US sanctions bus firm, 15 others over Sh14bn Shabaab funding

Economy

US sanctions bus firm, 15 others over Sh14bn Shabaab funding

Tuesday March 12 2024

Al-Shabaab militants in a training session. PHOTO | REUTERS

The owner of a bus services company that plies the northern parts of Kenya is amongst 16 entities and individuals whom the United States has sanctioned for allegedly funding al-Shabaab terrorist group to the tune of Sh14 billion ($100 million) annually.

The Kenya-based businessman FYD, an Islamist banker, has been red-flagged as a conduit for funding al-Shabaab through close links to a network of firms and individuals based in Kenya, Uganda, the United Arab Emirates, Cyprus and Finland.

The US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said on Monday that this businessman works closely with another businessman MJA also based in Kenya, “to plan investment projects and money laundering activities”.

Those projects allegedly include the said bus company, a long-distance passenger and parcel transportation services firm which has operated in Kenya for about two decades.

“This includes managing al-Shabaab funds laundered through investment projects and companies, including through Kenya-based (bus company),” Brian Nelson, the US Under-Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said in a statement. He added that the Bus Services company has also supported al-Shabaab’s logistical operations.

Also read: US sanctions on Iran hit Kenyan tea cash

The action by the US authorities means assets, including bank accounts, owned or operated by the sectioned persons and firms directly or through proxies in the US have been frozen.

The US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control regulations also prohibits dealings which “involve any property or interests in property of designated or blocked persons” within the US, including transactions transiting its territory.

The sanctions also prohibit Kenyan banks with correspondent accounts in the US from dealing with designated individuals and firms.

“Furthermore, engaging in certain transactions with the individuals designated today entails risk of secondary sanctions pursuant to EO 13224, as amended,” Mr Nelson wrote in the Statement. “Pursuant to this authority, OFAC can prohibit or impose strict conditions on the opening or maintaining in the United States of a correspondent account or a payable-through account of a foreign financial institution that knowingly conducted or facilitated any significant transaction on behalf of a Specially Designated Global Terrorist.”

Most of the firms hit by the latest round of sanctions are affiliated to Dubai-based Haleel Commodities LLC which the US authorities have described as “a key financial facilitator for al-Shabaab”.

The US authorities say the firm operates three subsidiaries in Cyprus — Haleel Finance Ltd, Haleel Holdings Ltd and Haleel Ltd.

The group also runs units in Kenya, Somalia and Uganda.

Al Shabaab militia, linked to Al Qaeda, “relies on the leaders of Haleel Group, as well as its branches and subsidiaries in Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, and Cyprus to generate and launder funds” with an annual budget of more than $100 million (about Sh14 billion), the statement says.

The US has also sanctioned FHH, also a Kenyan national, for allegedly directing and managing “Haleel Group’s branches in Kenya, Uganda, Cyprus, and the UAE, and supports al-Shabaab by generating funds for the group through these businesses”.

Others are Hassan Abdirahman Mahamed, a Somali citizen based in Finland-and UAE-based Mohamed Artan Robel for being part of the money laundering network support activities conducted by Al Shabaab through Haleel Group and Qemat Al Najah General Trading.

Mr Mahamed allegedly uses money transfers and hawala businesses to support al-Shabaab’s money laundering operations.

Al Shabaab has been carrying out a series of deadly attacks in a bid to wrestle power from Somali governments.

The attacks have extended to countries supporting Somali governments, including Kenya.

Incessant attacks and kidnapping of civilians by Al-Shabaab militants within Kenyan territory prompted the then-government of Mwai Kibaki to formally send about 4,660 soldiers to fight terrorists within Somalia in October 2011.

A year later, the UN Security Council gave Kenya the green light to join African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom), a decision that meant the Kenyan Treasury would not bear the full costs of the incursion.

Also read: US-backed sanctions hit Kenya’s exports to Iran

The mandate of Amisom, which was funded by the EU with the UN Support Office in Somalia (UNSOS providing logistical field support, ended in March 2022.

It was succeeded by the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS). The mandate of the ATMIS ends in December 2024 when Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Burundi and Djibouti are expected to have withdrawn all their forces and hand over to the Somali National Security Forces.

Kenya Defence Forces (KDF), in the book titled “War for Peace: Kenya’s Military in the African Mission in Somalia, 2011-2020”— published May 8, 2020 — suggested that reforming the Somali National Army to take charge of sustainable peace should be the first pillar of the AU mission’s exit plan.

Read: Don’t lower guard in war against terrorism

The second pillar is creating a “stable, peaceful and prosperous” Jubbaland, which has had relative peace amid years of civil strife in mainland Somalia by “securing routes in Jubbaland accessible to and used by al-Shabaab”.

Soldiers usually serve for one year which may be extended by a few months or cut short depending on the situation and the financial operations.

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