Iran allies with Al-Shabaab in Somalia to distribute arms to Houthi rebels

Government sources in the African country link the regime of the ayatollahs with the Somali terrorist organization, which has been involved in attacks on the United States Army
Houthi militia men hold their weapons during a tribal gathering in Sana'a, Yemen

AP/HANI MOHAMMED  -   Houthi militia men hold their weapons during a tribal gathering in Sana'a, Yemen

The Islamic Republic of Iran has established links with the jihadist group Al-Shabaab in Somalia to attack United States and other international forces in the African country and the region and to supply arms to Houthi rebels in Yemen, according to reports in international policy articles citing the Somali Government and security officials.

According to reports, echoed by the Al-Arabiya media, the Persian country has a network deployed in Somalia aimed at offering support to "violent extremist organizations" to counter the influence of the US and rival Gulf States (as in the case of Saudi Arabia or the Emirates).

Iran, which has established its power network in Somalia using financial incentives, uses the country on the African continent to channel arms to the Houthi militia present in Yemen and to transport arms to other countries in Africa such as Kenya, Tanzania, Southern Sudan, Mozambique and the Central African Republic, according to data provided by Al-Arabiya from the information revealed. 

Iran continues to use the same tactic of meddling in the internal affairs of other nations. It uses the action of its Quds Forces, international division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard (elite body of the Iranian Army), to operate in other territories, mainly through alliances with groups of the same Shiite confession present in these countries. Examples of this are the cases of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestine, the militia of Afghan origin Liwa Fatemiyoun in Syria, the Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq, or the Houthi combatants themselves in the framework of the civil war in the Middle East.

Miembros de la Guardia Revolucionaria de Irán marchan durante un desfile militar anual en el mausoleo del ayatolá Jomeini
PHOTO/AP - Members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard march during an annual military parade at Ayatollah Khomeini's mausoleum

In this line, the Quds forces have established links with "extremist groups and criminal networks", according to Somali government sources. This international branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard uses these links to smuggle Iranian oil into Somalia and then sell it at cheap prices in Africa to avoid U.S. sanctions, according to data provided by Somali police and finance ministry officials, as published by Al-Arabiya. Part of these profits go to support allies in Yemen and Somalia. The economic sanctions imposed by the United States following the 2018 U.S. exit from the nuclear pact sealed with the Iranian state in 2015 (JCPOA) continue to weigh on Iran due to the Persians' failure to comply with its terms. 

Iran's ties with Houthi rebels operating in Yemen have long been denounced as undermining the internationally recognized government of Abd Rabbuh Mansur al-Hadi, which is supported by the Arab military coalition led by neighboring Saudi Arabia, Iran's great rival in the Middle East and the main representative of the Sunni branch of Islam, as opposed to the Shiite one sponsored by the Ayatollahs' regime. Indeed, the Houthis have been singled out for several attacks on oil and airport infrastructure in the Saudi kingdom. 

Iran is said to have provided Al-Shabaab with financial and material support and "may have paid rewards to militants to attack US forces in Somalia and the region", according to Al-Arabiya's indications from information received from a military officer involved in operations against Al-Shabaab in south-central Somalia.

Iranian money and weapons could have been used in the 2019-2020 attacks by the Somali terrorist group on US military bases on African territory, as well as on the European Union's military convoy in Mogadishu, according to sources at the Somali Ministry of Defence.

 Soldados somalíes en el lugar de la explosión de un coche bomba suicida que tuvo como objetivo un convoy de vehículos de la Unión Europea en Mogadiscio, Somalia
AFP/ABDIRARAZAK HUSSEIN FARAH - Somali soldiers at the scene of a suicide car bombing that targeted a convoy of European Union vehicles in Mogadishu, Somalia

Security forces involved in operations against Al-Shabaab in south-central Somalia discovered weapons, as well as bomb-making and chemical equipment from Iran, according with the information. Officials say Al-Shabaab's attacks since 2017 have become more lethal and attribute the group's increased capabilities to weapons of foreign origin, mostly from Iran and Yemen, according to international policy reports published by Al-Arabiya. 

On January 5, two days after the former head of the Quds forces Qassem Soleimani was killed in a U.S. air strike near Baghdad airport in Iraq, Al-Shabaab launched an attack on a military base used by the U.S. and Kenyan armed forces on the Lamu coast that killed a U.S. soldier and two contractors.

Al-Shabaab did not acknowledge that the offensive was related to Soleimani's death, but the coincidence might indicate that the two events could be linked.

For its part, the United States executive uses sanctions to target individuals or groups in Somalia and the adjacent region who serve Iranian interests on Somali territory in order to reduce Al-Shabaab's access to economic and material resources.