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Murky Arms Traffic Plagues Somalia

Storyline:National News

Since leaving Somalia in the 1990s, Musa Haji Mohamed Ganjab has been a landlord and entrepreneur and served as a representative of the Somali government, which the U.S. is backing to fight the jihadist group al-Shabaab.

He also has ordered that arms intended for Somalia’s government be delivered instead to an al-Shabaab commander, a confidential United Nations report alleges.

This is just one of the discussions, the report says, that Mr. Ganjab has had about illegally arming groups in Somalia, including the government.

The report shows the complexity of the struggle against extremism in Somalia, a country that is a U.S. national-security concern because of its local al Qaeda-linked group. Al-Shabaab recently launched two attacks just across the border in Kenya in which it slaughtered all non-Muslims, including killing 36 at a quarry-worker camp early this month and more than two dozen in an attack on a bus in November. On Christmas Day, it attacked an African Union base in Mogadishu, killing three soldiers.

President Barack Obama has cited America’s antiterrorism approach in Somalia as an example of how to battle Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, a strategy combining U.S. air power with supporting local ground forces. The confidential U.N. report—now in the hands of the Security Council, and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal—shows how murky relationships among politicians, clans and militia leaders can complicate the effort. For example, South African security officials were involved in some of the discussions Mr. Ganjab had about arming Somali factions, according to U.N. documents and people familiar with the matter.

Mr. Ganjab, who lives in South Africa, denied he has dealt in arms. “Not even a Kalashnikov,” he said in an interview near his home in Johannesburg.

He said some emails the U.N. relied on were faked, including one linking him to arming al-Shabaab, and some were hacked. He called himself a victim of a conspiracy by inspectors monitoring an arms embargo on Somalia that has been in place for two decades.

Somalia’s government didn’t respond to requests for comment. Its state minister of defense, Mohamed Ali Haga, in a recent interview labeled U.N. arms-embargo inspectors obstacles to the anti-Shabaab fight who want to “tie the government’s hands behind their back.”

The U.N. report comes as U.S. relations with Somalia are under some strain. Although the U.S. in October went along with an embargo exception that lets the government import certain weapons, Washington last month pulled senior diplomats out of a Somalia-aid meeting after Somalia’s president objected to U.S. criticism of his government, said people familiar with the event. Spokesmen for President Hasan Sheikh Mohamud didn’t reply to requests for comment.

A State Department spokesman said that “because Somalia’s leadership is distracted with political division, the United States did not see the utility in sending a delegation” to the aid meeting. In recent months, President Mohamud has been at odds with various officials in his government over who would occupy certain official roles.

As for the U.N. report, a State Department official familiar with it said U.S. diplomats find it credible.

Since a civil war broke out in Somalia in 1991, thousands have left the country for the U.S. or Europe. Mr. Ganjab said he lived in Romania and Canada before settling in South Africa, where he acquired an office building and set up an investment fund.

“I’m a businessman,” he said in the interview, dressed in a blazer and plaid shirt. “It’s businessmen who bring together the world.”

Al-Shabaab sprang up in the early 2000s and later began imposing Taliban-style rule in areas where it gained control. The U.S. deemed it a terrorist organization in 2008.

A peacekeeping force sent by the African Union then created enough stability to revive some business-minded expatriates’ interest in the country. Mr. Ganjab became an official Somali “liaison” to South Africa in 2010, according to a Somali government document sent to a South African diplomat.

Mr. Ganjab initially denied having been a Somali government representative, but when shown the document said he used to be but isn’t anymore. “To represent the Somali government is a crime?” he asked.

Mr. Ganjab said he is close to President Mohamud and once started a now-closed business with a presidential adviser. The adviser, Abdullahi Haider, said they weren’t business partners because the business never took off.

Mr. Ganjab also has worked with a Maryland law firm that has been trying to recover for Somalia assets frozen by foreign countries, according to a separate U.N. report as well as to the law firm and to Mr. Ganjab.

The recent confidential U.N. report linked him to other ventures. It said that in a September 2009 email, Mr. Ganjab and another man discussed moving “several tons of ammunition and weapons” to militia commanders affiliated with Mr. Ganjab’s Somali clan. At the time, arms shipments to anyone in Somalia, including the government, were prohibited by the embargo.

Somali government forces and African Union peacekeepers stacked weapons as they patrolled a street in Mogadishu during a security operation earlier this year. ENLARGE

Somali government forces and African Union peacekeepers stacked weapons as they patrolled a street in Mogadishu during a security operation earlier this year. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Also in the U.N. report are emails purportedly showing that two al-Shabaab commanders emailed Mr. Ganjab on Oct. 8, 2010, about meetings in Malaysia discussing aid for al-Shabaab. The emails referred to a supposed deal for “medicine of various types” and one said that “the support you give us today will be recorded in history.” Mr. Ganjab declined to comment on the authenticity of the 2009 and 2010 emails.

One of the 2010 emails indicates Mr. Ganjab forwarded it to a South African diplomat, Fury Malebogo. Mr. Malebogo wouldn’t comment on that but said Mr. Ganjab worked with him as a link to South Africa’s Somali community.

On Dec. 7, 2012, according to the U.N. report, Mr. Ganjab discussed Somali arms at a meeting with a South African private-security company and a onetime mercenary. That former mercenary is a South African ex-soldier named Eeben Barlow, according to two people with knowledge of the meeting. Mr. Ganjab said he was working for Somalia’s president to obtain “secret military support to the Somali government,” including guns and guerrilla-warfare training, the report said.

Mr. Barlow told Mr. Ganjab that would require U.N. certification the shipments were legal, said a person familiar with the meeting.

This person also said a South African government official brokered the meeting and attended. Spokesmen for South Africa’s government didn’t respond to requests for comment.

It wasn’t clear from the U.N. report whether the plans cited in the 2009, 2010 and 2012 emails were carried out.

Mr. Ganjab said he was never involved in any talks on arms for Somalia but had meetings around 2012 about starting a security company to work there. “I am a businessman. I can meet with a security company,” he said.

Last year, the Security Council modified the embargo to legalize the sale of certain weapons to Somalia’s government. Legitimate shipments quickly began being diverted to armed factions, diplomats said.

The U.N. report said Mr. Ganjab discussed diverting a shipment last year. In emails in October 2013, it said, he ordered a brother of his to take part of an arms shipment to the government and distribute a portion to a onetime militia leader named Abdi Hasan Awale Qeybdiid who is now a regional government official, and a portion to an al-Shabaab commander called Sheikh Yusuf Isse.

The report said U.N. investigators confirmed the distribution of weapons to Sheikh Isse, also known as Kabukadukade. He couldn’t be reached for comment.

U.N. investigators also confirmed that Mr. Qeybdiid received guns from the shipment, the report said. Mr. Qeybdiid, a Somali provincial leader who two decades ago fought U.S. troops, said in a telephone interview he didn’t receive any arms from outside Somalia.

Mr. Ganjab called the October 2013 emails fakes. His brother, Abukar Ganjab, hung up on a reporter.

The U.N. investigators gave their report to the Security Council in October. A few days later, it voted to continue the embargo exception that lets the government import some weapons. The U.S. joined in the vote.

Source: Wall Street Journal