This weekend, the FBI arrested two men, Mohamed Mahmood Alessa and Carlos Eduardo Almonte, who were hoping to join extremist militants in Somalia. This well coordinated counterterrorism operation was led by the Joint Terrorism Task Force, a multi-agency group including agents of the FBI, the New York state homeland security office, the New York Police Department, Port Authority police, and other federal security agencies. It appears that the arrested men were amateurish and unsophisticated, apparently having no connections in Somalia and having been previously rejected by extremists in Iraq. As is customary for the Obama administration in such cases, the arrests were neither used to scare or excite Americans.
In recent weeks, international attention has been fixed on the challenge posed by pirates off the coast of Somalia. But on land, a new crisis has been unfolding with far greater ramifications. A coalition of extremist rebels, including the group al-Shabaab, has all but surrounded the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Mogadishu, raising the prospect of a rebel government with reported ties to international terrorist groups taking control of Somalia. It would be easy to write this off as an inevitable addition to the long litany of crises that have plagued Somalia since 1991. But the policies and approaches of the Bush administration greatly contributed to the current crisis. The faint hope of reversing this situation lies not in the invasion that some have proposed, but in pragmatic support for political solutions that will bring Somalia a lasting respite from nearly two decades of instability.
The successful operation to free Captain Richard Phillips off the coast of Somalia is a small but significant victory for the Obama national security team. However, this small incident represents a much larger and continuing problem. The challenge going forward will be addressing piracy in the context of Somalia’s greater problems and the US’s many competing priorities -- and finding approaches that will be effective in the context of the difficult US history there.
Today marks the fifth anniversary of the Madrid train bombings that killed 191-- and exactly seven and a half years since 9/11. To limit the chance that this happens again, we ask what the most important steps are that we can take today, at home and abroad, to keep ourselves safe from terrorism.
A new task-force report from the U.S. Institute of Peace called “Preventing Genocide: A Blueprint for U.S. Policymakers” makes a strong statement challenging conventional wisdom: “preventing genocide is an achievable goal. The idea that genocide is somehow completely unpredictable and undeterrable is one of the biggest psychological justifications for doing nothing about it.”