East African terror groups continue impacting maritime trade

A group currently affecting the seas is Al-Shabaab that has raised income through the extortion and illicit taxation of the Port of Mogadishu and associated independent businesses. It has been involved in charcoal smuggling since 2011. The group earns an estimated US$7 million a year through maritime crime – enough to ensure its long-term survival and to fund its land-based terror attacks.

In addition, a group in the Somali and Tanzanian coastal areas is IS-Somalia. It exploits weak maritime awareness for its activities. Within a year of its founding, IS-Somalia occupied and controlled the northern port town of Qandala.

To fight piracy, the governments and more international organisations like the United Nations (UN) have provided great amounts of money to curb terrorism. Yet, ISS highlights that the African Union Mission in Somalia, despite possessing a maritime component, hasn’t developed any real expertise or consistency in this area.

Moreover, Willem Els, Senior Training Coordinator at ISS, says that maritime police (and coast guards where they exist) focus more on piracy than organized crime or terrorism along the East African coast. While some piracy is conducted by violent extremist groups, most can be attributed to criminal networks.

It is also stated that maritime counter-piracy operations could also focus on preventing terrorism within the national waters of participating states. Mandates and deployments of coast guards and other maritime enforcement agencies differ, so creating a regional approach aimed at terrorists might be difficult. Not only do extremist groups operate across maritime borders, but many of their activities intersect land and sea, making establishing jurisdiction tricky.

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