Mogadishu Massacre: Policy, Policing and Intelligence Failures – Mohamed Omar Hashi


by Mohamed Omar Hashi

In Mogadishu, Somalia, a huge truck bomb loaded with homemade explosives was detonated by a terror group known as Al-Shabaab, near a fuel tanker, Zoobe Junction, one of Mogadishu’s vital arteries, destroying nearby buildings, including shops and hotels, and emitting trails of dark, thick smoke into the sky. After the dust had settled, it is believed that nearly 400 civilians lost their lives, and over 400 were injured. It was the most deadly attack to occur in Somalia. Most of the victims have been burned beyond recognition. On 28 October, 2017, just two weeks after the massacre, a suicide car bomb exploded outside a popular hotel known as Nasa-Hablod hotel two, close to the presidential palace, killing at least 13 innocent victims and wounding more than 16 people. Two more blasts were heard, one when an attacker detonated a suicide vest – sending more victims to the hospitals that were already jammed with casualties.

The failure to protect civilians is attributed to poor leadership. Failure of leadership goes beyond just one or two individuals within the government, or specific political leaders, it refers to management at all levels. For instance, the attack indicates the failure of the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Internal Security, the National Intelligence and Security (NISA), the national police force, and the military leadership of the country, due to lack of security strategy and poor communication and coordination between security services. This includes a failure to be proactive in effectively addressing the problem of insecurity to the extent that various violent crimes, including bomb blasts, killings and assassinations have continued unabated without being addressed, detected, or the culprits and perpetrators apprehended and brought to justice. Likewise, it is the failure of the head of the judiciary that accused or apparent convicts are not being put on trial and punished promptly to serve as a warning to others with such intentions.

In addition, it was a failure by the policymakers acting on behalf of the Mayor of Mogadishu as well as the NISA Mogadishu division and the police division in Mogadishu, that they were not successful in their duties to secure the city and protect its citizens – failing to look into fundamental security policy failure inherited from previous administrations, due to a lack of clear-cut goals, visions, delivery, and the intersection of every stage of the policy process. This sits within the context of an absence of clear direction on policy mission. It is clear that the resultant confusion stemmed from unclear policy, and lack of judicial accuracy. The point that these security and intelligence failures continue to occur indicates that something is not functioning at the highest levels, and that large-scale, essential reform to the security policies are required.

The first and most critical step in averting future crises is to analyse past failures, which may provide guidance for change, and reduce threats and vulnerabilities. The primary and most vital issue is failed policing and intelligence strategy, in addition to policy failure. This article thus argues that poor policies, at all levels, is the primary barrier to progress and security in Somalia. Although there is presently an elevated fear of further attacks, it is important to separate this from the present problems; as such, this article examines three dimensions of the Mogadishu Massacre: policy failure, intelligence failure, and policing failure.

 Failure of Policy 

The attack that took place in Somalia on 14 October, 2017, shocked the whole country. But even more worrying are the failures of the policy, policing and intelligence to avert the events of that day. Throughout the years thousands of citizens were killed, not on a battleground, but in their own homes, in hotels, restaurants, and shops etc. They were slaughtered by a terrorist group that had sworn that such an attack would take place, and which was not able to be averted. Despite the countless onslaughts and growing and endless narratives of grief and loss, there are still lack of systematic review and reform. The citizens are desperate for peace and grief has already mobilised higher-level defences such as altruism. Grief and loss leads to a mourners’ desire to do for others what was not done for him or her.

A necessary part of turning grief into social action is the creation of a coherent grief narrative-first personal and then political. Instead, out of all previous terror attacks, government officials have failed to meet the citizens expectations and restricted their post-terror responses to the narrative of “condolences and condemnations” – failing to lead the nation by helping mourners turn passivity into activity. Due to ineffective leadership and policy, mourners’ are therefore paralysed. For instance, not a single internal event evaluation of intelligence, policy, or security failure has been initiated in response to any of the many terror attacks in the country. In the end, accountability for security lies with the government.

