William Hague has warned more action is needed to tackle the terrorist threat from Somalia as he became the first British Foreign Secretary to visit the embattled nation for 20 years.
Defying the regular bomb and grenade attacks which blight the African nation, Mr Hague touched down yesterday to pledge new a new drive against terrorism.
The Richmond MP’s arrival in the capital, Mogadishu, marks the start of a major diplomatic push by Britain to help stabilise a country he described as “the world’s most failed state”.
The Government is hosting an international conference in London on Somalia later this month, and Mr Hague said counter-terrorism co-operation will be high on the agenda.
“We need to step this up,” he said. “We are not complacent.”
Security in the capital has improved since an offensive last year by a 10,000-strong African Union force drove the jihadists of al Shabaab out of the city.
Nevertheless, suicide bombings, improvised explosive devices, and grenade attacks remain regular occurrences, while al Shabaab – which has links with al Qaida – still controls much of southern Somalia.
Meanwhile pirates continue to prey on international ships which pass through Somali waters, and the region still has more than a million refugees forced to flee their homes by famine.
The dangers were underlined by the tight security arrangements surrounding Mr Hague’s 10-minute journey from the airport to the residence of President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.
The Foreign Secretary was required to don body armour and helmet, and travelled in a convoy of armoured vehicles manned by African Union soldiers.
With the director general of MI5 Jonathan Evans having warned in 2010 of the threat posed to the UK by terrorists trained in al Shabaab’s camps, Mr Hague said there must be no let up now in the pressure.
“For the security of the UK, it matters a lot for Somalia to become a more stable place,” he said. “Some progress has been made on this, partly because of the progress of the (African) force.
“One of the objectives of our conference in London is to strengthen counter-terrorism co-operation, to make it easier for countries in this region to disrupt terrorist networks, to disrupt their financing and the movements of potential terrorists.”