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Last Updated: Apr 23, 2011 - 2:27:50 PM
Somalia: Al Shabaab rebel Atom 'hiding in Somaliland': Report

SPECIAL REPORT | "Atom is living in Burao and Somaliland authorities have not taken any active steps against him," said a reliable source in Hargeisa.

Garowe Online | Special Report

Reliable sources tell Somali news agency Garowe Online that a man wanted as a terrorist by the Puntland government in Somalia, and whose assets were frozen by the Obama Administration this year, is reportedly "hiding in Somaliland", a self-declared separatist region in northwestern Somalia that is actively seeking U.S. and international aid.

Garowe Online has conducted a months-long investigation into the whereabouts of Mr. Mohamed Said Atom, an arms smuggler allegedly allied to Al Qaeda-linked Al Shabaab insurgents who have been waging war in southern Somalia since 2007.

In July, Mr. Atom declared war on the elected government of Puntland and demanded that the government dismantle its counterterrorism forces, popularly known as PIS forces but renamed by Puntland President Abdirahman Farole as the Puntland Intelligence Agency (PIA) earlier this year.

Puntland's government blames Atom and Al Shabaab for a string of unprecedented bombings and assassinations targeting Puntland government officials, soldiers and civilians in major towns like Bossaso and Garowe, Puntland's state capital.

Last week, Puntland government troops seized the last insurgent outpost in the hilly Galgala area, located around 60km southwest of the Gulf of Aden port city of Bossaso, Puntland's commercial capital. READ: Troops seize 'last insurgent outpost' in Galgala: Puntland general

'Atom fled before Galgala war'

Mr. Atom, the ring-leader of Al Shabaab militants in Galgala who declared war on Puntland, "fled before the Galgala war started" and left his comrades to face Puntland troops alone, according to military sources, who also believe that Atom is hiding in Somaliland-controlled regions.

Security sources say Puntland troops have killed more than 100 militants and captured dozens in a military offensive that began on Aug. 8 to flush out what government officials call Al Shabaab militants led by Atom in the Galgala area.

Atom reportedly "lied" to his comrades-in-arms before Puntland troops began the military offensive targeting his Galgala hideouts, telling his supporters that he will "facilitate the arrival of fighters via Burao town" sent by Al Shabaab insurgent chiefs in Mogadishu, according to sources. Burao is a provincial capital in Togdheer region, controlled by Somaliland authorities.

The alleged Al Shabaab fugitive Atom did not return to Galgala, however, as Puntland troops pushed deeper into the hilly jungles and finally seized the the last insurgent outpost. Government forces are now hunting down the fleeing insurgents, officials say.

Bossaso has enjoyed a respite from bombings and assassinations in recent months as the government’s military crackdown and counterterrorism efforts in major towns is yielding results, according to intelligence sources.

"Atom is living in Burao and Somaliland authorities have not taken any active steps against him," said a reliable source in Hargeisa, adding: "Somaliland authorities are busy reinforcing security in [the capital] Hargeisa but have neglected other regions like Burao."

Last month, fundamental security cracks were revealed after Somaliland's separatist government failed to stop more than 200 heavily armed ONLF rebels from landing along Somaliland shores and traveling by land to cross into Ethiopia.

The ONLF is an ethnic Somali rebel group active in Ethiopia with reportedly close ties to Eritrea, Ethiopia's arch-foe in the volatile Horn of Africa sub-region.

That incident proved to be an embarrassment for Somaliland's new government, led by former clan warlord-turned-President Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo, because Somaliland could not prevent rebels from threatening the security of neighboring states, like Ethiopia, Djibouti and Puntland.

Safe in Somaliland: Al Shabaab wounded fighters

There is reason to believe that Somaliland's government is utilizing most of its resources in securing Hargeisa, the second capital of united Somalia and the seat of Somaliland's separatist administration since the outbreak of the Somali civil war in 1991.

Somaliland President Silanyo is actively campaigning to make Hargeisa a hub for international operations intended for Somalia as a whole, including offices to be used by world governments and organizations such as the United Nations.

However, various sources contacted during Garowe Online's investigation confirmed and corroborated stories that "wounded fighters" arriving from "the Galgala front" are receiving medical treatment in towns under Somaliland control, including Burao and Erigavo.

Somaliland aggressions

Under Somaliland's former president, Mr. Dahir Riyale, Somaliland funded and provided military assistance to Atom's fighters in Galgala, according to Puntland government documents dating back to 2006.

That policy was part of Somaliland's "illegal practice" to destabilize Puntland by using proxies and to turn attention away from the real issue of "Somaliland military aggressions in Sool region," the documents revealed.

It is not clear what connections Mr. Atom might have with Somaliland's new administration under President Silanyo, but Somaliland security forces have raided houses over the past three months in Burao, seizing explosives material and arresting suspects linked to Al Shabaab, according to Somaliland officials.

Since 2007, Burao which is Somaliland's second-largest town has been the primary transit hub in Somalia used by foreign fighters and Somali militants heading to wars in Mogadishu, and more recently, in Galgala area of Puntland.

Somaliland's new Silanyo administration has publicly appealed for what Interior Minister Mohamed Abdi Gabose calls "security cooperation with Puntland," but authorities in Puntland say Somaliland must first take active steps against Al Shabaab elements inside Somaliland.

"Somaliland wants to tell the world that its peaceful, while hiding dangerous elements in major towns like Burao," said a Puntland government official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Ahmed Abdi Godane, the elusive leader of Al Shabaab who hails from Somaliland, was quoted as saying that Al Shabaab insurgents "should not interfere in Somaliland until Puntland is destabilized first."

" Plans to destabilized Puntland have failed and so now Atom and his Al Shabaab supporters have infiltrated a major town in Somaliland," concluded the Puntland government official, whilst referring to Al Shabaab's operations in Burao.

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