February 23, 2012
A massive explosion targeting the largest camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Mogadishu spread panic among its residents and sparked calls for increased government protection of the camps.
Although no party claimed responsibility for the attack, the second targeting of a camp for displaced persons this year, the Somali government accused al-Shabaab of targeting IDPs as a sign of the movement's diminishing capability to confront the Somali army and African Union forces.
The explosion that shook the Badbaado camp on Monday (February 20th) killed at least one Transitional Federal Government (TFG) soldier and left many people injured. The government-run camp is the largest camp for displaced persons in the capital and is home to an estimated 30,000 people who had escaped drought and famine.
Eyewitnesses told Sabahi that the explosion came from a landmine planted inside the camp. Other news sources confirmed that the explosion targeted TFG soldiers responsible for protecting IDPs while they were on a routine patrol inside the camp.
Last January, an explosion at the Siliga camp in Mogadishu killed six and injured five people shortly after United Nations officials and international journalists visited a food distribution site at the camp. Shelling followed a few days later, killing at least nine people in the camp -- most of them women and children.
Residents expressed fear and concerns following the explosion at Badbaado camp.
"We do not know why we are being targeted," said Fatima Nour, a mother of six residing in at the camp.
"We do not know whether those attacking us are doing so on the basis that this camp is run by the government. If they want to target government forces, then this not a military camp for government forces but rather a camp for displaced, vulnerable and innocent people who have fled drought and famine," she told Sabahi.
Nour called on the government to protect the camp.
According to United Nations estimates, more than 185,000 displaced persons are living in Mogadishu, spread across makeshift and overcrowded camps.
Despite the UN's declaration that the famine in Somalia has ended, many IDPs in Mogadishu are reluctant to return to their homes because al-Shabaab has imposed strict constraints on the work of international relief organisations. The al-Qaeda affiliated group has also banned many international relief agencies from working in the areas under its control.
"We cannot go back to our homes as long as al-Shabaab fighters continue to ban aid reaching the areas they control," said Amina Hassan, who sought shelter in Mogadishu with her seven children, fleeing from drought and famine last year.
She told Sabahi, "We prefer to stay here in Mogadishu so we can get food instead of going back to our villages without any support."
Humanitarian organisations are urging government authorities and their security forces to protect IDPs and strengthen security in the camps.
Abdul Fattah Mahmoud, an official in a local non-governmental organisation working to feed displaced people in Mogadishu, said, "The government should provide security and protect IDPs that are flocking towards Mogadishu. We request an increase in the special forces to [better] protect IDPs and relief efforts."
Last September, the government set up a special force comprised of a combination of police, army and security forces to safeguard IDPs living in the camps and to protect humanitarian efforts.
"Providing protection for IDPs and camps is not at the same level as it was months ago which is why the government has to tighten security measures in the camps existing throughout the city," he said. "This would remedy the situation where you have an absence of security which, in turn, hinders distributing aid in some camps".
He said the government focused its efforts on Badbaado camp alone while other camps have gone unprotected.
Moalem Abdullah Ali, district commissioner of Dharkenley, where Badbaado camp is located, told Sabahi that government troops are currently engaged in security operations to capture those responsible for the explosion. He said this was the first explosion of this kind to target Badbaado camp.
Ali said security and police forces charged with protecting the camp sealed off the area after the explosion in order to search for the perpetrators.
The Somali government accused al-Shabaab of targeting IDP camps due to the militant group's diminishing ability to confront the Somali army and African Union troops. The government said that the extremists are now targeting defenceless, displaced persons.
"After failing several times in its effort to murder the residents of Mogadishu, due to the diligence and effectiveness of the anti-terrorist operations by the Somali intelligence service, the [Somalia National Security Agency], al-Shabaab (al-Qaeda Somalia) seems to have switched their attacks on those whom the Somali government and the international community were helping save their lives," Acting Minister of Information, Posts and Telecommunications Abdullahi Bile Noor said in a statement on Tuesday.
"If they [do] not respect the lives of their destitute fellow Muslim Somalis, the question is, whom will they target next?" he added.
Noor said the government condemned the attack, calling it "barbaric and inhumane".
"The government is working towards strengthening security in the IDP camps through providing additional police forces to save the lives of displaced people living there," he said.
In a statement broadcast by Radio Mogadishu on February 17th, al-Shabaab senior officer Fuad Mohamed Khalaf, also known as Shangole, lashed out at refugees fleeing territories controlled by the group.
"It is clear from their actions, two-thirds of the Somalis who have been residing under our rule have fled to the areas controlled by infidels. Few believers who are under constant threat have remained here," he said. He said refugees should have fled to areas under al-Shabaab's control such as Marka or Baidoa.
"Those who have immigrated will end up in hell," he warned.
Baidoa, once an al-Shabaab stronghold, fell to Somali government and Ethiopian forces on Wednesday.
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