arms trafficking to Somalia

Political Violence at Sea | Volume 3

October 14, 2020

A newsletter dedicated to providing curated news and analysis on terrorism and other acts of political violence in the maritime domain.

This is the third edition of a monthly newsletter that will highlight recent newsworthy events and developments in the activities of violent non-state actors at sea. It will serve as a platform for ongoing analysis as we expand the scope of existing research focused on combating maritime terrorism. We hope that it provides insights and analysis which will help to inform security decision-making both at sea and on land.

Have a tip or an article you’d like to see featured in this newsletter? Email news and suggestions to or Tweet @stableseas.

Featured Content: Following the Money: The Use of the Hawala Remittance System in the Yemen–Somalia Arms Trade

global-initiaitve-follow-moneyThe Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime has released a report investigating the arms trade between groups in Yemen and Somalia. Both countries are facing prolonged insurgencies with activity by multiple violent non-state actors including al-Shabaab and Islamic State affiliates. The arms smuggling between these locations has been instrumental in perpetrating the conflict and in providing much-needed funding.

“The ubiquity of small arms and light weapons in Yemen, as well as centuries-old cultural and commercial ties with Somalia, has made Yemen the primary source for illicit arms among Somali importers. Consignments of small arms and ammunition from Yemen cross the Gulf of Aden in a matter of hours to the northern coast of Puntland, a semi-autonomous region in northern Somalia. The port city of Bosaso, Puntland’s largest city and commercial capital, is the financial epicentre of the illicit trade. Arms from Yemen fuel the ongoing civil conflict in Somalia, and many are believed to be transported on throughout the broader East Africa region.”

Left: Cover of Following the Money, Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime. 




US Secretary of Defense to Visit Maghreb

This week, US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper will be visiting Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. During his tour, Esper hopes to foster stronger cooperation between the US and the Maghreb for both regional stability and counterterrorism operations. In the days following Esper’s visit, the United States and Morocco announced a defense cooperation roadmap to help promote security and stability. Morocco and the US have a long history of maritime cooperation including one of Africa’s largest cooperative security exercises, Operation African Lion.

US Defense Secretary to Visit Maghreb Countries to Boost Security & Military Cooperation, North Africa Post, September 29, 2020.

U.S., Morocco Chart Defense Cooperation Through 2030, Jim Garamone for DoD News, October 2, 2020.



Natural Gas, Mozambique, and Security Corridors

Total, a French energy company with significant investments in Mozambique’s offshore liquid natural gas, has stepped up its efforts to cooperate with the government of Mozambique. Total has agreed to provide logistical support for government efforts to secure the offshore sites. However, some analysts issued warnings around the "Iraqification" of the region and that security corridors created cater to international energy companies at the expense of local communities.

French Oil Group Total Steps Up Security Co-operation with Mozambique, Turan Gafarli for The Union Journal, September 3, 2020.

Insurgent Group Holds Port City

Mozambique’s government has requested counterterrorism assistance from the EU after its attempts to regain control over the port town of Mocímboa da Praia were rebuffed. Ansar al-Sunna, the insurgent group responsible for the violence in northern Mozambique, has been in control of the small port for several weeks and will likely remain so for the time being. Additionally, Ansar al-Sunna has been making slow headway towards the larger, and more important, port city of Pemba.

If the insurgents are able to maintain this offensive with little resistance, it is ever more likely that they will attack and attempt to occupy a larger port such as Palma or Pemba. If occupied, Palma will be an incredibly important loss to the government of Mozambique for a multitude of reasons, including the proximity of the nascent liquefied natural gas infrastructure.

Attacks in Cabo Delgado, Ilódio Bata for Carta de Moçambique, September 22, 2020.

Cabo Ligado Weekly: 21-27 September 2020, ACLED, September 29, 2020.


Nine al-Qaeda Operatives Arrested

Nine men were arrested in India and stand accused of planning lone-wolf style attacks across the country. Multiple locations targeted for attack were identified, including the Kochi naval base and shipyard. Bomb-making material was also seized during the arrests. Reports indicate that several of the accused were involved in fundraising efforts and planned to travel New Delhi in order to procure arms and ammunition.

NIA Arrests 9 al Qaeda Operatives After Raids in West Bengal, Kerala, Ramesh Babu for Hindustan Times, September 19, 2020.


