In a newly released statement, the British Foreign Office has urged British nationals to leave Somalia, claiming to be aware of “a specific threat” to westerners in the breakaway region of Somaliland.
Without providing more details about the situation in this particular region, which has yet to win international recognition as a state after declaring independence from Somalia in 1991, or about its source of information, the Foreign Office stressed in the statement the danger of "kidnapping for financial or political gain, motivated by criminality or terrorism."
It further emphasized that foreigners have faced threats from Islamist militants in Somalia, ever since U.S. forces killed Al-Qaeda’s leader, Osama bin Laden, in 2011. According to a spokesman of the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs, Ireland has also instructed its citizens to leave Somalia. Moreover, earlier this month, UK Prime Minister David Cameron issued a warning over the growing militant threat in North Africa, which he called “a magnet for jihadists.”
These instructions come days after several European countries, including the Netherlands and Germany, launched a warning of a “specific and imminent” threat to foreigners in Libya’s Benghazi, following the militant attack on the In Amenas natural gas complex in Algeria, close to the Libyan border. In the attack, 38 hostages were killed, allegedly including six Britons and one UK resident.
The threat of retaliatory strikes on westerners was arguably raised by France’s military operations, conducted with British logistical support, against Islamist rebels in Mali, where factions of al-Qaida, including tribal Tuaregs and members of Muammar Gaddafi's armed guard, are fighting to seize power from the Malian government.
In Somalia, in early January, the al-Shabab militant group, linked to al-Qaida, threatened to kill a French hostage, whom the French military unsuccessfully tried to rescue.
There are relatively few British nationals working in Somalia, primarily in the charity and diplomatic fields. Nevertheless, there is a large number of British citizens of Somalian descent who visit relatives in the regions, given that Britain has one of the largest Somali communities in Europe, with a population of around 100,000 people.
While Somalia has been deeply affected by two decades of civil war, which have deepened poverty and lawlessness, Somaliland enjoyed relative stability and held several peaceful elections.