Although on the surface, police and intelligence failures may seem to have directly led to the Mogadishu Massacre, it is not enough to place the blame solely on the police or the intelligence communities. It is essential to uncover other elements and forces that seemed to be acting alongside or simultaneously to the intelligence and policymaking communities. For defence matters as well as national security, the organs and instruments that enable policy to achieve its purported objectives are by definition organizations. If the policy goals are strong, and a clear policy has been developed in earnest, the intended aims ought to be realised. However, when policy goals are uncertain and/or the actual policies established to achieve them are inappropriate or not suited to the task, this maintains a characteristic absence of means-ends alignment.

However, the causes of the Mogadishu Massacre go beyond lack of policing, and beyond strategic and tactical intelligence catastrophes, which can be attributed to either a failure of policing, information collection, analysis, or sharing. There is a wider lack of political vision, as well as an inability to initiate an efficient response, meaning vicious attacks by this terror group have increased in frequency, influence, now taking place on a nearly daily basis. As such failed policies, more than anything else is the bane of our National security and progress. Despite the rapid decline in security, no efficient counter-strategy or related regulations have been put place. As such, national security fears, particularly fear of terrorism, will likely continue. To succeed in these aims, government leaders ought to analyse both policy and delivery.

Police Failure

The terror attacks are in part a result of the failures of the police force. The Somali police and counterterrorism officials have remained silent about their inability to predict and prevent attacks such as Mogadishu, and the urgent need for security sector reform. The Mogadishu Massacre indicates that within the country, arguably even within Mogadishu, the exchange of information between the various authorities involved in policing and counterterrorism is not functional or effective, constituting a systemic failure of coordination between security institutions.

The performance of the police is unsatisfactory; the police are ineffective and inefficient in their tasks, namely crime prevention, criminal investigation, and response to distress calls by citizens. Their poor performance is due to several factors, but mainly to a lack of development of productive and social infrastructure; inappropriate policing strategies; inadequate intelligence gathering, analysis, and utilisation of skills and facilities; inadequacy of officers, in terms of quality and training at various ranks; poor training and conditions of service; lack of public co-operation; grossly inadequate logistics; poor remuneration and a consequent lack of motivation within the force and amongst superior officers. For instance, according to sources close to the government, the truck carrying explosives was stopped at two checkpoints on its way into the city, but was allowed to continue without any inspection of its cargo. The serious concern here is that an ineffective police force cannot guarantee the security of citizens and, as such, cannot command the respect of the public.

As a consequence of these critiques of its performance and integrity, the police force is facing a legitimacy crisis. The legitimacy of the police depends on several factors, including the following: effectiveness and efficiency in the prevention and control of crime, and in the detection, apprehension and prosecution of offenders; scrupulous observance of the rule of law; recognition and protection of the dignity and rights of citizens; accountability to citizens; civility and incorruptibility; and, concern for the general welfare of citizens. When these conditions are satisfied, the public accords the police legitimacy and support, and in turn their performance is enhanced.

Intelligence Failure

The Mogadishu Massacre is an instance of intelligence failure at all level that will require serious investigation in the near future. This post mortem report will be a study of the mistakes that were made in the intelligence cycle that resulted in the security services not identifying the threat.

The Intelligence Service of Somalia is deficient in leadership, manpower, and funding; this, in addition to inadequate intelligence collection skills and resources, has meant that the people of Somalia have suffered immensely. Somalia lacks the infrastructure and human resources to suitably observe, classify, and examine thousands of persons suspected of having links to terrorist organisations. Improving the intelligence sector is thus a critical task, and will require the urgent improvement of key intelligence competences.

Fighting the terror group ought to be the central concern of the Somalian government’s policy aims. The government, as well as its security machine, including the intelligence community, was not able to comprehend that the terrorist organisation is not a backwards, chaotic group. It is in fact a reasonably well organised, sophisticated group that control its members through a programme in line with the transnational’s values.

