An interesting thing happened to me and a friend a few days ago. I had not seen him for some time, so we met at midday at a coffee shop in a popular Mogadishu market. We were talking about a checkpoint incident less than a week earlier where the TFG soldiers there detained me for a few minutes because I had the looks of a “Muhaajir” – a Shabab foreigner. I offered to call someone from any arm of government to verify that I wasn’t, but they refused and immediately released me with an apology. It was at that point that my friend told me that he was tipped off by sources that the PIS (strange thing is, the federal intelligence agency is also known as PIS by locals and some of the agency employees too!) was looking for him. And he couldn’t join the TFG to avoid their capture because he had business interests in the Shabab area (yes, many people do that).
I told him that it was wise to have him arrested, and then he could use his TFG connections to be released. That way he would be “immunised” from the NSSA (or, PIS, as the people call it). After waiting for an hour to have him arrested by some guys at the coffee shop whom we were sure were NSSA and who were staring at us, I decided it was getting boring and we headed for his house. We had barely walked 3 minutes when some guy who looked like a comedian ordered us to show what we had under our shirts. I thought it was some kind of a prank, so I asked him to show us if he himself was armed (unarmed people can’t arrest you in Mogadishu. It isn’t London!). Two other guys in the vicinity drew their pistols. Aha! The comedian proceeded to cuff me and my friend together, and walked us to the police post at the market. The other two guys were behind us, and kept threatening us. I ignored them and made conversation with the comedian-look-alike.
On the 5-minute walk to the post, he told me about himself, his name, where he lived, and got very little out of me. What can I say? I am a good listener!
Once at the post, they wrote down our names, ages, and the stuff we had with us. I asked for a phone call which they promptly accepted, but warning us that I may be released but not my friend. That was enough to make us decide to use our biggest TFG cards. We called a very senior General in the intelligence, who knew us both.
The comedian then took me aside and told me that he wasn’t happy with arresting me, and that I was there just because of my friend. He told me about how he joined the TFG after being caught at a battle. I wasn’t really interested in his story, so I veered the story back to the reason I was there. I asked him whether my friend was a suspect because he showed the Sunnah. He said no, and that their informants at the coffee shop had reported him. I told him that my friend was in fact held by the Shabab for weeks when they ruled the area in suspicion of, interestingly, being a TFG spy.
The other two guys who also arrested us were equally enthusiastic to tell me about their Shabab past, their pay, guys from my clan who were also in the “PIS” (I laughed, and they laughed for different reason), their own clans, and random info about their lives. I was surprised by how much they were willing to tell a couple of suspects. It is easy to give so much info to people you know are not dangerous anyway, I guess.
I think we spent most of our time at the post having the chat with the NSSA, and about 15 minutes in the cell. They brought in one of those cell spies into the cell. The guy lighted a cigarette (as if that wouldn’t blow his cover!), and went to the window. My request for him to move from the window was met with a, “It must be true what they say about you! Who doesn’t smoke?” Our little chat quickly turned into a threat by the cell spy. I told him that he should be grateful that he met us because we were big people and that Sharif himself was coming to get us. That confused the idiot, as intended. He was still deeply thinking about what I had just said when – about a minute later – the door was opened and they called for us.
The whole place was swarming with officials who had come to kiss the ass of our releaser and apologise for the mistake.
As we were going out of the police post, one of our captors came over and we asked him what crime my friend was exactly suspected of. He said that my friend was part of the 2006-era ICU. First, he got that wrong (that was his bro). Second, wasn’t even the TFG president a member of the ICU? Arrest him first. And a recent Shabab ‘defector’ is in no position to suspect ICU members of anything. I genuinely suspect him. If he is a real former Shabab, he would know their operatives don’t do suspicious things in enemy territory (showing the Sunnah by having a beard, or even hang out in a coffee shop – a known area of high intelligence activity, second only to Mosques, another place you won’t find them in enemy territory).
They took us back to the office, immediately removed our cuffs, and rubbed our names off the register, as I had requested. I was taken home on a TFG technical. I was afraid for the first time that day. Thankfully, there was no IED attack on us.
I left wondering at how stupid the TFG really must be. Worse than I ever thought. Enlisting a prisoner as a security operative (the comedian)? He needs rehabilitation, not a promotion!
Arresting people without any evidence? Oh wait, that was their hallmark. They should have followed us to where we were going, for further investigation. But as they told the General, all they wanted to show was that they were doing “something”. Good job, the “something” is not even close to getting the real deal.
At least my friend got the immunisation I was recommending. We came back to the coffee shop two hours later and told everyone who didn’t know about how a spy at the place had embarrassed himself that day.