How the Jaale Siyaad Academy massacre was masterminded from Villa Somalia

Two weeks have passed since the suicide attack at the Jaale Siyaad Academy which targeted soldiers of the October 14 Brigade relocated from Marka for training. The involvement of government officials linked to Al-Shabab, the silence of the president and the cover-up including the muzzling of the media are clues that the massacre was masterminded from Villa Somalia.

The attack killed, according to a very conservative assessment, fifty soldiers and injured around 73. As the government is keeping the whole affair under wraps, this estimate is based on testimonies from wounded soldiers and relatives of martyred soldiers. The silence of the government and the army, and the prohibition of the media to evoke the attack do not help to shed light on the extent of the killing.

The Somali public remains inconsolable. Most parliamentarians on their part castigated the government and in particular the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) for their suspected involvement in the shocking attack and challenged them to tell the truth.

Al-Shabab culpability

Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the suicide attack. In its press release, the terrorist organization claimed to have killed 73 soldiers and wounded 124 on July 24. The group said 250 soldiers were at the site when their militant wearing a jacket stuffed with explosives blew himself up among the soldiers at the camp early morning around 8:15 AM local time.

Many eyewitnesses and survivors have confirmed that a man slipped through the middle of unarmed soldiers in line shortly after breakfast time, then blew himself up.

Some survivors said that they were brought together in rows in an unexpected and forced way. A young survivor added that he saw one of the victims see a man coming in wearing an army uniform and hiding a booby-trapped belt underneath.

The young hero who was one of the first victims shouted to the other soldiers to disperse and jumped on the assailant to stop him from setting off the bomb which he suspected being concealed under the uniform. The soldiers were too many and it happened very quickly for everyone to react.

According to a soldier quoted by Gaylan Media, an independent news outlet, the killer was introduced into the military academy aboard a white armored vehicle used by high-ranking army officers or NISA officials. He had an army general’s tunic similar to the fatigues of the soldiers of October 14.

Al-Shabab’s culpability is not questioned, as government always rushed to pin assassinations and mass murders on them without any investigation. The question is who within the government was part of this “conspiracy” as the Adan Madobe, the Speaker of the parliament, called it.

Who are the victims

October 14 Brigade at General Gordon Academy, 2018.

The October 14 Brigade is a specialized army unit that was created after the public outcry caused by the large explosion that occurred on October 14, 2017 at the Soobe Junction in Mogadishu, which killed more than 700 people.

The October 14 Brigade operates in the Lower Shabelle region and recruits primarily from the Bimaal community living in and around the coastal town of Marka. The region infested with Al-Shabab militants was one of the areas around the capital whose attacks were being prepared.

Since its creation, this brigade had succeeded in liberating Marka and its surroundings from the terror of Al-Shabab. Their success comes in part from being part of a small, tight-knit community, but also from their discipline and training. This is an exception compared to army units from clan militias and made up of illiterates and drug addicts.

The Bimaal were an already isolated community, squeezed by Al-Shabab and irredentist clan militias from Galgadud. Already between 2013 and 2016, they complained that President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, in his first term, ordered the army to give a hand to these land-grabbing militias.

When Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo replaced Hassan Sheikh as head of state in 2017, the new administration saw their precarious situation and empowered them, and this may be part of their current misfortune as Hassan Sheikh has returned to power. Besides the Bimal clan, many other discriminated groups accuse the president of picking up where he left off with his clanist agenda.

The war against the brigade is not new

As soon as Hassan took power and Mahad Salad was appointed spymaster, the October 14 Brigade was ordered to report to Mogadishu for training and restructuring. Their officers had expressed reservations about the advisability of such an unusual move, the risk to the region and their troops.

General Abdullahi Ali Waafow, the mayor of Marka and former brigade chief, also protested against the forced relocation and changes in the structure of the unit The general was targeted by a suicide bomber on July 27, 2022. After the assassination, the brigade got a reprieve, but the order to move the unit to Mogadishu resurfaced and insistently a few months ago.

Under the threat of being demobilized and losing their salaries, they reluctantly left the town of Marka in the Lower Shabelle region where the brigade was stationed. The reasons for this move and the dismantling of the front line caused a stir and gave rise to speculation.

What raises even more public ire and questioning is why this unit, seasoned in the war against Al-Shabab and located in a sensitive area whose withdrawal would benefit the terrorist group, would need to move to Mogadishu to train. Especially since, on the way to the capital, they suffered two attacks which killed eight people.

Finally, Al-Shabab leaders prioritize units and individuals that give them a hard time and as in other case they are known to handsomely pay to eliminate individuals who fiercely oppose them. This unit by its uniformity and distancing from the most infested clans had been in the crosshairs of the terrorist group for a long time.

