Iran has established secret relations with the terrorist "youth group", which is based in Somalia, and is well known for its attacks in the Horn of Africa. Iran reproduces Russia's tactics in Afghanistan, in its covert war on the United States, where Tehran is believed to be using al-Shabab to attack the US military and other foreign forces in Somalia and in the region, according to senior Somali government officials and security agencies familiar with intelligence.

Iran uses financial incentives as a means to recruit fighters in Somalia, having a network of agents in Somalia for this purpose, and uses facilitators to provide support to extremist organizations to counter the influence of the United States and other countries, including its use of Somalia to send weapons to Houthi rebels in Yemen, and to transfer weapons to countries Others such as Kenya, Tanzania, South Sudan, Mozambique, and the Central African Republic.

Iranian interference in the African continent is not new. In particular, Iranian religious groups and intelligence agencies have worked for decades to establish hotbeds and influence on the African continent. This includes providing opportunities for religious studies throughout sub-Saharan Africa and the Horn of Africa to compete and counter the influences of the Gulf states.

Engage in the call

Moreover, these educational efforts allowed the Africans to study in Shi'a religious centers, such as Qom in Iran, then return to their countries and engage in direct and indirect advocacy in favor of Tehran's activities, which made many of them complicit in Tehran's interests in the region.

According to Somali officials, the Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force, is the main Iranian organization active in Somalia, where it has established ties with extremist groups in the Horn of Africa, and criminal networks. Police officials and the Somali Finance Ministry say that Jerusalem forces use these networks to smuggle Iranian oil into Somalia, and sell it cheaply across Africa to thwart US sanctions, while using some of the proceeds from it to support militants in Yemen and Somalia.

Somali military officials confirm that Iran is running secret operations to undermine the efforts of the United States in Somalia, as it provides advanced weapons, improvised explosive devices, mortars, and chemicals used to make bombs. These military officials claim that Iran and its proxies are complicit in the Al-Shabaab attacks on the American army, Somali forces, and the African Union Mission in Somalia. A senior military official, who was involved in operations against Al-Shabaab in south-central Somalia, claims that Al-Shabaab has received financial and material support from Iran, and may have paid rewards to militants to attack US forces in Somalia and the region.

According to the Somali Ministry of Defense and security officials, Iranian funds, weapons, and ammunition may have been used in the 2019 and 2020 attacks by Al-Shabaab on US military bases in Somalia and northern Kenya, as well as the European Union military convoy in Mogadishu.

In south-central Somalia, the security forces participating in operations against the Al-Shabaab discovered weapons, bomb-making materials, and chemicals from Iran. These officials claim that, since 2017, al-Shabaab attacks have become more lethal, and they attribute the group's increased capabilities to foreign-source weapons, most of them coming from Iran and Yemen.

"Al-Shabaab" attacked the Simba camp, two days after the US raid with a drone, which killed the commander of the Iranian Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, and the deputy commander of the Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq, Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, (although the movement claimed that there was no link between Soleimani’s killing and that attack), but the timing and history of “Al-Shabaab” in such strikes indicate that the two incidents are linked.

On September 30, 2019, Al-Shabaab detonated a car bomb, and carried out an attack on the Paldogel base, wounding one of the American soldiers at the base, according to news reports. The Balidogel base, located about 60 miles northwest of Mogadishu, hosts hundreds of American soldiers and civilians, who support the Somali government’s operations against the Al-Shabab movement. The Somali forces, trained by the United States and the American army, repelled the coordinated attack and inflicted heavy losses on the Al-Shabaab movement.

Russian interest

According to the officials, the Russians have expressed interest in the Balidogel and Berbera port. Officials are concerned that the 2019 attack on Baldogel was overseen and supported by Iranian or Russian agents, who have tried to force the US military out of the base. Given that Iran has engaged and supported extremist groups in Somalia and throughout the region, it is not surprising that Tehran and its proxies support the "youth movement". The truth is that Tehran has been involved in countless operations in recent years with a wide range of Islamic elements in Somalia. Iran uses these activists in Africa to support its influence there and spread its extremist ideology, wherever and whenever it can. Tehran continues to use its allies and extremist groups in Somalia, undermining the administration's strategy to combat terrorism in Somalia and international efforts to stabilize the country.

