Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- Director of the Somali Intelligence services, General Muhammad Sheikh Hassan, has said that contacts between the Somali government and the kidnappers of the French security experts detained by the Somali Shabab Movement are about to come to a halt.
In a telephone interview with Asharq Al-Awsat; his first since he took office last April [ 2009], the intelligence chief stressed his objection to any French military operation to free the hostages, even though the Somali Prime Minister, Omar Abdul-Rashid Sharmakie said he would not object to a French commando operation to free the two French hostages. The intelligence chief revealed that a military operation to free the hostages has been cancelled because “it was too difficult for us to carryout.”
He denied that the Somali intelligence apparatus has been infiltrated by the Shabab Movement, but he revealed that 12 have been arrested in connection with this incident; some of them are members of the Islamic Military Court militias, who are allied with the interim Somali government led by President Sheikh Sharif.
The intelligence chief, General Muhammad Sheikh Hassan is 55; he joined the intelligence Academy of Mogadishu in 1975 and was promoted to the rank of Second Lieutenant. In 1986, he moved to the diplomatic service and worked in the office of the foreign minister with the rank of Colonel, until the collapse of the regime of President Muhammad Siad Berri in 1991.
During the civil war in Somalia he lived in Ethiopia and Kenya, and in September 2005, after the formation of the provisional parliament in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, he became director of the office of the Speaker of the Somali Parliament, Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adam. After the election of Sheikh Sharif as president earlier this year, he became director of the presidential office, and on the 19th April 2009, the Somali Council of Ministers approved his appointment as director of the Somali intelligence apparatus.
The following is the text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the latest information regarding the French hostages?
[Hassan] There is no news until now. There have been attempts to contact them, but these are on the brink of being brought to an end as the kidnappers are clashing [with one another] and there are many conflicting reports. We do not intend to carry out any military operation as this would lead to heavy losses.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The Somali Prime Minister said that he would not forbid French military intervention?
[Hassan] Yes, this is the government position.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you unconvinced of the French military intervention? [Hassan] I do not think that such intervention will be beneficial, we prepared a plan to release the hostages by force, but this proved too difficult and we turned away from implementing this. We do not know the extent of the possibility of the French intervening and [successfully] freeing the hostages.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are there any communications [between you and the hostages]?
[Hassan] The clan that is in control is the al-Hebrjadr tribe, particularly the Eir and Sulaiman tribes, however all three are members of the al-Shabaab movement. The first group of kidnappers is affiliated to the [Somali] pirates who have transferred their operations from the sea to land, however now the situation is in the hands of the al-Shabaab movement.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you expect the hostages to be released?
[Hassan] The situation is complex and may take a long time to be resolved or it is possible that they will be released soon; I cannot speculate.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Has the French government sent a delegation to Mogadishu in order to monitor the situation?
[Hassan] No. No French delegation has come to Somalia. We are in contact with the international community, particularly the French government, with regards to this situation.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Who is responsible for the French agents staying at this hotel posing as journalists?
[Hassan] I assigned officers to this, and they suggested that the two French [agents] stay at this hotel for safety, and I agreed to this.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does this kidnapping mean that security in Somalia is not at the requisite level, or that the Somali Intelligence agency was betrayed?
[Hassan] The two French [agents] stayed at the “Sahafi hotel” which is one of the most secure hotels in the capital Mogadishu. Around 10 governmental ministers were staying at the hotel, as well as around twenty members of parliament. The hotel is ten meters from the headquarters of the peacekeeping forces of the African Union…and the headquarters of the Criminal Investigation unit of the Somali Police Force. The hotel also has heavy tribal security; [therefore] some kind of conspiracy took place.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Who was involved in this conspiracy?
[Hassan] All of the dimensions of this [conspiracy] have yet to become clear, but firstly there was a governmental party involved in this, and a force affiliated to the Islamic Court Union known as the “Daraawish” movement used a car to carry out this kidnapping. The police did not question the presence of this car as they believed it had come to the hotel to transport some ministers or members of parliament who were staying there, therefore there was no suspicion [over its presence].
[Asharq Al-Awsat] So you believe this was part of the deception?
[Hassan] Yes, this was the initial factor. The second factor is that the hotel security was in contact with the kidnappers. At the same time we – as the intelligence agency – searched for this car and impounded it, along with arresting ten soldiers and two hotel security staff. They are all being held by the government, and this is how the operation too place. Everything is in the hands of God, but there was a conspiracy. [However] perhaps you know that even in America – which has the most powerful intelligence agency in the world – such events can suddenly take place.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Have any of the detainees confessed?
[Hassan] We have discovered that 4 of them were aware that the kidnapping was going to take place; the investigation is still ongoing…I believe there are still hidden parties [involved in this] who have yet to be revealed.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does this kidnapping represent a personal challenge for you?
[Hassan] Yes, and I know that this is a challenge to the intelligence agency specifically and the Somali government in general. However international terrorism has infiltrated some important [governmental] organs, even in major countries. The judgment and destiny belongs to God. Sometimes events [like this] occur even in America – which is the most powerful country with the greatest capabilities- without their intelligence services being aware of it.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does this mean that the [Somali] Intelligence Service has been infiltrated by the al-Shabaab movement?
[Hassan] Not so far. The system has not been infiltrated by them, however when we first came to the capital Mogadishu we entered into confrontation with the opposition which slowed the process of reconstructing our security operations.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You mean to say that your [security] apparatus is in need of resources and support?
[Hassan] Yes, this is a fact. The national security apparatus, as well as the Somali intelligence service, is in dire need of international support, especially [in order to] train its cadres, and implement modern means of information gathering. We have lived under civil war for twenty years, and we do not have what we need to help us our intelligence operations. The current mentality present in Somalia is an intolerant tribal mentality that does not see beyond Somalia’s borders. We all now live in one world, in the sense that security challenges exist everywhere in the world, and we must cooperate and consult with other agencies and exchange information. Unfortunately the Somali government is a new one, and cannot provide any material support to the security apparatus. We hope to take advantage of what is happening in the world with regards to the fight against terrorism, and we are now in dire need for every possible support to combat terrorism.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you in contact with any international or Arab intelligence services?
[Hassan] I, along with my government, now look forward to international, Arab, and African support.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] If the situation is as dire as this, why did you accept the position of Chief of Somali Intelligence?
[Hassan] I did not ask for this responsibility. President Sheikh Sharif is the one who charged me with this responsibility, and I believe that any such responsibility in Somalia is difficult for those [attempting] to carry it out; however the most difficult [responsibility] is with regards to security and intelligence.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Thank you. Do you have anything else you would like to add?
[Hassan] Yes, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Arab states, institutes, and individuals that are closely monitoring the situation in Somalia. I would also like to take this opportunity to request financial, political, moral, and military support for Somalia’s transitional government, as it is threatened by terrorist elements that are wanted internally both from the East and the West. I am calling for the Arab countries to pay attention to what is happening to the people of Somalia, who are unable to confront these international terrorists.