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Morning Brief

Somalia Reels From Deadly Bombing

The al-Shabab militant group has been blamed for Somalia’s deadliest terror attack in more than two years.

A policemen deployed as part of the African Union peacekeeping mission patrol in Beledweyne, Somalia, on Dec. 14.
A policemen deployed as part of the African Union peacekeeping mission patrol in Beledweyne, Somalia, on Dec. 14. LUIS TATO/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Somalia grapples with its worst terror attack in two years, the United States conducts airstrikes against an Iran-backed militia in Iraq and Syria, and North Korea holds a high-level party meeting as its year-end deadline for nuclear talks approaches.

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Somalia’s Worst Terror Attack in Two Years

A truck bomb killed at least 79 people on Saturday in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia—the country’s deadliest terror attack in more than two years. The bombing struck a busy security checkpoint during rush hour and targeted a tax collection center. While no one has claimed responsibility, the attack has been blamed on al-Shabab, the local Islamist group that targets the U.N.-backed government. The group is assumed to have carried out a double truck bombing that killed nearly 600 people in Mogadishu in 2017.

On Sunday, 10 people badly wounded by the blast were evacuated to Turkey, which has been a leader in aid to Somalia since 2011. At least two Turkish nationals were killed in the attack. The U.S. military conducted three airstrikes on Sunday against al-Shabab militants in Somalia in coordination with the government, killing four people. The group has been increasingly targeted by U.S. airstrikes in recent years.

Still a threat. Despite the U.S. airstrikes and losses in territory, al-Shabab has remained a threat in Somalia through racketeering and infiltrating state institutions, the New York Times reports. The weekend attack shows that the weak government is still struggling to build a strong security apparatus, even with support and training from the African Union, the United Nations, the United States, and Turkey.

In January, Amanda Sperber reported for FP on the threat of al-Shabab in East Africa.


What We’re Following Today

U.S. conducts strikes against Iran-backed militia. The United States carried out airstrikes on Sunday against an Iran-backed militia, Kataib Hezbollah, in Iraq and Syria. The operation, which targeted the militia’s headquarters near the Syrian border, was a response to a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base near Kirkuk that killed a U.S. contractor last week. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has blamed Iran-backed proxies for several attacks on bases in Iraq. The strikes come amid heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington, which reimposed harsh sanctions on Iran in 2018.

North Korean party leadership convenes. Top Workers’ Party officials are meeting in North Korea ahead of a year-end deadline, set by leader Kim Jong Un, for the United States to change its approach to bilateral nuclear negotiations. On Sunday, Kim called for “positive and offensive measures” to ensure national security—something that could portend more provocations. The Sunday session was the largest of its kind since 2013, with as many as 300 party members present. Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council meets again today over a Russian and Chinese proposal to lift some sanctions on North Korea.

Ukraine completes prisoner swap with separatists. Ukraine’s government swapped dozens of prisoners with Russian-backed separatists in the eastern Donbass region on Sunday, a small step toward peace after five years of conflict. The swap was seen as a victory for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has also pledged to negotiate a peace deal with the rebels. Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin negotiated the trade in Paris this month, and the leaders of France and Germany praised the move on Sunday.


Keep an Eye On

Guinea-Bissau’s election. Guinea-Bissau will announce preliminary results in its presidential runoff this week, with Domingos Simões Pereira seen as the front-runner. (His opponent has accused authorities of election fraud.) Guinea-Bissau has a history of political instability, and Pereira is one of several Guinean intellectuals who have begun questioning the suitability of Western models of liberal democracy in a country where traditional forms of governance and authority still hold sway, Ricci Shryock reports for FP.

Polio in Pakistan. Polio is again on the rise in Pakistan, which reported over 100 new cases this year after thousands refused to take part in a government vaccination campaign due to rumors and misinformation. One official told Al Jazeera that the country’s political transition in 2018 had created a breakdown in program coordination, endangering public health.

In August, FP’s Jefcoate O’Donnell reported on the eradication of polio in Nigeria, one of three countries where the disease remained endemic.

Austria’s new coalition. Austrian conservative leader Sebastian Kurz is expected to strike a coalition deal with the Green party this week, allowing him to return to power as chancellor three months after his previous government collapsed in May due to a scandal involving his far-right coalition partners at the time. The new coalition would undermine Kurz’s political credibility among voters on the right, as Franz-Stefan Gady argued in FP in October.


Odds and Ends

Moscow is experiencing one of its warmest winters on record, with temperatures in December so high that no snow remains in the city center. Ahead of New Year’s Day festivities, the government had to truck in artificial powder for a display near the Kremlin. Snow usually covers Russia beginning in October or November, with the warm winter raising concerns about the climate crisis.


That’s it for today. 

For more from FP, visit foreignpolicy.com, subscribe here, or sign up for our other newsletters. Send your tips, comments, questions, or corrections to morningbrief@foreignpolicy.com.

Photo: Luis Tato/AFP via Getty Images

Audrey Wilson is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson

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