Update: Shoulder-fired Missiles in Somalia

In a recent article on the resurgence of Islamic rebels in Somalia, Associated Press reporter Chris Tomlinson provides new information on the shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles allegedly supplied to Somali Islamists last year. Tomlinson claims that the Shabab – the military wing of the Council of Islamic Courts – received 200 shoulder-fired missiles from Eritrea, one of three countries that allegedly shipped missiles to Somalia last year in violation of a long-standing UN arms embargo.

In an email exchange with the FAS, Tomlinson provided additional information about the missiles and preparations for their use against Ethiopian aircraft. According to the veteran journalist, “several of the missiles were test fired in early November at Bur Haqaba in preparation for the intervention by Ethiopian troops. Our reporters in the field witnessed the tests.”

Tomlinson’s article lends support to claims by UN investigators that shoulder-fired missiles were transferred to the CIC last year. While fairly detailed in some respects, the October 2006 report of the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia reveals very little about the specific evidence compiled by investigators. Since the countries implicated in the missile transfers have denied any involvement and UN investigators have released no additional evidence in response to the denials, independent accounts like Tomlinson’s are an important source of clarifying and corroborating information.

The article follows several recent reports of alleged missile attacks in or near the Somali capital of Mogadishu. According to an Associated Press “tally,” at least ten of missiles have been fired, two of which reportedly brought down aircraft. On March 23rd, a Belarusian Ilyushin-76 cargo aircraft crash-landed north of the capital, killing 10 of its 11 crew members. While the cause is still being investigated by the Belarusian government, the director of the aviation department of the Transport and Communications Ministry believes that the plane “was most likely hit by a missile.” A week later, “missile-toting Somali rebels” shot down an Ethiopian helicopter. Its crew was reportedly killed in the crash.

For more information on shoulder-fired missiles in Somalia, see

“Islamic militants rebound in Somalia,” Associated Press (published on Denverpost.com), 27 April 2007.

“Somalia: Don’t Forget about the Missiles….” FAS Strategic Security Blog, 10 January 2007.

“Arms to Somalia: Deja vu,” FAS Strategic Security Blog, 20 November 2006.

Report of the Monitoring Group on Somalia pursuant to Security Council resolution 1676 (2006), October 2006.

For more on arms trafficking in Africa, see

“The Illicit Arms Trade in Africa: A Global Enterprise,” African Analyst, Third Quarter 2006.

“Where Have All the Antonovs Gone? The Illicit Arms Trade in Africa,” FAS Public Interest Report, Winter 2007.

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