Houthi Arms Shipment Interdicted

A boat carrying weapons and related equipment and crewed by a Houthi-connected smuggling cell was interdicted by the Yemeni National Resistance Forces. The interdiction, which occurred in the Bab-al-Mandeb Strait, follows a series of several other arms shipments seized over the past three months.

Yemeni Coast Guards Thwart Iran Arms Smuggling Attempt, Samir Salama for Gulf News, September 15, 2020.


Qatar Navy’s First Offshore Patrol Vessel

Launched in La Spezia, Italy, Qatar’s new offshore patrol vessel (OPV), the Musherib, will be delivered in 2022. The vessel is one of two OPVs that Qatar ordered from Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri. It will be equipped to handle a variety of missions including warfighting and surveillance. The vessel will be crewed by 38 and is able to launch a rigid-hulled inflatable boat.

Fincantieri Launches Qatar’s First Offshore Patrol Vessel, NavalTechnology, September 21, 2020.


FSO Safer Degrades

During a meeting with the UN Security Council, the Saudi Arabian UN Ambassador provided claims from experts that a pipeline attached to the FSO Safer has separated and is now floating in the sea and leaving oil spots. As the FSO Safer continues to degrade, the possibility of an environmental disaster increases. The oil in its holds would not only cause untold damage to the region but would hinder development of the blue economy, impact fisheries, and slow maritime traffic.

The FSO Safer sits off the shore of Yemen in Houthi-controlled waters. An agreement between the UN and the Houthis that promised an inspection of the FSO Safer, which last underwent maintenance in 2015, failed to materialize.

Additionally, the Egyptian Environment Minister reinforced the concerns of Saudi Arabia and stressed the need for a resolution as soon as possible. Until an agreement is reached and held, the FSO Safer continues to pose an incredibly potent threat to the region’s maritime health and security.

Saudis Warn U.N. of Oil Spot in Shipping Lane Near Decaying Yemen Tanker, Michelle Nichols for Thomson Reuters, September 23, 2020.

Arab Parliament Speaker Urges Swift Action on FSO Safer, The National, September 26, 2020.

Egypt Urges Action to Avoid Potential Safer Oil Tanker Disaster in Red Sea, Amr Mohamed Kandil for Ahram Online, September 22, 2020.


India Joins Djibouti Code of Conduct

Following a high-level meeting in August, India has joined the Djibouti Code of Conduct (DCOC) as an observer. India is the latest member of the group which strives to increase regional maritime security cooperation in the Western Indian Ocean Region, the Gulf of Aden, and the Red Sea.

The DCOC emphasizes the blue economy and supports efforts towards sustainable growth and stability. The DCOC also calls on member states to protect against maritime terrorism and transnational organized crime.

India Joins Djibouti Code of Conduct as Observer, Sangeeta Nair for Jagran Josh, September 16, 2020.



Terrorist Sub-Commander Arrested

Philippines National Police arrested Idang Susukan, a sub-commander of the Abu Sayyaf group infamous for their kidnapping-for-ransom schemes. Susukan is a longtime member of Abu Sayyaf and has participated in kidnapping for ransom and clashes with government forces. His long career of organized political violence was facilitated by insufficient maritime domain awareness in the Sulu and Celebes seas.

Notorious Islamic State Kidnapper Arrested in the Philippines—Idang Susukan, John Foulkes for The Jamestown Foundation, September 3, 2020.

Joint Task Force Pursues Abu Sayyaf

Scout Rangers of Joint Task Force Sulu overran an Abu Sayyaf camp in the Philippines’ Sulu Province. Following a bomb attack committed by Abu Sayyaf on the town of Jolo in August, the joint task force has been aggressively pursuing and uprooting Abu Sayyaf members and strongholds. To do so, Joint Task Force Sulu has utilized land, sea, and air resources in a holistic approach to countering terrorism, which has likely made their efforts more efficient.

On September 28, the joint task force killed sub-group commander Arsibar Sawadjaan as operations against Abu Sayyaf continue.

Scout Rangers Overrun Sulu ASG Camp Where Top Bomber Hid, Frances Mangosing and Julie Alipala for The Inquirer, September 22, 2020.

Abu Sayyaf Sub-Leader Killed in Sulu Clash - Military, CNN Philippines, September 28, 2020.

