money-making business because ship hijackings have failed,” a pirate commander who goes by the name Bile Hussein said by phone from Garacad, a pirate lair in central Somalia. “If you drop one business, you get an idea for another.”

A talk with AU Counter-Terrorism Special Envoy

African Union Special Envoy for the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) Francisco Madeira addresses a news conference in Entebbe, 35km (22 miles), Southwest of Kampala, Uganda's capital, March 23, 2012. (REUTERS/Edward Echwalu)
African Union Special Envoy for the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) Francisco Madeira addresses a news conference in Entebbe, 35km (22 miles), Southwest of Kampala, Uganda’s capital, March 23, 2012. (REUTERS/Edward Echwalu)

RIYADH, Asharq Al-Awsat—With recurring news coverage of Ansar Dine, Boko Haram, Al-Shaba’ab, and countless other militant groups, the continent of Africa now finds itself on the front-line of the global fight against terrorism. As a result, the African Union (AU) is facing an unprecedented challenge.

Francisco Madeira is the AU special envoy for counter-terrorism cooperation. He joined the Mozambique diplomatic service in 1975, acting as ambassador to several African countries from 1984-1989. Over the following two decades he held various portfolios in the Mozambique government including minister for parliamentary affairs and then minister for diplomatic affairs. Madeira also has a strong background in conflict mediation, successfully participating in the Rome General Peace Accords that ended the Mozambique civil war in 1992. Over the past decade he has also been actively involved in mediation work in the Comoros and São Tomé and Príncipe.

Asharq Al-Awsat met with Francisco Madeira in Riyadh in order to discuss the AU’s efforts to combat terrorism. Madeira gave a detailed insight into the current situation in North Africa and the likely repercussions of recent political events in the region.

Asharq Al-Awsat: In the wake of the Arab Spring that unfolded in the Middle East and North Africa, where is terrorism currently heading?

Francisco Madeira: The African countries continue to be strongly affected by terrorist acts perpetrated by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and other Al-Qaeda affiliates in Africa. Boko Haram and Al-Shaba’ab are both working in support of terrorism. I can say that the situation in the African countries continues to be extremely complicated and difficult. In addition to the terrorist groups, we have organized criminal gangs involved in drug trafficking, money laundering, and human trafficking. I am happy that the governments of Ethiopia and Kenya have succeeded in evicting the Al-Shaba’ab group—associated with Al-Qaeda—from the (Somalian) cities of Kismayo and Mogadishu. However, we still need to exert more efforts to remain in control.

Q: What about the events in northern Mali? Do you think that an alliance of armed groups is operating in the Horn of Africa?

Yes, there is an organized alliance of armed groups. We are optimistic about the intervention of the Malian army, in cooperation with the French, which recently succeeded in weakening the armed groups there. However, we need to exert more efforts to ensure that the gangs do not return and resume their activities by strengthening the Malian army and consolidating its military presence.

Q: Where do armed groups pose a danger in the Horn of Africa?

A: The armed terrorist groups do not intend to confine their activities to a specific region, whether in Morocco, Nigeria, Somalia, or even in Mali. They intend to advance to the south of the African Continent. We all know that these armed groups are exercising a silent control there in preparation to launch their terrorist activities.

Q: What is your opinion on the situation in Mali?

The political problem in Mali must be resolved. The Malian government should get the Malian house in order from the inside and unite the political forces there, so as not to give an opportunity for terrorist groups to exploit and benefit from political conflicts. I believe that sooner or later, a joint dialogue will be launched with insurgent groups to agree on spurning terrorism and dividing the state. The Malians should discuss peace and stability.

Q: Is there a reasonable chance for this to happen even after the intervention of the French forces?

Actually, the French intervention will produce the climate and conditions to allow for such a dialogue to take place early, instead of it being delayed for years.

Q: Some believe that the French intervention in Mali marks the beginning of a division and an ethnic confrontation between the Arabs and the Africans. How would you comment on this?

I do not consider the subject from this angle. I feel that the Arabs and the non-Arabs are all Africans, despite their different origins. They should co-exist regardless of their ethnic differences; the land belongs to them all. Unfortunately, the events in northern Mali were attributed to the Tuareg people or to the Africans of Arab descent who are calling for division and independence. However, the French intervention is not because of the Tuareg problem, but because there are certain African Arabs that want to impose Sharia and apply it by force against those that do not wish to see this. That is why the conflict was interpreted as an ethnic conflict. Everyone should realize that this has been the situation for a long time and prior to the French intervention. Rapprochement should be reached via a political system that brings people together and that respects everyone without a likely confrontation in the future.