To counter this threat, the US government must, first, focus on preventing the "youth movement" from accessing financial and material support from foreign sources such as Iran. Such measures can be expanded, through the use of sanctions, to identify and target individuals or groups in Somalia, and the regions facilitating proxy activities for Iran in Somalia, as well as how the extremist groups purchase weapons and chemicals used to attack civilians, government institutions and security forces in Somalia and the region. With the assistance of the Somali federal government and member states to build the Navy, Coast Guard, and other navies to protect Africa's second longest coast.

Second, the US government must work to reduce Iranian influence in the Horn of Africa, making it difficult for Iran and its proxies to act. The US government can reduce Iranian influence by increasing intelligence gathering about Tehran's allies, facilitators, and support structures, as well as monitoring Iranian trade with countries in the region. In addition, the United States can use sanctions to pursue individuals and organizations involved with elements of the Iranian regime subject to sanctions.

Finally, to confront Iran, Russia and other rogue states, the United States government should increase military, security and economic assistance to Somalia and support the efforts of the Somali government to increase the size and capabilities of Somali security forces, while launching counter-terrorism operations, to drive al-Shabaab and other violent extremist groups out of the areas it controls .

The aspiration of the "youth movement" to attack the United States, in the region and outside it, constitutes a direct threat to the national security of the United States and foreign policy interests. To defeat Al-Shabaab, and to limit the interference of Iran and other foreign agents in Somalia, this requires the United States government to use all the tools of national power, including economic, military, security, and financial tools, to defeat the most active and effective terrorist groups in the world.

Muhammad Fraser Rahim is CEO of the Quilliam North America Policy and Research Foundation

Mo Fattah is CEO of the Horn Security Group

Al-Qaeda's largest network

On September 30, Al-Shabaab detonated a car bomb, in a military convoy of the European Union in Mogadishu. The Italian military convoy was part of the European Union Training Mission in Somalia. The attack destroyed the convoy's vehicles, but resulted in no injuries.

Despite American and Somali counterterrorism operations, Al-Shabaab remains the largest active network of Al Qaeda in the world, and the financial and material support provided by the Iranian "Jerusalem Force" to the armed group represents a new escalation and a transformational threat to American and Western interests in Somalia and the region.

Despite the increase in the number of American forces in Somalia in the past three years, there has been a steady increase in attacks by the "youth movement" and "ISIS" in south-central Somalia and Puntland, and increasingly in northern Kenya. According to the commander of the US Military Command for Africa (AFRICOM), General Stephen Townsend, “After a series of sophisticated attacks that targeted Somali and American bases last year, young American leaders publicly identified American interests around the world as priority targets,” which is similar. The position of the former "Al Qaeda" leader, Osama bin Laden, 1996, when he declared war against the United States.

In addition to Iran, Russia expanded its contacts and influence in Somalia, sending an ambassador for the first time in 30 years, and established ties with extremist groups in this fragile country, to put pressure on American forces and Western allies in the region.

In Somalia, senior officials of the Ministry of Defense and National and Regional Security believe that the Russian Intelligence and Wagner Group - a mercenary paramilitary company with ties to the Kremlin - are active in Somalia, where they have established relationships with Al-Shabaab and at the same time provide training and equipment for the Somali government and regional governments, with impunity Wagner's group of accountability, and its attempts to evade compliance with the sanctions imposed by the United Nations. Over the past two years, Russia and Iran have shown renewed interest in the Horn of Africa, and according to a senior Somali military official, Russia has worked with Iran to get the United States out of Somalia, especially from Baldogul, a base that the former Soviet Union built, which served as Moscow's primary hub in the region.

Somali military officials confirm that Iran is running secret operations to undermine the efforts of the United States in Somalia, as it provides advanced weapons, improvised explosive devices, and chemicals used to make bombs.

According to the Somali Ministry of Defense and security officials, Iranian funds, weapons, and ammunition may have been used in the 2019 and 2020 attacks by Al-Shabaab on US military bases in Somalia and northern Kenya, as well as the European Union military convoy in Mogadishu.

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