Spies like us: French security agents pose as journalists in Somalia



 
Last week (July 14), two French security operatives were kidnapped by some 15 armed men dressed in Somali Military uniforms from a hotel in the Somali capital after having checked-in as "journalists," deputy director of the Sahafi Hotel said in statements to the media.
 
By ABDURRAHMAN HUSSEIN
 
Somalia Hizbul Islam
Media sources have reported that Hizbul-Islam (above) was fighting with another insurgent group Al-Shabaab over the fate of the two hostages.

MOGADISHU, July 23, 2009 (MENASSAT) - Last week (July 14), two French security operatives were kidnapped by some 15 armed men dressed in Somali Military uniforms from a hotel in the Somali capital after having checked-in as “journalists,” deputy director of the Sahafi Hotel said in statements to the media.
 
Nearly every media outlet in Somalia and internationally, from Bloomberg to Al Jazeera, reported that the two kidnapped men were journalists, but the government confirmed this week that the two men were not journalists but were instead security advisers sent from France to help train Somalia’s intelligence service.
 
Somali interim Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke held a press conference at his office late last week confirming that the kidnappers were indeed Hizbul-Islam - the insurgent Somali militia group.

He has called for the immediate and unconditional release of the two hostages, and according to sources has been in touch with at least one of them.

Hizbul-Islam is one of the radical Islamic opposition groups that control various sections of the country. They regularly clash with both the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali Government forces in the capital city Mogadishu.    

Hizbul-Islam has said nothing about the fate of the two Frenchmen thus far, but local and international media sources have reported that Hizbul-Islam was fighting with another insurgent group – Al-Shabaab – over the fate of the two hostages. One Somali government military spokesman Farah Asanyo said that the two men are in now hands of Al Shabaab.

Al Shabaab is a Somali Islamists insurgent group that developed after the fall of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) by the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in 2006. The United States has called Al Shabaab a terrorist group with links to Al-Qaida.

It is widely rumored that the two Frenchmen will be put on trial in a Sharia court in the coming days.
 
Still, most Somalis have admitted shock at the revelation that the two men were posing as journalists.

The director of one local radio station who wanted to remain anonymous said, ‘When we heard the news that the two men were security officers most of the general public condemned the news and demanded the French government to make an international apology.”
 
“This will endanger Somali journalists and we will be seen as spies for foreign countries,” said Somali freelance journalist Ismail Yabarow.
 
Abduqadir Hassan, Al-Hikma Radio reporter said, “We requested that the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemn the French government – that these security agents could use Journalist as cover for their work as a spy or security agent. Somali journalists are already targeted as they live in one of the most dangerous (war)zones in the world.”
 
In 2007 and 2008, the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) reported that more than 8 journalists were killed and many others wounded. Government and militia factions arrested some 53 other journalists during this time.

Somali media representatives always worry about the safety of their journalists and the place they work. 
 
For the last two decades the killing, kidnapping, robbing and raping have become ordinary life for Somali civilians including journalists. 

The Somali journalists who work in Somalia live in an unpredictable situation where “killing, threatening and arresting is a part of our livelihood.”

“Some journalists cannot go the insurgency bases while others cannot go to the government side for their own security,” said Muunin Abdi, Junior, another local radio worker.         

More than fifteen foreign people have been kidnapped in Somalia over the last two years. Three Aid Workers were kidnapped from the border town of Kenya Mandhere entering Somalia last week.
 
Somalia has been without an effective central government since the overthrow of the late Somali president Mahamed Siad Barre in 1991.