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Friday, January 27, 2012

Shabab's spying game

By Mohamed Mubarak
Over the past year, Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) has announced a series of defections of fighters from Islamist militant group the Shabab. Such defections are trumpeted as evidence that the TFG is turning the tide against the Shabab in the struggle for control of Mogadishu and southern Somalia.

What is not publicised is that many of these defectors are subsequently being employed in security roles by the National Security Service Agency (NSSA), Somalia's powerful domestic intelligence agency. Although nominally used only as informants, there is evidence that many are also recruited as NSSA officers. Concerns that this is being exploited by the Shabab to infiltrate the NSSA are not new, but have become of increasing relevance in recent months.

Since withdrawing its regular fighters and conceding open control of its territory in Mogadishu in August 2011, the Shabab's campaign in the capital has shifted to covert operations waged by its underground security wing. This tactical shift has placed greater demands on the intelligence capabilities of both the TFG and the Shabab.

While the recruitment of Shabab defectors is an attempt by the TFG to enhance its intelligence capabilities, the possibility that some defectors may be Shabab double agents has raised doubts about who is playing whom in this unfolding intelligence war. Indeed, in December 2011, TFG officials blamed infiltrators among Shabab defectors employed in the security forces for an escalation in improvised explosive device (IED) attacks in Mogadishu.

To investigate this issue, in January 2012 Jane's conducted a series of interviews in Mogadishu with current and former TFG officials, and carried out telephone interviews with a number of Shabab sources.


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