Reported Qatari role in Somalia terror attack draws ‘disturbing’ picture

Gerald Feierstein, a senior vice-president at the Middle East Institute in Washington and a former US ambassador to Yemen, said the report, if true, was an ominous sign for tensions in the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Saturday 27/07/2019
Legacy of bloodshed. Somali medical workers and relatives help a woman who was wounded in a car bomb in Mogadishu, Somalia, May 14. (AP)
Legacy of bloodshed. Somali medical workers and relatives help a woman who was wounded in a car bomb in Mogadishu, Somalia, May 14. (AP)

ISTANBUL - A possible role by Qataris in a bomb attack in Somalia may hint at a dangerous expansion of the dispute between Qatar and its neighbours in the Arabian Peninsula, analysts said.

A recording of a cell phone call between a businessman said to be close to the emir of Qatar with the Qatari ambassador to Somalia indicated the involvement of Qataris in the explosion in the north-eastern Somali port city of Bosaso in May, the New York Times reported.

The Times said the conversation contained suggestions that militants had carried out the bombing to advance Qatar’s interests in the region by damaging those of the United Arab Emirates.

Gerald Feierstein, a senior vice-president at the Middle East Institute in Washington and a former US ambassador to Yemen, said the report, if true, was an ominous sign for tensions in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), of which both Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are members.

“We’ve seen the press reports alleging that some Qataris were aware of or encouraged violent attacks on Emirati rivals in Somalia,” Feierstein said via e-mail. “If these reports prove to be true, it would be a disturbing new development in the intra-GCC dispute that has been ongoing for over two years.”

“Expansion of the conflict into the Horn of Africa or elsewhere can only further complicate efforts to resolve the issue peacefully,” Feierstein added.

In June 2017, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed ties with Qatar because of Doha’s alleged support for terrorism and relations with Iran. Both Qatar and its ally Turkey are supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, an umbrella organisation seen as a terrorist group by the Arab Quartet.

“Somalia is the most vivid example of the potential destabilisation brought by the Gulf rivalry,” Zach Vertin, a non-resident resident at the Brookings Institution and a former American diplomat in the region, told the Times. “The Gulf sees these states as clients. It is all about controlling the space: plant a flag in the ground and lock down territory and relationships before your rival can.”

Bosaso is on the north coast of the Horn of Africa, facing Yemen. Garowe Online, a news website based in Puntland, an autonomous region in north-eastern Somalia that includes Bosaso, said a landmine triggered by remote control went off May 10 outside a courthouse in the city, injuring at least ten people. It came amid US air strikes on extremist groups. A local affiliate of the Islamic State claimed responsibility, the Times said.

The violence was “intended to make Dubai people run away from there,” the businessman, Khalifa Kayed al-Muhanadi, said in the call May 18, the Times reported. “Let them kick out the Emiratis, so they don’t renew the contracts with them and I will bring the contract here to Doha.”

The recording “was made by a foreign intelligence agency opposed to Qatar’s foreign policies,” the Times said.

The Qatari Embassy in Mogadishu denied the story.

“The state of Qatar’s foreign policy has always been one of creating stability and prosperity. We do not meddle in the internal affairs of sovereign countries,” a statement on the embassy’s website said. “Anybody doing so is not acting on behalf of our government.”

The embassy lashed out at the United Arab Emirates. “In Somalia, the United Arab Emirates has pursued a foreign policy that seeks to manipulate and control, in exchange for financial support,” the embassy said.

Somali Foreign Minister Ahmed Isse Awad told the Voice of America that he accepted the explanation provided by Qatar’s embassy.

The power struggle between Qatar and the United Arab Emirates has also spilled over to the conflict in Libya, where Qatar and Turkey have been supporting militias fighting for the Tripoli government. Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have thrown their weight behind Libya National Army Field-Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who has been waging an offensive against Islamist militias backing the Fayez al-Sarraj government in Tripoli.

David Mack, a Middle East Institute expert and former US deputy assistant secretary of State for Near East Affair who also served as US ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, said the involvement of GCC members in conflicts in Libya and Somalia would not stand in the way of a possible settlement of the core differences between Qatar and the other GCC members.

“It’s pretty low on their scale of problems” compared the response to Iran or the ongoing economic boycott between them and other issues, Mack said by telephone. “It is beyond dispute that [the row with Qatar] hampers Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in dealing with Iran.”

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