April 15, 2012: It is feared that the Somali pirates are planning to change tactics, using new weapons. That's because smuggler and black market chatter in countries adjoining Libya is that naval mines and shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles taken from Libyan military bases during the rebellion last year are now available for sale. Some of the missiles have been captured by police in Egypt but no naval mines have been seen yet. Back in 1984, a Libyan merchant ship covertly dropped dozens of naval mines near the Red Sea entrance to the Suez Canal, damaging 19 ships. Western mine clearing forces were called in to clear the mines, and some Russian mines were found. Libya had recently purchased mines of this type. An Islamic terror group took credit for the mining, but all the evidence pointed to Libya.
Since the 1980s, Libya has continued to buy naval mines, and not all of them have been accounted for since the end of the recent revolution. If the Somali pirates got possession of some of these mines and found someone who knew how to use them (and find out if the older ones were still in working order), they could extort money from large ports in the area. This would involve planting at least one mine near a port and sinking a ship. Anti-aircraft missiles would make it more dangerous for the anti-piracy patrol to use their helicopters. All this would put more pressure on sea-faring nations to go along with Chinese proposals to land troops on the "Pirate Coast" of northern Somalia, destroy the facilities used by the pirates, kill or capture as many as possible, and generally hurt the pirates as much as possible. It's less likely that al Shabaab would get these mines and missiles because al Shabaab is broke. But Iran might help al Shabaab out here, just to irritate the West.
Al Shabaab members are reporting that American born al Shabaab leader Abu Mansoor al Amriki, frequently a video (via the Internet) spokesman for the terrorist group, was killed on April 5th by a rival al Shabaab leader. Last month Amriki released a video claiming that some al Shabaab members were out to kill him because of a dispute within al Shabaab over enforcing Islamic lifestyle rules. Al Shabaab quickly announced that no one was out to kill al Amriki (who apparently was not reassured). Al Amriki has been with al Shabaab for six years and has been a public face of the terrorists via his video releases on the Internet.
There have long been disputes within al Shabaab about how fanatic one should be and these arguments have caused the organization to split into factions. Since news of Amriki's death began spreading, so have rumors of other al Shabaab leaders fleeing, fearful that the hardliners that killed Amriki (by beheading him) will come looking for other moderates.
Some al Shabaab leaders have openly urged their followers to head north, to Puntland (self-governing northeast Somalia), where there are some areas, or at least villages, controlled by Islamic conservative gunmen. But most people in Puntland oppose al Shabaab and will fight to keep Islamic terrorists out.
The most fanatic al Shabaab men are foreigners, and they can either flee to Yemen (which over a hundred have done) or try to survive in Somalia. That is becoming increasingly difficult. Al Shabaab has made too many enemies and the fanaticism of the foreign Islamic terrorists has made lots of enemies in Somalia. This has also caused an increasing number of desertions by less fanatic Somali members. Al Shabaab is definitely in decline, but it still has several hundred hardcore members and several thousand supporters (many of them armed, although less and less enthusiastic).
Kenya, as part of its deal to transfer its troops in southern Somalia to control of the AU peacekeeping force, will send one battalion (850 troops) back to Kenya, leaving about 3,700 Kenyan troops in southern Somalia. There, the Kenyan soldiers have chased al Shabaab fighters out of the countryside and into Kismayo (population 180,000), the port near the Kenyan border that is a major source of income for the Islamic terrorists. The Kenyans do not want to attack Kismayo because the Islamic terrorists there will be cornered and urban warfare is dangerous enough as it is. Apparently there are attempts to negotiate a surrender of the city. Kenya is also hoping that the growing Western enthusiasm for coming ashore to deal with Somali pirates might soon happen and be extended to take care of al Shabaab controlled coastal towns as well.
April 14, 2012: As night fell in the central Somali town of Baidoa, al Shabaab fired several mortar shells at the airport and government buildings. There were no casualties, and peacekeepers used their mortars to fire back.
April 13, 2012: In Baidoa an al Shabaab terrorist tossed a grenade at peacekeepers guarding a bank. There were no casualties.
April 12, 2012: Pirates in Puntland released the freighter Leila, seized two months ago, for the unusually small ransom of $250,000. Leila was taken off the coast of Oman and is a ro/ro (roll on/roll off) ship carrying automobiles and general cargo for Somaliland. Since many pirates are imprisoned in Somaliland (self-governing northwest Somalia), negotiations to release Leila (which is owned by an Arab company in the Persian Gulf) involved getting the Somaliland government to release some pirates from prison. There is also anger among pirates over attacking cargo ships delivering goods to Puntland (often for wealthy pirates) and Somaliland (where some of the pirates come from). Attacks like this are generally discouraged, and taking the Leila apparently caused quite a political commotion among the pirate gangs. Thus the original ransom demand of $2 million was withdrawn and apparently the call to free pirates from jail.
A Danish warship seized a fishing ship being used as a pirate mother ship, captured 16 pirates and freed 12 fishermen. The pirates had kept the original 12 man crew (from Pakistan and Iran) to operate the ship and provide some cover from the anti-piracy patrol. Increasingly, this does not work as the anti-piracy patrol has put together a constantly updated "profile" of what pirate mother ships look like. So as the pirates come up with a new gimmick, it is eventually found out by the anti-piracy patrol and added to the profile.
April 9, 2012: In Baidoa al Shabaab set off a remote-control bomb in a market, killing 12 people. Al Shabaab is trying to retake Baidoa but has too few fighters in the area for that. Instead, al Shabaab is carrying out a campaign of terror attacks. This will not get Baidoa back for them, but it will make the Islamic terrorists feel better. Even terrorists have feelings.
April 7, 2012: In the south fighting between Sufi militiamen and al Shabaab left dozens dead or wounded. The Sufis, who are locals, are striving to drive all al Shabaab men out of their territory.