NAIROBI, Kenya — The Shabab, Somalia’s most fearsome Islamist group, the one leading a guerrilla war against the weak transitional government, may be running into a problem with its cash flow.
In the past week, Shabab rebels have seized two French security advisers originally captured by a different band of Somalian gunmen, and now they are widely suspected of another kidnapping on Saturday morning along the Kenya-Somalia border.
“They need money,” said one Western diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing diplomatic protocol. “It’s a fact.”
Another fact: kidnapping is one of the few money-making industries left in shattered Somalia.
According to a new posting on a Somalian insurgent Web site, the Shabab will soon try the Frenchmen in an Islamic court. And though the Shabab’s brand of justice often involves amputations and even beheadings, the Web site said that in this case, commanders were considering a “fine,” a signal that they may be after money more than blood.
Recent events bear that out, analysts say. While Somalia’s transitional government got a 40-ton pile of guns and ammunition from the United States in June, the Shabab’s outside support may be slowing down.
Kidnapping has been a lucrative business in Somalia for years, but now more than ever. The country’s central government imploded in 1991, and ever since then marauding gangs, warlords, teenage street fighters and various Islamist factions have scrambled for power and money. Pirates off Somalia’s coast netted tens of millions of dollars last year alone, seizing ships and ransoming back the crews. These days, the few foreigners who enter Somalia need platoons of gunmen to make sure they are not the next victims.
At a meeting last week with reporters in Paris, Claude Guéant, chief of staff for the French president, was asked if the kidnapping of the two French security advisers, who were snatched from their Mogadishu hotel on Tuesday, was a “money issue.”
Mr. Guéant answered that “it was likely” to be one.
Source: The New York Times