By Adnan Hussein in Mogadishu
June 30, 2012
Thousands of Somali nationals have fled to Yemen over the past years to escape the violence and hard-line regime imposed by the al-Shabaab movement.
Little did the refugees know that the scourge of al-Shabaab and its al-Qaeda-backed ideology would follow them across the sea.
In February 2012, when al-Shabaab officially merged with al-Qaeda and vowed allegiance to its leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, the group announced that their members would join "their Yemeni brothers in jihad".
In the months following that merger, al-Shabaab has been on the run, losing control of a number of key cities and facing a united military front of Somali government and African Union Mission in Somalia troops.
As a result, al-Shabaab members have been reportedly fleeing southern Somalia in small boats for the shores of Yemen in an attempt to escape what many analysts say is the group's inevitable defeat.
Mariam Said of the Somali army's communication centre in Mogadishu said the actual number of al-Shabaab fighters in Yemen is unclear.
"No one can give an exact figure regarding the number of Somali fighters that are incorporated into the Ansar al-Sharia group, which are fighting the Yemeni forces. [However] it is a very dangerous situation," she told Sabahi.
The presence of al-Shabaab members fighting alongside Ansar al-Sharia, the Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and the fact that Somali nationals have been tied to terrorist operations in Yemen have created additional hardships for Somali refugees who are now under suspicion.
Somali suicide bomber kills Yemeni commander
On June 18th in the city of Aden, a suicide bomber threw himself on the car of Major General Salem Ali Qoton, the commander of Yemen's southern region, and detonated his explosives belt.
Medical sources said Qoton died upon arrival at Sabir Hospital.
A few hours after the incident, the Yemeni Ministry of Defence stated on its website that the bomber was a Somali national.
On June 21st, al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack.
"We have heard preliminary news that the perpetrator of this criminal attack is a Somali national, but investigations are still under way to uncover his true identity," Somali Consul in Aden Ahmed Abdi Hassan told Sabahi.
Hassan explained how the incident will impact the lives of Somalis living in Yemen.
"We are convinced that the Yemeni people know very well that Somali refugees have not arrived in Yemen out of their own volition, but rather due to wars waged by the rebel al-Shabaab group that believes that they do not belong to one single nation but that the entire world is their homeland," he said.
"The police have every right to take certain precautionary measures to prevent security breaches, but we ask that they differentiate between those that have come to Yemen escaping wars in Somalia and those that are troublemakers," Hassan said.
The security committee in Dhamar province in central Yemen approved on June 19th a campaign to apprehend refugees who have flocked to the province in unprecedented numbers. The committee warned against the dangers of an influx of Somali refugees to the province, a development it says could threaten peace due to the security, social and economic problems that might occur, especially during a time when terrorist incidents are on the rise.
When asked about al-Shabaab's campaign to support Ansar al-Sharia, Hassan said, "[Al-Shabaab] had previously announced they would go to Yemen and join, what they called, their Yemeni brothers in jihad, and so we call on the Yemeni authorities to intensely monitor their coasts and borders so that this group cannot infiltrate their nation and destabilise their safety and security."
Most Somalis in Yemen pose 'no threat'
"I am certain that most Somalis do not pose any threat to the security and stability of our neighbour, Yemen, similar to how the Yemeni community has been living in Somalia for the past decades," the consul continued.
"We know that the people of Yemen love Somalis as they have broken bread with them, and their government has granted them freedom of movement to search for employment inside Yemen, not to mention providing scholarships for immigrant [Somali] students," Hassan said.
Faisal Mayow, 37, a Somali refugee who has lived in Aden for 12 years, told Sabahi that Yemen appreciates its fraternal, religious and neighbourly ties with Somalia.
"It has become the second country after Kenya to welcome Somali refugees, and Sanaa would not accept Somali citizens who are sponsors of al-Qaeda and brokers of al-Shabaab's Somali and foreign members," he said. "We will provide the Yemeni security forces with information to hunt down and detain those who infiltrate the [refugee] camps for the purpose of recruiting adolescents so they can be involved in conflicts in countries that they do not even belong to. We will fight the enemies of peace in every street and alley."
Stopping fighters at sea
Admiral Farah Ahmed Omar Qare, commander of the Somali Navy, called on Yemen to exercise caution and prudence regarding terrorist groups that are trying to inflict pain on innocent people.
"We call on the government and people of Yemen to provide more assistance to Somalis who have fled the al-Shabaab hell and to help them in any way possible in terms of food, medicine, clothing and shelter," he told Sabahi. "We ask them not to harm [Somalis] passing in the streets, working or even those trying to enter the country."
"However, those who are implicated in acts of violence and in support of al-Qaeda should be punished," he added.
"This is a very delicate situation and we will co-operate with the Yemeni government to target terrorists while they are still at sea, before they land on the shores of both countries, because this is not Somalia's problem alone but will spread towards Yemen and the entire region," Qare said.
"There has to be genuine international collaboration to end extremism and terrorism in Somalia and Yemen," he said. "This phenomenon is taking advantage of children's innocence and their naiveté to thrust them into a world filled with hatred and murder."