By Faisal Darem
Participants at the first Gulf of Aden Counter-Terrorism Forum called for a convention to combat terrorism and appealed to world countries to help dry up terrorism financing by refraining from paying ransom to terrorist groups.
The three-day forum, held in Sanaa on April 8th and organised by the Sheba Centre for Strategic Studies, called on countries in the region to tighten controls on the movement of money that can be used to fund terrorism.
Countries bordering the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden ‚Äì Yemen, Somalia and Djibouti ‚Äì took part in the forum, as well as representatives from other countries.
Participants called for work to begin on a convention to combat terrorism to be signed by all member states, to strengthen regional co-ordination and build up marine forces and customs units.
They also called for a research centre to be established in each member country to facilitate the forum’s work, and for the creation of a data bank shared by the countries’ various security agencies that would include iris scans and fingerprints.
Issues discussed included the threat of global terrorist networks, local strategies to combat terrorism in the three countries, local counter-terrorism military operations, security strategies, the legal framework and the justice sector, money laundering and the financing of terrorism, port and border security and efforts to prevent trafficking.
Participants recommended that a second session of the forum be held in six months in Djibouti, and that a joint military mechanism be formed to co-ordinate efforts to combat terrorism, piracy, illegal immigration smuggling and human trafficking.
In the concluding session, Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi stressed the importance of co-ordination among the participating countries and invited Sudan and Ethiopia to join the discussion at future meetings.
Mohamed Aden Ahmed, Deputy Foreign Minister of Somalia, told Al-Shorfa, “We came to participate in this forum to co-ordinate efforts and work together in the face of terrorism, human trafficking and illegal fishing.”
“There is a relationship between the pirates and al-Qaeda through al-Shabaab Movement, a relationship based on money,” he said. “We hope the forum leads to a joint effort and the creation of links to share information and expertise, and an agreement on a common strategy in the fight against terrorism.”
“Counter-terrorism efforts must be shared because terrorism is not country-specific, but has become a global phenomenon,” Mohamed Salad, director-general for Somalia’s Galmudug region’s Interior ministry, told Al Shorfa.
Al-Qaeda and their affiliate the Somali al-Shabaab Movement aim to block international navigation in the Gulf of Aden and the southern Red Sea, Salad said.
Both groups “provided protection and hosted the pirates and secured their transportation from one place to another”, Salad said, and both have extracted ransom money from pirates in order to purchase weapons and finance their operations.
A video message posted on extremist forums in February 2012 by al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri announced that the al-Shabaab movement¬†had joined¬†al-Qaeda. The announcement came more than eight months after al-Shabaab swore allegiance to the terror group.
“The importance of the forum lies in the exchange of experiences and information between Yemen and Somalia and other parties and to benefit from the experience of Yemen in the fight against terrorism in the Somali context,” Salad said.
FORUM LAYS FOUNDATION FOR FUTURE EFFORTS
The Sheba Centre intends to hold forums in Somalia and Djibouti “to complete what we started in Sanaa”, said Aish Ali Awas, lead researcher and director of the centre’s strategic studies programme.
“We aim to lay a foundation for a permanent dialogue on security issues and the smuggling of weapons and drugs, hence the great importance of this forum and its outputs,” he said.
The countries bordering the shipping and international trade lines are of enormous strategic importance, Awas said, as nearly three million barrels of oil pass through their waters each day.
Thus, it is important that countries at the international level participate in this forum to protect international trade, he said.
“Paying ransom to pirates is the same as paying ransom to al-Qaeda or al-Shabaab Movement, who use them to finance their operations,” he said.
Awas said it will be important to establish a standing committee between countries bordering the Horn of Africa and the Gulf of Aden so they can exchange information and co-ordinate between their respective naval forces and coast guard.
A specialised joint research centre between the three countries would provide in-depth studies of terrorism in its various forms, said Hafazallah al-Ahmadi, deputy executive director of the Sheba Centre.
Al-Ahmadi said forum participants discussed the importance of reaching out to individuals at risk of joining extremist groups to make them aware of the dangers of terrorism and extremism.
He called for a “programme to raise awareness and to implement preventative measures to limit youth involvement with terrorist groups”.