Somalia’s government Saturday threatened to sanction businesses that pay extortion money to al-Shabab, looking to choke a lucrative cash pipeline the Islamist militants use to fund a deadly insurgency.
Somalia’s ministry of commerce and industry said the full force of the law would be brought against traders who pay the al-Qaida ally, which experts say raises millions of dollars through a complex and extensive taxation system.
The ministry said any business found to have paid or collaborated with al-Shabab in any way would “face legal action” including having their government-issued trading permits revoked.
“Any merchant who obeys instructions issued by the terrorists, and pays them income, will never be allowed to do business in Somalia again,” the ministry said in a letter to traders.
“Any company found to involve members of al-Shabab, or that sponsors their merchandise, will have their property including real estate confiscated by the government.”
Al-Shabab has been trying to overthrow the central government in Mogadishu for more than 15 years and regularly stages deadly bombings and armed attacks on civilian and military targets.
Despite an international effort to degrade the group, the militants control swaths of countryside, and use threats of violence to collect taxes in territory under their jurisdiction.
The group taxes real estate, road cargo at checkpoints and slaps customs on imports passing through the capital’s main port, according to a 2020 report by the Mogadishu-based Hiraal Institute.
The think tank then estimated al-Shabab raised at least $15 million a month, rivalling the government’s own tax collection efforts.
President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has vowed all-out war on al-Shabab and the warning to traders comes as the armed forces, backed by local militias and international allies, wage an aggressive counter-insurgency campaign.
The jihadis have staged a series of attacks in recent months, with a triple bombing in the city of Beledweyne this month killing 30 people, and a hotel siege in Mogadishu leaving 21 dead in August.
The government has announced a crackdown on media outlets that publish what it deems propaganda for al-Shabab and warned that offenders would be punished.