The head of NISA, Abdillahi Mohamed Sanbalooshe, has become the first government official to break the silence, one that goes beyond “condemnations and condolences” – revealing with gruesome details, the complete absence of security and intelligence capability and the over reliance of foreign support. Mr Sanbalooshe acknowledges the widespread failure and blames lack of resource, expertise and training to handle explosive materials and conduct forensic analysis by acquiring, identifying, preserving, analysing and presenting evidence. Mr Sanbalooshe’s article published by the New York Times, talks about lack of capability to conduct autopsy to uncover evidence of a crime – critiquing the international community for the lack of support and cooperation. Despite breaking the silence, Mr Sanbalooshe oversees two crucial element:

  1. Internal failures: though the intended audience of the article is the international community, Mr Sanbalooshe failed to acknowledge the systematic failure of the security sector of all branches throughout the country including the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Internal Security, the military, police and the intelligence community, as such, the article fails to consider the security failures from holistic perspective. The review of different levels and types of security enables a more comprehensive understanding of vulnerabilities and more comprehensive protection against a variety of threats.
  2. Intelligence failure: While both digital and non-digital forensics are useful in the investigation of Al-Shabaab (such as bomb attacks), assassinations, attacks against national critical infrastructure etc., Mr Sanbalooshe limits the failures to the lack of post-incident investigation capabilities – falling short to acknowledge the wider intelligence failures – ranging from collection to analysis.

The failure to facilitate adequate leadership was compounded by the tendency of higher authorities – even after innumerable prior bombings, which have been taking place nearly every day, higher authorities failed to carry out self-regulating assessments of these security events. Having recognised a tasking failure, it would also seem the failure was magnitude. As will be discussed below, intelligence collection and analysis failures led to not just the Mogadishu Massacre but also all of the other terror attacks.

Intelligence collection and analysis.

One group failure is an intelligence failure, specifically, the failure to gather pertinent information. The intelligence community in Somali has a number of weaknesses, including a lack of HUMINT (human intelligence) collection competences and of an efficient central intelligence machinery, as well as poor intelligence dissemination amongst ministers, and problems with delegation as well as direction.

This review signifies that the failure made in the intelligence collection phase were poor collection mechanism. The intelligence failure was not the lack of warning, but the inability to turn caution into action. These are failures of policy as well as process, more than they are failures of collection.A processing failure is an intelligence failure to study information appropriately, and to make it accessible to the relevant groups. Though information was accessible, there was lack of a parallel capability to examine it. Intelligence analysts ought to be capable of distinguishing between genuine signs of an imminent attack, and ‘noise’, which consists of extraneous messages or those sent deliberately to mislead intelligence professionals. The true signals are always entrenched in the noise and insignificance of false ones. There is substantial noise before attacks, including the Mogadishu Massacre. Through increased communication between terrorist cells, the intelligence community can identify that an attack is imminent; however, they do not know any details about the nature of the attack.

Prejudices can result in self-deception, similarly, though, tactical innovation may obstruct an accurate evaluation of intelligence. Before the Mogadishu Massacre, and numerous other attacks, the intelligence community was cognisant that an attack was imminent; still, the intelligence community did not know the extent to which the terror group had organised units to prepare for and conduct the strategic surprise.

To carry out this kind of synchronised attack requires patience, planning, as well as great secrecy. It will have relied upon operatives employing false names, codes, disguises, cover identities, business fronts, as well as other counterintelligence (IC) strategies, such as information as well as personnel compartmentalisation. Sleeper cells have also been widely used to provide the operational infrastructure that is essential for sudden surprise attacks. Business as well as other fronts will have made it possible to raise funds to meet the living expenses of the terrorists, and for the acquisition of weapons as well as bomb-making materials required for an operation.

On the basis of the above, it is known that denial, deception, as well as other counterintelligence tools were built into the doctrine as well as training of Al-Shabaab cells organised across the country, particularly in Mogadishu. The need for compartmentalisation to ensure the security needed for the attack to remain a surprise was vital to the mission. To plan the operation, detached fragments of the network would make contact only when essential in order to organise details, so that intelligence community would have difficulty connecting these communications together.

Al-Shabaab makes use of counterintelligence as well as intelligence tools, in particular renunciation as well as dishonesty, to carry out its lethal attacks. Their ‘cover’, by mixing with the populace, their use of dispersed means of communication, as well as a sophisticated pattern of financial dealings, all contributed to misleading Somali intelligence officials.

