Suicide Attack Against Meeting Organised by Finns Thwarted in Somaliland

HARGEISA, 13 November 2009 (Somalilandpress) – Security officials in Somaliland narrowly thwarted a terror attack that had been planned against a peace conference in the town of Hargeisa last Sunday. The gathering of clan leaders had been organised by Finn Church Aid, the foreign aid arm of the Finnish Lutheran Church.

Ten kilos of powder-based explosives were found in the possession of two uninvited guests. The aim was apparently to conduct a suicide attack against the meeting of the chiefs of the Hawie clan.

Such an attack would have put the lives of seven Finnish citizens at risk.

The events began to unfold on Friday, when about 30 clan leaders flew from the Somali capital Mogadishu to the Hargeisa meeting. Also on board the commercial flight were two young men. At the destination they boarded a bus taking the participants in the meeting to their hotel.

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The hotel’s security personnel made note of the nervous behaviour of the two. Organisers of the meeting also noted that there were two people there who had not been invited.

“Their room was searched, and explosives suitable for use in a suicide attack were found in their possession”, said Antti Pentikäinen, executive director of Finn Church Aid, who spoke by telephone from Washington.

Pentikäinen himself was to have attended the meeting on Sunday, its opening day, but the trip was cancelled after the terror plot was unveiled.

The suspects were arrested, and they have been interrogated by local officials. The identity of the suspected would-be bombers has not been disclosed, nor is there any information on what rebel group they might belong to. News of the incident apparently has not been reported in Somaliland itself.

On the basis of previous suicide attacks, the main suspect is the al-Shabab movement, which controls the south of Somalia. Al-Shabab introduced the practice of suicide attacks to Somalia a few years ago, and the movement is believed to have links with the al-Qaeda network.

After the plot was unveiled, the organisers considered cancelling the meeting. However, it began on schedule on Sunday.
“Security arrangements are at the maximum. The meeting will proceed only if security can be guaranteed”, Pentikäinen says.

The planned attack will not stop meetings aimed at peace from being organised in the future, Pentikäinen says. However, he adds that the situation will make it necessary to re-evaluate how the security of participants and organisers can be guaranteed.

“In Somalia, we are trusted as organisers of meetings of this type. Under no circumstances do we plan to pull out. When we have collected all information about this event, we will ponder how the risks could be minimised in the future.”

He sees the case as a worrying example of how security for aid organisations has deteriorated in recent years, especially in fragile states such as Somalia.

Finn Church Aid has organised gatherings of clan chiefs and religious leaders in Somalia for a year and a half already. The meetings are low-profile events set up for airing the views of local leaders on how the peace process in Somalia should proceed.

Pentikäinen emphasises that Finn Church Aid dies not bring its own agenda to the peace process. Instead, it seeks to support local communities, and to communicate their views to the international community.



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