Incitement to Hunt al-Shabaab

Ahmed Abdi aw-Mohamed, founder of al-Shabaab

Last month, the U.S. State Department announced that it was offering rewards of $3-7 million for information that would lead to the senior leaders of al-Shabaab. See also, here. As Somali pirates continue to meet considerable resistance at sea, and successful pirate attacks see a precipitous drop, they are seeking new sources of income. This raises the possibility that they will seek to provide information about the whereabouts of al-Shabaab leaders pursuant to the State Department Rewards for Justice program. But there are potential legal obstacles to paying for information from pirates.

As some background, there continues to be debate as to whether members of al-Shabaab and Somali pirates are colluding with one-another. For example, in a recent trial in Italy, the prosecutors asserted that pirates had connections to al-Shabaab and planned on using the ransom proceeds to finance terrorist activities. Likewise, Kenya justified its initial incursions into Somalia based upon the assertion that recent kidnappings of tourists and aid workers in Kenya were the work of al-Shabaab (though some of these attacks were likely perpetrated by pirates with no political objective). There have also been assertions that the port of Kismayo, al-Shabaab’s most important source of income, was being shared by pirates. Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga has requested assistance from the EU naval mission to help to take Kismayo, but the EU has been reluctant because it considers the port to be an al-Shabaab stronghold and not a stronghold of pirates.

Readers of this blog will recall that in 2010, President Obama issued executive order 13536 imposing economic sanctions on suspected financiers of Somali piracy. Although this same executive order imposed sanctions on the organization of al-Shabaab, the preface specifically declared a national emergency to deal with “the deterioration of the security situation and the persistence of violence in Somalia, and acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea off the coast of Somalia.” Terrorism and al-Qaida were not mentioned, suggesting the economic sanctions were being targeted at pirates.

This brings us to the Rewards for Justice program and the list of seven senior leaders of al-Shabaab. Of this list, it appears that three individuals also appeared in the President’s executive order 13536 annex. Perhaps the economic sanctions had always contained a list of both pirates and al-Shabaab. Another possibility is that former pirates have joined the forces of al-Shabaab. Whatever the case, the State Department is prohibited by executive order 13536 from paying for information from the individuals named in the order. Considering the past confusion as to potential links between al-Shabaab and pirates, it will prove a challenging task to verify that a particular individual providing information is not affiliated with one of the individuals named in the executive order or with al-Shabaab. Even if information does not come from individuals specifically named in the executive order, the State Department will have to consider the possibility that reward money will go to finance pirate operations. In the end, it may be a case of the enemy of my enemy is my friend (at least for today). Regardless, the possibility that pirates could provide information as to the whereabouts of al-Shabaab’s senior leaders might be enough to prevent any future alliance between the two organizations.

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