Change of strategy

The poor state of security in the country has disgraced Somalia by highlighting the weakness of its security as well as governance system. Hence, the state of insecurity created by the increase and range of violent attacks is primarily the consequence of weak authority, and partially the result of policing, policy and intelligence failure.To evaluate the present state of insecurity, the administrative as well as political leadership ought to show the necessary political will, plus commitment in its pursuit of national security. Both police and intelligence divisions ought to be authorised and skilled in the use of counter-insurgency and enhanced competences for active response, and the elevation of inter-agency teamwork via information-sharing to efficiently counter both current as well as future national and human security threats.

The Somali government needs to understand that security is an essential task requiring investment not only of fiscal but also political capital, and must initiate a systematic transformation in order to respond to the threats that the nation is facing.

It is known that intelligence failures occurred prior to the Mogadishu bombing. By disaggregating the concept of an intelligence failure, failures were found in the tasking, collection, and processing of information. Enhanced control over policing and intelligence in order to prevent future attacks have to focus not only on the intelligence system, but also on the policy-makers. Policy-makers ought to be aware of what they can expect from intelligence, as well as on the relationship between policy and intelligence.

The key step in refining counterterrorism efforts to protect civilians is developing appropriate doctrine which clarifies the role of the police and National Intelligence personnel. This doctrine must be made more comprehensive by measuring as well as improving the intelligence and counterintelligence (CI) policy. This ought to explain the main missions of production, collection, operations, analysis, as well as investigation. The doctrine should force the creation of service competencies to receive, collect, evaluate, analyse, as well as distribute all information on terrorist organisations, their strength, activities, capabilities, current activities, past history, intent in the areas of interest, as well as signs of an imminent attack. Successful prevention of terrorism relies on gathering accurate information as well as preventative measures.

The threats of Al-Shabaab can be sufficiently identified through the use of HUMINT (Human intelligence) sources to gather information as well as carry out vulnerability assessments, investigations, and threat and security surveys. HUMINT has not been assigned importance by the intelligence community, and the HUMINT support was not specific, efficient, or tailored to the nation’s requirements. In its place, standard operating measures specifying standard as well as routine defensive approaches, plus access control were applied. HUMINT’s ability to predict how, where and when a terrorist attack may occur are currently being overlooked.

NISA does not have organic intelligence competence at a tactical level. It does not have a devoted, organic or intelligence analytical competence. In addition, there is weakness in both the collection and analysis of intelligence. Therefore, there is an urgent requirement for an institute with investigative competences, and the means of organic intelligence collection as well as analysis. It does not have the essential impetus to dedicate resources, time and effort to study and evaluate long-term and mid-term terrorist threats.

The intelligence community was unsuccessful in ensuring that classified information did not reach unintended persons. Where officials have the authority to access confidential information, there is a risk that the information can also be compromised. To prevent this from occurring, and to protect intelligence, the intelligence organisation ought to utilise behavioural/psychological monitoring and evaluation, as well as evaluating those personnel who have a tendency toward disloyalty.

To conclude, unsuccessful security, intelligence and policing programmes, plus policy weakness, threatens citizens’ security and welfare. These are the results of poor leadership, which is characteristic of the nation. The intelligence and police forces are experiencing endemic problems with recruiting, training, inefficiency, indiscipline, and lack of expertise in specialised fields. Corruption and dishonesty are widespread, engendering a low level of public confidence, failure to report crimes, and tendencies for citizens to resort to self-help. As such, the terror group Al-Shabaab is able to operate, in most cases, the community can identify specific involved people, but is deeply fearful of the repercussions of doing so. Hence, both the police and the intelligence forces are failing to create partnerships with local communities and create watch groups, which are an effective means of increasing the capacity of their services, and, as a result, establishing legitimacy amongst residents. It is time for the government to take clear and credible action by reforming both the intelligence and the police forces, and refocusing its attention on the clear challenge they face as they struggle to carry out their statutory responsibility of law enforcement.

Mohamed Omar Hashi was a Member of the Transitional Federal Parliament of Somalia from 2009 to 2012, and holds an M.A. in International Security Studies from the University Of Leicester. He can be reached via E-mail:

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author/authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Ummadda Media.