Why isn’t Eritrea labeled a State Sponsor of Terrorism?
A U.N. report in July confirmed that the African government of Eritrea is still supporting Al-Qaeda’s Somali branch, a group known for its reach into America. The Eritrean dictator, an ally of Iran and top persecutor of Christians, is met with silence. Is President Obama’s desire to end the war on terrorstronger than his desire to punish Al-Qaeda’s allies?
The U.N. Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea concluded in July that Eritrea, though governed by a self-professed Christian dictator, is materially aiding al-Shabaab, the Al-Qaeda affiliate in Somalia that has recruited over 40 Americans. The group has an estimated 5,000 terrorists controlling central and southern Somalia and earns millions for Al-Qaeda through the sale of charcoal. The Eritrean government, led by President Isaias Afewerki, has two main liaisons to Al-Shabaab.
The first, a warlord named Abdi Nur Siad ‘Abdi Wal,’ works with an unnamed senior al-Shabaab commander and collaborates with other Somali Islamists. The second liaison is named Mohamed Wali Sheikh Ahmed Nur and he is described as Al-Shabaab’s “political coordinator.” He is on Eritrea’s payroll and has admitted in private meetings to being an Eritrean agent.
Ahmed Nur also works with the terrorism-sponsoring governments of Iran and Sudan, visiting the former in December. One of the purposes of these meetings was to explore ways of covertly financing him. The Eritrean ambassador to Sudan was kicked out from Kenya in 2009 because of his meetings with al-Shabaab.
The Eritrean embassy in Kenya had been utilized as a bank for its terrorist allies, funding Al-Shabaab with $75,000 a month. The financial network is now spread out through front businesses in Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda and Yemen.
The existence of these fronts in Yemen raises the possibility that Eritrea also has a relationship with Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and/or the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in the north. It was first reported in 2009 that Iranian Revolutionary Guards personnel in Eritrea were training Houthis. There are also unconfirmed reports of Iranian missiles in Eritrea.
In January, Arab media sources reported that Iran was transporting weapons to Yemen through Eritrean islands where Houthis also receive training. The weapons are smuggled into Yemen in fishing boats. Also that month, the Yemeni authorities intercepted an Iranian ship delivering arms to the Houthis and, possibly, Al-Shabaab via Eritrea. A diplomatic source said it had 16,717 blocks of C4 explosives and the Houthis aren’t known to use C4, but Al-Shabaab is.
According to a Yemeni political source, Iran’s operations in Eritrea and Yemen have heightened because of the Syrian civil war.
“Iranian national security council adopted a new strategy intended to shift the battle from Syria and Lebanon in the north to the Yemen on the southern tip of Arabian Peninsula, after Tehran has realized that its allied regime of Bashar Assad in Damascus cannot continue,” the source told ASharq Alawasat.
The Afewerki regime has even directly organized potential mass-casualty terrorist operations. According to an earlier U.N. report, Eritrea planned “mass casualty attacks against civilian targets” in January 2011 during a high-level African Union meeting in Ethiopia. The dispatched terrorists were instructed to make “Addis Ababa like Baghdad.” Nothing happened in response to the foiled plot.
The 47% of the Eritrean population that is Christian is oppressed (as are many non-Christians), even though Afewerki says he is a member of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church. The country is described as a “giant prison” and Reporters Without Borders gave it the title of “most repressive nation on earth.”
All but three Christian denominations have been outlawed, and even members of the permitted denominations face persecution. Somewhere between 1,200and 3,000 Christians are in prison in “unimaginably atrocious conditions.” In July, 39 high school students, including 11 girls, were arrested, banned from graduation and sentenced to hard labor and beatings because of their public expressions of faith. Reportedly, they have been given an opportunity to leave if they renounce their faith in Christ.
The viability of the Eritrean opposition makes the West’s tolerance of Afewerki even more disheartening. On January 21, about 200 soldiers with two tanks took over a government ministry and demanded the release of all political prisoners. The coup failed.
The Afewerki regime is dividing against itself, with many youth and forced conscripts fleeing the country. Recently, 180 members of the navy weremassacred by the security forces when they tried to get out. The known defections include three senior air force pilots and senior officials “have started to manifest open dissent to military and economic policy decision-making.”
In 2010, Rep. Ed Royce of the House Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade, wrote a letter to the State Department demanding that Eritrea be added to the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. Even under President Obama’s vision of the war on terror as solely a war on Al-Qaeda, Eritrea qualifies as a state sponsor, but nothing has happened.
Sanctions were first placed on Eritrea for its arming of terrorists in December 2009. For three and a half years, the regime has been allowed to sponsor Al-Shabaab, oppress its citizens (especially Christians) and ally with Iran. For two and a half years, Eritrea has not been held accountable for its direct involvement in a major terrorist plot.
Al-Qaeda’s favorite “Christian” leader is known by virtually no American and Al-Shabaab and Iran can thank the Obama Administration for that.
This article was sponsored by the Institute on Religion and Democracy.
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