Q: Do you think that the events unfolding in Mali will transform it into another Afghanistan?

Division is likely unless the political leaders there are extremely careful. Moreover, external forces may benefit from it. Everything is likely; however we hope it does not happen. The Malians would be wise to try and preserve their unity in several ways. We should not ignore the fact that what is happening in Mali is due to the situation in Libya, where a lot of weapons and explosives were uncovered and then smuggled into Mali. As long as Libya is weak, the danger will remain. Thus we should work to help Libya regain stability.

Q: Have you in the AU offered help and support towards Libya in this regard?

We are ready to extend major assistance to Libya. However, Libya has to open its hands to us and tell us that it is part of Africa.

Q: What about the fight against terrorism in Africa? What are the actual steps that member states are taking in this regard?

There is the OAU agreement to prevent and fight against terrorism that was signed and ratified in 1994.This agreement was followed by protocol annexes in 2002 and 2004. Our most recent effort was the adoption of the unified model law among African countries last year. One of its most important articles was to consider ransom money paid to release hostages as tantamount to financing terrorism, after millions in ransoms have been used to expand the activities of terrorist groups. Despite the humanitarian considerations of the families of the abducted, we succeeded in incriminating this deed and added it to our list of legislation.

Q: The recent terrorist operation in Algeria, with its perpetrators also infiltrating the borders of several African countries such as Mali, Nigeria, and Libya, has raised questions about the security of African borders and how effectively they are being controlled by states. Do you agree?

Yes, this is correct. African countries must strengthen their control over their borders. The problem is that these borders are too vast compared to the limited security resources available. What we need is to strengthen our security and military capabilities. We should also not forget that the perpetrators of the operations are Africans and non-Africans.

Q: Various sides are accusing Mauritania of hosting camps to train armed militias for other countries in the region. What is your opinion of this?

Mauritania is playing a good role in fighting terrorism. I have no idea whether such camps actually exist. These reports are still mere rumors; there is no evidence to confirm them.

Q: What do you think of the events unfolding in Egypt? To what extent will this affect stability in the Horn of Africa?

Egypt is an ancient country that has gone through various crises in its history and succeeded in overcoming them. I am confident that Egypt will overcome this stage in view of the maturity and experience that it enjoys.

Q: What is your opinion of the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt, and how the group came to power?

Muslims and the Muslim Brotherhood are part of the political landscape in Egypt; they came to power through elections. However, I believe that they will realize that elections are not sufficient to rule; elections represent a mere stepping stone to power. True governance means establishing peace and security and creating suitable conditions for this. I am certain that the Egyptians are aware of this and will apply it.

Q: Following the assassination of a prominent member of the political opposition in Tunisia, are you not concerned that a new phase is about to begin in several countries of the Arab Spring?

The price paid to achieve stability takes on various facets. Some will profit from assassinations and others will join terrorist groups. We will not be surprised if these events are imitated in other places.

Q: How would you describe the African countries relations with Iran?

We are open to establishing good relations with all UN member states and this includes Iran. Moreover, the AU did not sign the sanctions against Iran. Each country is free to determine its relations with Tehran and there is nothing to prevent the establishment of good relations. There are 54 African countries and each has its own policy; there is nothing we can do about that.

Q: But some specific states and organizations are accused of financing and supporting armed groups in certain African countries?

There are various reasons behind the instability in some African countries that are not connected to the stances of specific countries. These include poverty and the style of governance in addition to the intervention of foreign forces. Therefore, I cannot specify specific countries; for instance I cannot say Italy or France or Brazil or Guatemala.

Q: What is your position on the current events in Syria?

The current situation in Syria is dangerous and complicated. The Syrians must sit together and engage one another in dialogue in order to achieve peace and solve all their problems by themselves.

Q: Do you agree that all efforts and opportunities to hold such a dialogue have failed?

I do not see any other solution at this stage. The Syrian officials should play their role. It is a matter of time; sooner or later dialogue and negotiations will take place. Nothing can be solved except through negotiations even if the outcome is for one side to sign and surrender. The Syrian crisis should not be confined to approving military intervention and providing armed factions with weapons.