Somali insurgents making own explosives

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Somali Islamist insurgents are making their own explosives, a confidential U.N. report seen by Reuters said, as they mount more frequent and deadly attacks.

The findings are a blow for internationally backed efforts to fight the al Shabaab insurgency, which has repeatedly carried out attacks in East Africa and launched dozens in Somalia this year despite an increase in US air strikes.

“For the first time, post-blast laboratory analyses indicate a clear shift in al Shabaab construction methods, away from the use of military grade explosives to HME (home-made explosives),” said a confidential report by the UN panel of experts on Somalia.

“Information from a range of explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) experts suggests a probable connection between the development of HME by al Shabaab and recent increased frequency of major attacks in Mogadishu.”

The analysis was based on at least 20 attacks since July 2018, the report said.

It specify who did the analysis, but footnotes cite the UN Mine Action Service, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and experts identified only by the dates of interviews.

The UN panel declined to comment and the organisations did not respond to questions from Reuters.

Somali government officials could not be reached for comment. Lieutenantt Colonel Charles Imbiakha, spokesman for the African Union peacekeeping force AMISOM, said it could not comment because it had not seen the report.

Al Shabaab, which wants to rule Somalia in line with a strict interpretation of sharia law, carried out at least 19 attacks with vehicle-borne bombs that have killed more than five people in Mogadishu since September, the report found.

Hitherto, the insurgency mostly relied on military-grade explosives, laboriously harvested by specialists from ordnance such as mines or mortars captured from soldiers or peacekeepers.

Attacks have become more frequent and in some cases more lethal – most notably the truck bomb that killed more than 500 people in October 2017 at a junction where street vendors were selling petrol.

Experts long suspected the bomb may have used some home-made explosives, but no evidence was made public.

The UN panel report does not offer evidence but notes al Shabaab would have needed explosives from approximately 6,000 mortars to carry out a blast of that size.

It said al Shabaab bomb makers were mixing highly explosive nitro-glycerine with ammonium nitrate or potassium nitrate – used in fertiliser – and charcoal, although it did not give a source.

A raid on an underground site in Mogadishu last month recovered components and chemicals including aluminium paste, which can enhance the thermal effect of a detonation, the report said.

There are no public statistics on bombings in Somalia. The US Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Organisation, part of the Pentagon, said it did not track bombings and the Somali government does not release statistics.