POLITICS

Somalia's deputy leader says al-Shabab militants on their 'last legs'

10/01/2013 03:54 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST
OTTAWA - Somali militants al-Shabab are on their "last legs," the East African country's deputy leader said Tuesday, a little more than a week after the al-Qaida splinter group stormed a shopping mall and left dozens dead — including two Canadians.

"Al-Shabab are on their last legs. They lost numbers, they lost morale, they lost ground," Somali deputy prime minister Fawzia Yusuf Adam said during a visit to Ottawa.

"They are only in small pockets. So, we are not worried about them ... we are in control of the situation."

Al-Shabab — which translates to "the youth" in English — arose from chaos that gripped Somalia after armed warlords ousted the country's longtime military dictator from power in 1991.

The Islamic militant group, which once controlled large swaths of Somalia, had been considered to be on the run, thanks largely to the efforts of an African Union military force backed by the United States and other western governments.

The Conservative government in 2010 added al-Shabab to Canada's list of terrorist organizations.

Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack on Nairobi's Westgate Mall in neighbouring Kenya that left more than 60 people dead and scores of others wounded.

But Adam said Somalia's fledgling government, which is strapped for cash and exerts little control beyond the capital of Mogadishu, needs help from other countries to finish off al-Shabab once and for all.

"What we need from the international community is to assist and support and understand that Somalia needs its security forces to be integrated and save their country," she said.

"We are now depending on the African Union and the troop contribution ... but what we need is to stand on our feet and defend our shores and defend our ground and finish al-Shabab altogether."

To that end, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird announced Canada plans to spend $6 million on security, conflict management and human rights in Somalia, with another $500,000 being spent to prevent forced child marriages.

Baird said that while there has been "good progress" against al-Shabab, terrorism knows no borders and is not unique to Somalia.

"Terrorism — whether it's al-Shabab in East Africa, Boko Haram in Nigeria, terrorism in the Sahel, whether it's the Air India bombing in Canada 25, 30 years ago — this is a huge global challenge and it requires all of us to work together," he said.

Adam also said the rampant piracy that was once the scourge of companies whose shipping trade routes passed through the Horn of Africa has all but vanished.

"We also have defeated piracy in Somalia. It's zero now," she said.

"There has been no ships captured since the last 15 months. Somalia is coming back as a normal country, a normal state."