Somalia seizes weapons said to be from al-Qaida

July 21, 2012 - 7:38 AM

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Security forces of a semi-autonomous region in northern Somalia seized a boat carrying weapons that were being smuggled from al-Qaida militants in Yemen to fighters in Somalia, an official said Saturday.

The boat was carrying explosives, switches, rockets, guns, ammunition and rocket-propelled grenades, said the ports and anti-piracy minister of Puntland, Said Mohamed Rage. He did not provide a detailed breakdown of how many weapons were seized.

"They (al-Qaida) were trying to offload the arms on the Alula coast, then to smuggle them to al-Shabab in the south of Somalia by road. They use our region as a gateway to smuggle fighters from Yemen and Somalia," he said.

One Yemeni man was arrested when the boat was seized Friday afternoon, he added.

Al-Qaida and al-Shabab — the most powerful militant group in Somalia — announced a merger earlier this year.

Al-Shabab, however, has been under increasing military pressure across Somalia over the last year because of stepped-up operations by the African Union military force and Ethiopian troops.

Human traffickers use the Puntland region to send refugees across the Gulf of Aden over to Yemen, and Rage said that hundreds of al-Shabab fighters are trying to blend in with that human trafficking network.

Puntland fears that al-Qaida-linked violence in Yemen will eventually spill over into northeastern Somalia.

"Their next base will be the mountainous hideouts in our region. They don't have any other alternative or base from which they can launch attacks. It's a worrying thing," Rage said.

Al-Shabab militants recently merged with a Puntland warlord — Mohamed Said Atom — and have clashed with government forces in Puntland several times this year.