Officials and security experts say al-Shabaab militants who entered eastern Ethiopia last week remain active inside the country despite claims by local authorities that the force has been “destroyed”.
Security forces clashed with al-Shabaab fighters in the village of Lakurun near the border town of Phirfir in Ethiopia’s Somali state, officials said on Monday. State President Mustafe Omar was seen meeting with units of the federal military forces that had been sent to the region.
About 500 al-Shabaab fighters, including many originally from Ethiopia’s Somali and Oromia regions, entered Ethiopia last Wednesday, several security and former al-Shabaab operatives told VOA Somali’s “The Investigative Dossier” program. The infiltration is the terrorist group’s biggest operation to date inside Ethiopia.
He said the Islamic terrorist group, which has been fighting Somali governments and African Union peacekeepers since 2007, wants to show that it can operate in Ethiopia as well as Somalia and Kenya.
“If they raise their flag, it will be a victory for them,” said Abu Ayan. “They have long dreamed of entering Ethiopia and raising their flag. It would mean a huge victory. It would encourage global jihadists to support them.”
The operation began last Wednesday when al-Shabaab militants shut down telephone networks in the southwest state of Somalia and carried out surprise attacks on the Somali towns of Yed and Aato and the village of Wasako. All the cities are located on the Somali-Ethiopian border and are guarded by the Liu Police Security Force of Ethiopia.
Somali regional and intelligence officials now believe the terrorist group’s attacks on those cities were disturbing.
Officials on both sides of the border confirmed that the attacks engaged and distracted Liu police forces as other heavily armed al-Shabaab units crossed the border unopposed.
Mohamed Abdi Tall, the governor of Bakool, the Somali region from where al-Shabaab launched, said that militants entering Ethiopia did not participate in the Yade, Ato, and Wasako attacks.
“There were two groups – one group fighting along the border, and the other unit that passed by,” he said. “While the fighting was on, they passed through Aoto Road; They are headed for the Bel region,” between the Somalia and Oromia states of Ethiopia.
Tall said the unit entering through Eto was confronted by Liu police and crossed it despite losing most of its vehicles. He said the second al-Shabab unit, which entered Ethiopia from another front east of the city of al-Barde, has yet to face attacks from Ethiopian security forces.
An intelligence official, who said on condition of anonymity that he was not allowed to speak to the media, confirmed the second intrusion.
“We were told they crossed the border, but they didn’t go away,” Tall said. “They’re somewhere between us and Goode and Kallafo. We haven’t heard of them fighting, but it’s likely they will.
The Purposes of Al-Shabaab in Ethiopia
A former member of al-Shabaab, who did not wish to be named for security reasons, said the group plans to raise its black flag inside Ethiopia, and then issued a prepared statement declaring that “jihad is a spread to a new front” in the Horn of Africa. The word Jihad means holy war.