Somalia invites Al Shabaab for soccer tournament


Abdiqani Said Arab, the head of the Somali Football Federation, told BBC News that the militants will be given a chance if they would like to play.

“We are not against them and they are not against us,” he told BBC News.

The leader of Somali’s soccer federation wants to play ball with Al Shabaab.

The Al Qaeda-linked militant group was invited to participate in Somalia’s soccer tournament, despite the group’s resentment toward the sport and history of bloodshed, including deadly attacks during the 2010 World Cup.

Abdiqani Said Arab, the head of the Somali Football Federation, told BBC News that the militants will be given a chance if they’d like to play.

“We are not against them and they are not against us,” he told BBC News.

Arab has stated that soccer offers a chance to bring people in Somalia together, a way to promote peace in the war-torn country.

Al-Shabaab has taken credit for killing more than 70 people in coordinated attacks during the 2010 World Cup — and has been regularly known to target soccer fans.

“Soccer and radical jihad are both forces that transcend international borders, but global soccer is open and cosmopolitan in a way Al-Shabaab does not tolerate,” Business Insider wrote in 2014.

The group banned soccer playing on Mogadishu’s beach after taking over parts of Somalia in 2010 and 2011, and turned the capital’s soccer stadium into a base of operations, according to the Business Insider report. Al-Shabaab has since been removed from the capital.

In recent years, the organization has allowed its members to play a modified version of the game in which no shorts are allowed, and jerseys reach to players’ elbows.

Additionally, players who celebrate in unacceptable ways — such as removing their shirts, gyrating their hips or blowing kisses — could face bans, floggings or have their tongues removed, according to Al Jazeera.

Despite playing the game, Al-Shabaab “still views soccer as a potential danger to its hardcore jihadist worldview,” Business Insider wrote.

Arab is hopeful about soccer’s role in Somalia. Improved security in the country — with the help of African Union forces — has stunted Al-Shabaab’s influence in the country, allowing some semblance of normalcy to re-emerge.

Somalia’s soccer league was re-established in 2013, and foreign players are competing in the country again.

“More than 20 foreign players are now playing in our Premier League in about six clubs,” Arab told BBC News.

One of the league’s games was broadcast live on TV in December, a first for the country.

6 terrorists arrested

Africa Union peacekeepers and Somalia government forces on Wednesday arrested six Al-Shabaab fighters in a joint security operation at Lego neighborhood in lower Shabelle region, southern Somalia.

Somali’s government official in Lego, Abukar Isak told Xinhua news angecy the operation was conducted in Jame’o, Yakbari-weyne and Lego regions, adding that it was not clear whether key leaders of the Islamist group were killed during the operation.

“Somali National Army with support from AMISOM conducted a joint security operation against Al-Shabaab terrorist group here in Lower Shabelle region earlier today. We arrested six suspects and recovered weapons during the operation, we believe they are Al-Shabaab fighters,” Isak said.

He said the suspects who are being held in custody will be interrogated with a view to getting more information from them that may lead to the arrest of their colleagues still at large in the region.

The Al-Qaida-linked group has engaged the AU peacekeepers and the Somali government in near daily attacks especially in Mogadishu and regions bordering Kenya.

The group has lost key towns in the south and central Somalia in the past three years, but still carries out deadly bomb attacks in the main towns including the capital of Somalia-Mogadishu.


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