Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Somalia: Briton, Frenchman Working for UN Office on Drugs, Crime Shot, Killed Inside Airport in Galkayo

According to AFP, A British national and a Frenchman working for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime were shot dead Monday (April 7) as they disembarked from an aircraft in central Somalia.

The UN staffers were shot inside the airport in Galkayo, a city straddling the border between Somalia proper and the northern self-proclaimed state of Puntland.

The al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab terrorist group, which has repeatedly attacked foreign targets in recent years, welcomed the killing, but denied any responsibility.

For background information on al-Shabaab, see below: 

The head of counter-piracy in Puntland told reporters that the two victims, whose names were immediately released, were on a visit to discuss Somalia's controversial money transfer system.

France's President Francois Hollande confirmed that one French fatality had been reported, as he condemned the "cowardly assassination" of people "working, in the name of the international community, for peace."

"Both men working for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to help deliver a better future for Somalia," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement, confirming that the other victim was a Briton.

COMMENT: Given the lawless nature of Somalia, and the fact that no one can be effectively protected inside the country, any foreigner can only be described as a "walking martyr."

The two UN workers were shot and killed inside the airport in Galkayo after they had deplaned.

"One of them died inside the airport and the other one was rushed to hospital where he later died of his injuries," Hassan Ahmed, another witness, said. 

One government security source said that the sole gunman carried out the attack while wearing a police uniform, yet a statement by UNODC spoke of "unidentified gunman."

The UN Special Representative for Somalia, Nicholas Kay, condemned the killings.

Abdirazak Mohamed Dirir, the counter-piracy director in Puntland, which has been a stronghold for several pirate gangs working the Red Sea and Indian Ocean over the past decade, said the slain pair were visiting to discuss the banking system.

The informal value transfer system known as Hawala channels huge amounts of remittances from Somalia's diaspora, but has also been suspected of being being aligned with al-Shabaab and organized crime in the region.

UN staff members have been regularly targeted in Somalia, where the fragile internationally-backed government is battling al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab rebels.

In February 2014, at least six people were killed when a suicide bomber hit a UN convoy close to the heavily-fortified international airport in Mogadishu. Among the dead were four local security escorts working for the UN.

In June 2013, al-Shabaab carried out a raid against a UN compound in the capital, killing eleven people. 

Al-Shabaab spokesman, Sheikh Ali Mohamed Rage, told AFP that the group was not behind Monday's killings, but nevertheless described the attack as "the holy work of a patriot."

The city of Galkayo lies 575 kilometers (360 miles) north of the capital of Mogadishu. The southern half of the city, which is not a part of Puntland, effectively escapes the control of the poorly staffed central government.