CNN and AFP are reporting that the Shabaab, a militant wing of a Somali insurgent group, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), has threatened to treat “as an enemy combatant” any plane that attempts to land at Mogadishu Airport. According to AFP, the threat, which was posted on the Internet, was confirmed by Shabaab leader Mukhtar Robow. The web posting reportedly includes a list of grievances used to justify the threat, including the airport’s use by “Ugandan and Bulgarian mercenaries,” money generated by the airport for the Ethiopian government, and harassment of “Somali religious personalities” by “US and Israeli secret services…” The warnings are accompanied by a graphic of a man pointing a shoulder-fired missile at a plane as it is landing.
The threat is not to be taken lightly. Last year, the FAS identified Somalia as one of three MANPADS proliferation hotspots worldwide in response to numerous reports of illicit missile activity, most of which involved the ICU and the Shabaab. In 2006, UN investigators identified at least six shipments of MANPADS and other weapons to the violent Insurgent group, including a shipment of “50 units” of ”shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles and second generation infrared-guided anti-tank weapons” from Eritrea, “45 units” of surface-to-air missiles from Iran, and three surface-to-air missiles from Syria. In each case, the missiles were part of larger arms shipments that also included dozens of assault rifles, machine guns, and other small arms and light weapons. The Associated Press later reported that the ICU had received 200 shoulder-fired missiles from Eritrea alone.
In March 2007, the Islamists fired two advanced SA-18 missiles at a Belarussian cargo aircraft as it was departing from Mogadishu International Airport. One of the missiles hit the plane, causing it to crash and killing all eleven people on board. UN investigators later concluded that the missiles used in the attack were part of a consignment of six SA-18s acquired from Eritrea. This summer, the UN traced another SA-18 found in Somalia back to a batch of Russian missiles that were shipped to Eritrea in 1995. The Eritrean government denies allegations that it provides missiles and other weapons to the ICU.