Hiiraan Xog, This week Somalia is marking the deadliest terror attack in the country on the 14th October last year which killed about 600 people and injured more than 500. More than a hundred others are still on the missing list because neither their deaths were proved nor their fates found.
The truck bomb, which most of Somali Government officials blamed to be the works of the al-Qaeda-linked militant group al-Shabab, despite the group’s not claiming responsibility, detonated in the midst of a busy junction called K5 in the downtown of Mogadishu after it was stopped.
Both western and local intel officers insist the actual target of the attack to have been a secure compound housing international agencies and troops.
Despite the Attack Day remains to be the Darkest Day of the Somali history, there is a fast need for redoubled efforts to mend the divisions in Somali society and the chronic weaknesses in the security sector that make Al-Shabaab such a persistent threat.
So how Somalis coped that day? What would have been done in a better way to save lives?. We have put those questions to the Former Mayor of Mogadishu Thabit Abdi Mohamed who was among the first respondents of the 14th October tragedy.
Q: We have heard about various numbers of casualties being given by different sides including the media, as the Mayor of Mogadishu on that day, what can you tell us about the exact number of the casualties and how that incident unfolded on that day in Mogadishu?
Thabit: The 14th of October remains a tragedy day for Somalia. I remain personally upset about the high cost of the lives we’ve lost that day. Just ten minutes before the blast, I passed that route and reached my office in Hamarweyne District. It is four kilometers away but to the magnitude of the bomb, it was like the next house. Within minutes I had to become one of the first respondents and when I arrived, I saw the horrible and unimaginable image the place turned to be; the whole area which I just passed with a booming business, traffic with people and cars was in complete collapse. Bodies scattered everywhere. Severely burnt people screaming for help, some of them unidentifiable due to severe injuries they had. There were people- dead and injured trapped in two nearby mosques.
When I saw that atrocious situation, the first thing came to my mind was the enormity of what happened and the lack of emergency preparedness for such disaster by the Local Government and the Federal Government. I first reached out to the media and appealed to the public calling for help to the victims.
We lacked the emergency coordination. We did not have DNA testing mechanism to identify those dead. Personally, I had one thing in front of me: to support the victims.
We have mobilized the locals, especially the Mogadishu youth. We started to register the number casualties by visiting the hospitals. About 600 deaths accounted for. A hundred were missing.
Q: Al-Shabab did not claim that attack but government officials blamed it for them. What do you think? Why the government could not properly investigate so that at least to find out the perpetrators?
Thabit: My administration was not responsible for the security structure of Mogadishu so this was the duty of the Federal Government and therefore such a question should go to them. But if you ask me what I think, I would simply say that it was clear work of al-Shabab.
Q: Now after a year, how do you feel that Mogadishu is not yet well set for countering such tragedy?
Thabit: We must not forget the lives we lost. Never forget. When things happen, you learn from it. I have been a constant campaigner for a devolved security structure from a national level to a district level since we are on war against global terror. The other point is that we must have ownership. I mean by the owner that there should be a responsibility and accountability for the security. You cannot guarantee that nothing will happen but you have guaranteed a willing and change for the status quo. You can convince the citizens that you are trying.
Q: Somalis in the country and across the world stood and united against terror and violence following the 14th October attack by taking to the streets, do you think that unity was spoiled and was not taken advantage by the government by not mobilizing the power of the people to defeat terror groups and make Mogadishu secure from bombing?
Thabit: That unity and power of the people were not used, unfortunately. The best way to take advantage of the power of the people was to implement our security initiative but that did not come about.
Q: Are you planning to run for a presidential position in the 2020 election in Somalia?
Thabit: I personally served for the people. My aim is to continue serving for the people. The future of Somalia will decide itself. I will not be a leader who discourages people who are serving for the people, and I will be someone who apologizes when the need arises to do so.
Q: When will you remove this red bandana on your arm which you started wearing following the 14th October bombing as a symbol of protest?
Thabit: I know this red bandana is now one year old. It makes me and the people who see it feel upset. I will later say when I have to remove it from my arm.
Q: What would be your message to the Somali people and those in Mogadishu today?
Thabit: My message is that we must learn from everything that happened on us. Finally let me say that governance is the people. The youth is for today and they have to prepare for the future.
By: Abdalla Ahmed Mumin