Bomb Attack Foiled

A security team with a bomb-sniffing dog discovered a bomb while patrolling a wharf in Jolo, the site of a bombing on August 24, 2020. This bomb was located on an approach to a passenger ferry and was placed next to the offices of the harbor master and the maritime police. Although there has been no official confirmation, Abu Sayyaf is the most likely culprit.

Abu Sayyaf Group Exploits Phillippine Maritime Soft Targets, Jay Benson for Analyzing War, October 1, 2020.

Philippines: Sulu Bomb Attack Foiled, Counter-IED Report, September 21, 2020.


Philippines’ Armed Forces Seek Holistic Counterterrorism Strategy

Armed forces chief Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay is asking for maritime operations to have a more active role in counterterrorism operations. Specifically, he is requesting more cooperation and integration between the Philippine National Police, the navy, and the coast guard in order to preserve maritime security and protect coastlines and maritime borders.

Lt. Gen. Gapay has called for securing the waterways in which the terrorists maneuver and for increased regulations on ammonium nitrate, which is used to manufacture IEDs. This approach will allow the Philippine government to use a more efficient strategy in their confrontations with the entrenched terror groups that have long plagued the region.

More Active Role Sought for PNP, Navy, Coast Guard in Anti-Terror Drive, Victor Reyes and Jocelyn Montemayor for Malaya Business Insight, September 1, 2020.

Upgrades to Philippine Navy

Within the next two years, the Philippine Navy expects to add a variety of new resources to help better combat maritime terrorism and organized criminal networks who exploit the maritime domain. These resources are expected to include naval platforms such as Fast Attack Interdiction Craft, Marine Corps Combat Raid and Interdiction Boats, and Small Unit Riverine Craft.

Efforts over the previous several years have reduced the ability of terrorists and criminals to exploit weak maritime domain awareness and have reduced incidents of kidnapping, terrorism, and robbery at sea. These new resources will increase the ability of the navy and marines to accomplish their mission to provide maritime security.

New PH Navy Assets to Beef Up Capabilities Vs. Lawless Elements, Priam Nepomuceno for Philippine News Agency, September 2, 2020.


The South China Sea, ASEAN, and UNCLOS

At the ASEAN Regional Forum, the Malaysian government reaffirmed interest in resuming negotiations on the Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. As part of his speech at the forum, Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein highlighted several issues of maritime security and terrorism in the region, including the exploitation of Rohingya by human traffickers and the growing threat of maritime terrorism.

SCS Must Be Maintained as Sea of Peace, Stability, Trade, Hana Naz Harun for New Straits Times, September 12, 2020.



New Ships for USMC

A recent review of naval shipbuilding plans revealed new classes of ships for use by the US Marine Corps. The ships include a Light Amphibious Warship and a Medium Logistics Ship for transporting and supporting small groups of marines who are deployed away from the fleet.

To mitigate costs, the marine corps has divested from Abrams tanks, bridge-building equipment, and some helicopter squadrons. As the US Marine Corps begins to pivot back towards a force concentrated on the land-sea nexus, this change adds to the capability of their new role as a highly mobile, beach-storming force.

New Ships In Navy Plan = No "Slaughter Across The Beach" For Marines, Paul McLeary for Breaking Defense, September 23, 2020.

New Marine Corps Unit

A new unit, the Marine Littoral Regiment, is being formed in order to better respond to growing great-power competition and combat the threat of maritime terrorism and other land-sea nexus vulnerabilities. No timeline has been announced but the planning has been in process for a year.

These Marine Expeditionary Forces Are Creating New War Plans with Navy Fleets to Counter China, Todd South for Marine Corps Times, September 23, 2020.

UAVs Repurposed for Maritime Operations

Three MQ-9 Reaper drones, previously used in the war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan, have been supporting Operation Agile Reaper, a counterinsurgency training exercise held in September off the coast of California. The drones have been conducting close air support, search and rescue, maritime interdiction, and reconnaissance and surveillance operations.

Although the drones have already been heavily utilized in counterinsurgency operations, their pivot towards maritime operations will expand the scope of their use and help with combating maritime terrorism around the world. As these operations and exercises continue, it is likely that new and innovative uses for the Reapers will be identified.

Unmanned Aircraft That Saw Heavy Combat in the Global War on Terrorism Are Now Headed to Sea, Seth Robinson for Stars and Stripes, September 26, 2020.