Worrying revelations and the suspicious silence of the authorities

The academy is a secure military compound in Mogadishu protected by three layers of security perimeters. Many high ranking officers, like the Army general, have their offices there. All vehicles are thoroughly checked unless their occupants are senior SNA and NISA agents with special security clearance.

According to a soldier at the base in question, also quoted by Gaylan Media, a report that an attack on the base was imminent had been received days earlier, but the already tight security arrangements were not changed as details on the timing were not available.

Still according to the same witness, but also other witnesses, the possibility of an infiltration would have been made only with the complicity of the high command of the base.

What does not calm things down is that the government banned all mention about the incident from the airwaves and even spent money to silence the private media except for some major cables such as Shabelle TV and SomCable who continued to cover the horrific event.

According to some parliamentarians, the journalists who usually swarm around the sites of Al-Shabab attacks mysteriously deserted the site of this massacre and remained silent, which supposes that they were warned in advance not to cover the incident.

Immediately after the attack, Army Radio announced that an investigation was underway into how the suicide bomber entered the military camp, but the news originally broadcast on the radio’s Facebook page was shortly deleted.

Government’s lack of empathy

The Council of Ministers timidly expressed its condolences three days after the attack in the face of the wave of public indignation, but it refrained from elaborating further. President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who was traveling during the incident, has so far issued no condolences or raised the issue.

The parliament set aside points on the agenda to let the MPs pour out on the massacre which moved many of them. Some outraged by the vicious circle of bombings, bloated condolences and oblivion, such as former information minister Mohamed Hayir Mareeye, are calling for a genuine parliamentary inquiry that would be able to dig into all levels of government.

On Saturday, Defense Minister Abdiqadir Mohamed Nur, alias Tiktok, who appeared in parliament to ask parliamentarians to ratify the East African Standby Force (EASF) military agreement, was pressed on the attack.

Unable to avoid questions surrounding the massacre, he lashed out that casualties were to be expected in this war against Al-Shabab and downplayed the JSA death. Some MPs challenged him on his lack of empathy and said he was unfit for this position.

Even so, President Hassan Sheikh’s Advisor on Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism, Abdullahi Mohamed Nur, in an interview with VOA, casually stated that Somalia has come a long way and the loss of few soldiers should not be blown out of proportion.

Actions that shield the real culprit

The Defense Deputy Minister stepped in to compensate for the minister’s clumsy position. He offered his condolences and shared that 14 people, soldiers and officers, including the base commander, are being investigated for their involvement in the attack.

This statement is not enough for the public. In fact, it seems that the government is looking, as it has done before, for scapegoats among minority clans in the capital region and officials appointed by the previous administration. Already, on August 5, the announcement of the Minister of Information that the NISA would have discovered a spy cell in the army and NISA, and coincidentally they have already escaped.

For some security commentators, these loud and insubstantial announcements are nothing more than an attempt to divert public attention from individuals within the administration who are known to have close ties to the terrorist organization.

The elephant in the room is Mahad Salad, the head of NISA and the president’s right-hand man. He was on NISA’s radar for many years before landing as the head of this security organization. According to former NISA director Fahad Yasin, Mahad was involved in numerous high-profile attacks by Al-Shabab while he was an MP.

Moreover, despite this revelation shared with President Hassan Sheikh before his decision and the fact that his first cousin, Mahad Karatay, is a leader of Al-Shabab, the president had nevertheless appointed him to head NISA. Karatay was himself a former US-trained NISA official before he joined the terrorist organization.

Worse, according to Ali Yare Ali, the former deputy governor of Mogadishu, accused the government of being behind the attack. He said a government that vehemently denies being behind the attack admits the suspicions hanging over it.

In conclusion

While everyone agrees that the attack was coordinated and facilitated by parties higher up in the security apparatus, speculation is rife as to the motives. The most plausible is the choice of the October 14 Unit because of the clan origin of the soldiers, their location but also their link with the previous administration.

However, there is a consensus that these massacres of soldiers are beyond bearable. As we saw with soldiers returning from Eritrea, there is a plan to expose entire units to Al-Shabab attacks. It suffices to move them to hostile areas and strip them of their weapons. If Masagawaa‘s troops were lightly armed and unprepared, here at Jaale Siyaad Academy they were completely unarmed and defenseless.

Moreover, government officials are counting on the fatalism stirred up by the president himself and his friends who equate these massacres with a natural cataclysm.

Finally, to be credible and considered innocent of these massacres of soldiers, the president must let a parliamentary committee investigate his right-hand man Mahad Salad, the head of NISA, suspected of being behind all these attacks against units such as Haram’ad, Gorgor, soldiers trained in Eritrea and the 14 October Brigade.

If in any case the government hopes that the outcry will fade as it happened many times, it forgets the widespread fed up of its disastrous management of national security and economy, and his repugnant defense of nepotism which plagues his administration.