As Kenyan Defence Forces continue their deadly assault on al Shabaab’s main “cash cow”, the strategic port city of Kismayo, another source of steady alleged terrorist income is facing a battle of its own. Often dubbed the “Western Union” of al Shabaab militants, the Somali-based (but Dubai-headquartered) Dahabshiil Bank is as of 20 August 2012, on the verge of losing its flagship branch in Djibouti. According to outgoing employees, who admittedly, may be biased, the company lacks capital, having been “unable” to muster up a strong clientele base – a rather curious assertion considering that Somalis make up 50% of Djibouti’s population. So is this truly a case of financial mismanagement causing customers to steer away, or is the potential banking failure part of a larger onslaught against Somali-based economic institutions? If the ongoing “hacktivism” campaign against the embattled bank’s websites are any indication, the latter is most likely. Indeed, the Djibouti branch appears by most accounts to be nothing more than collateral damage in Kenya’s, and the US’, ongoing military and cyber war campaign aimed at completely dismantling al Shabaab.
“Hacktivists” Launch Cyber Attack on Dahabshiil
On the cyber front, Dahabshiil became victim of a large-scale attack in July 2012, when Somali authorities announced that a group claiming to be the infamous “hacktivist” organisation, Anonymous, vowed to “destroy” Dahabshiil within “two months” unless it cuts its alleged ties with Islamist terror group, al Shabaab. The hackers also published thousands of account details after claiming they had “easily” breached Dahabshiil’s firewalls, claiming that the information reveals not only ties with the militant group al Shabaab, but also indicates widespread government corruption. Among the victims of the attacks were Somaliland officials themselves, including President Ahmed Mahamoud Silanyo’s official spokesman, Abdulahi Mohamed Dahir Ukuse. The group revealed that between 05 April – May 24 2012, Ukuse had pocketed US$23,451 in public funds. Even more audacious were the reported accounts of Hersi Haji Ali Hassan, the Minister of the Office of the President, who allegedly stashed away US$1,235,000 in public funds between 16 March 2011 – 20 July 2012. After publishing the aforementioned bank details, the group purporting to be Anonymous released an online statement which said: “months of fun against these guys who support Terror on earth, we just decided that it was time to destroy them”. Furthermore, the hackers claimed they had “planted cyber bombs” and promised that if the bank “consulted IT experts” these bombs would be “detonated”. The group further announced: “If you want us to immediately stop this cyber-sabotage, it’s quite easy .We just ask you to stop lying, to recognize your help with Somalia terror, and to officially change your behavior. We need a public message from you, as a proof”. As if to create further intrigue around the hacking incident, the group signed the public statement, by claiming it is now waging a “War on Terror”.
The Work of the US Government?
When news that Dahabshiil’s accounts had been infiltrated spread, Somali officials tried desperately to assuage the public’s fears that Dahabshiil, as an institution, was safe, and that the “threat” was greatly “exaggerated”. Dahabshiil representatives also went on the public offensive, announcing that the bank would “continue to work closely with the relevant authorities to ensure that we identify those responsible”. But who, exactly, was responsible? Although Somali authorities were at first quick to point out that Anonymous had indeed been responsible for the cyber attack, suspicions began to mount. For one, Anonymous has never publicly targeted terror groups, preferring instead, to focus on civil rights movements, Western multinational corporations, or governments which engage in perceived human rights violations. The attacks have the hallmarks of a Western-led cyber attack, indeed the language allegedly attributed to the group is written in arguably “American-style” English. Although this doesn’t necessarily prove that Anonymous was not responsible (it must a considerable number of Anonymous’ members are from the US), there are indications that the attacks may be the work of the US Government. The fact that “Anonymous” used the phrase “War on Terror” in its statements, and given that the US has reportedly conducted cyber attacks at other international actors (hint: Iran), there may be credence to this suggestion. Furthermore, the US has already threatened to close Somali banks as part of its anti-terror campaign. Indeed, in January 2012, The Inkerman Group reported that Sunrise Community Bank, the largest bank which allows Americans to send money to Somalia, announced that it would stop the transfer of money to the country in an effort to comply with stringent US anti-terror laws. Sunrise’s decision was likely related to earlier accusations from the US Government that it had helped launder money for al Shabaab, a charge it vehemently denied.
Damage Done: Somalis Suffer Amid Economic No Man’s Land
Despite the US’ continued focus on Somalia-linked banks, suggestions that the US Government or those working for Washington, were behind the latest alleged Anonymous attacks, at this stage, remain mere speculation. It must also be noted that no single person can actually “join” Anonymous as, in the truest sense, it is not a tangible organisation. There are no leaders, and interested members need only to claim they are a part of group: “Nobody could say: you are in, or you are out. Do you still want to join Anonymous? Well, you are in if you want to”. Nevertheless, it is clear that the US, Kenya and its regional allies, are continuing to wage an all out assault on al Shabaab, and Dahabshiil is part of that campaign. Dahabshiil’s representatives know this, and have repeatedly denied any and all associations with the terror group considered the Horn of Africa’s most menacing organisation. In a recently published statement, the bank claimed that it had never been “the subject of any investigation in relation to alleged terrorist funding and we have no involvement whatsoever with money laundering or the funding of terrorist organisations”. However, the damage to the bank, as well’s Somalia’s economic infrastructure (or what remains of it), has been done. A number of Somalia’s youth have already taken to YouTube to voice their disapproval of Dahabshiil, claiming that the bank finances al Shabaab, a group which has been blamed by many for destabilising Somalia. Meanwhile, other Somalis wait for their new government, sworn in on 20 August 2012, to create a system of financial regulations, in a country where citizens are currently unable to make loans.
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