The Ikran Tahlil Affair Has Deepened Somalia Political Crisis

Monday morning, Somalis were awaken to a deepening of the political crisis born out the election impasse.

Mohamed Hussein Roble ordered National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) director Fahad Yasin to submit a report on Ikran Tahlil Farah disappearance within 48 hours after the opposition put a pressure on him.

Mr. Yasin requested instead a meeting with National Security Council headed by President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo in order to share this highly classified information.

Seeing this as a defiance, the PM Roble published in the middle of the night a statement sacking Yasin and naming a former NISA officer to be the interim head of the security agency.

Right after, the President published a letter stating the Prime Minister has no jurisdiction in firing the NISA chief and allowing Fahad Yasin to continue his work as the head of the national security agency.

1. Who is Ikran Tahlil?

Ikran Tahlil Farah was born in August 1996 in Mogadishu. She studied abroad and then returned home to work for the government in office administration and the security sector.

She joined the National Intelligence Service Agency (NISA) more than five years ago, as head of cybersecurity.

The first time Ikran joined NISA was in 2017, according to former Somali intelligence chief Abdullahi Mohamed Ali Sanbalolshe, who said he hired her.

Sanbalolshe now works with the opposition and is a diehard critic of the Farmajo administration.

She then started working in the office of the governor of the region of Benadir and the mayor of Mogadishu as director from 2018 to 2019.

After the assassination of Mayor Yarisow in July 2019, Ikran left the country according to her mother to study in the United Kingdom.

She then returned to work for NISA as an intelligence officer and communications analyst in the senior management office.

2. Her disappearance

The last time the young woman was seen was on June 26, and CCTV footage widely circulated online showed her boarding a car at a house near the NISA secure compound.

The car that allegedly took her was later identified as belonging to the head of the NISA office in Benadir, who, according to unverified sources, has been outside the country since the incident.

Her mother, Qali Mahamoud Guhad, later said she spoked on the phone with her daughter few minutes before she left and said she was about to meet NISA’s director, Fahad Yasin.

Mother added Ikran knew the person who was there to pick her up but she didn’t elaborate whether Ikran received directly a call from the NISA director or any other NISA officer about her meeting.

Once Ikran’s mother, who at the time of the disappearance was in Turkey, said her daughter is missing, an opposition-led media storm blamed it on Fahad Yasin.

Faced with silence from the national security agency, which rarely speaks to the public on security matters, lawmaker Dahir Amin Jesow, closely related to Ikran, met with senior government officials about the case.

He then told media that a full investigation into Ikran’s disappearance was underway and parents and the public should be patient and wait to hear more about the girl’s fate soon.

3. What triggered the latest development?

This current upheaval started on September 2 when VOA Somali broadcasted a report dedicated on the young NISA operative disappearance even before the Somali National News Agency’s unusual public statement attributed to NISA.

The American public broadcaster claimed it received information from some “unverified sources from security agencies” that unidentified “NISA agents took Ikran and handed her over to Al-Shabab”.

The VOA presenter added that al-Shabab took Ikran Tahlil to the Lower Juba region, particularly to Dobley where “they most likely killed her”.

Over the next few hours, the news, or fake news, as we couldn’t find any official statement from NISA to support these allegation, was picked up and amplified by other opposition-leaning media and shared widely online.

Political commentators, journalists, social media “pundits” and everyone else added their bit on the VOA poor reporting and NISA’s involvement and responsibility in Ikran’s disappearance and unverified death.

The next day, a statement attributed to Al-Shabab said that the terrorist organization denied any involvement in Ikran’s disappearance and turned the blame on NISA.

The same opposition that said nothing about the Golweyn massacre by Ugandan soldiers serving under AMISOM and a Kenyan airstrike killing civilians in Gedo, intervened in the breach.

All of a sudden, the reported murder of Ikran Tahlil was particularly painful in their eyes and they all called for the dismissal of NISA chief Fahad Yasin, as they had done so many times before.

That’s when the Prime Minister stepped in and, as some say, made the hasty and opportunistic decision to ask the director of NISA to present a report within 48 hours.

4. Risk of more turmoil

Since last year, Somalia is caught in the delayed elections quagmire and the dispute between Somali leaders over these elections has polarized the political discourse in the country.

With this unexpected power struggle between Prime Minister Roble and President Farmajo, many fear it will delay more the elections, slow the nation’s recovery and weaken the fight against Al-Shabab terrorists.