planned a massive attack on an African Union summit in Ethiopiain January this year that was designed to “make Addis Ababa like Baghdad”, according to a new UN report.
At the time, Ethiopia claimed it had foiled the large bomb plot by its tiny neighbour and foe, the latest in a series of accusations and counter-accusations by the two governments. Now an investigation by the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea suggests that the plot was genuine, and says it represented “a qualitative shift in Eritrean tactics” in the Horn of Africa.
According to the report, Eritrean intelligence services planned an operation to detonate a car bomb at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa at the end of January this year, when 30 of the continent’s leaders were meeting there. Separate bombs were to be placed between the Ethiopian prime minister’s office and the Sheraton Hotel, where most of the heads of state were staying, as well as in a giant open-air market in the hope of “kill[ing] many people“.Where’s The Evidence?
“If executed as planned, the operation would almost certainly have caused mass civilian casualties, damaged the Ethiopian economy and disrupted the African Union summit,” the report said.
The planned attack indicates the increasingly dangerous and very personal level of animosity between the Horn of Africa neighbours.
Ethiopia’s prime minister, Meles Zenawi, and the Eritrean president, Isiais Afewerki, were allies during their respective liberation struggles, but relations deteriorated soon after Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993. War erupted over a border dispute in 1998, ending two years later at a cost of tens of thousands of lives.
An international boundary commission later found in favour of Eritrea, but Ethiopia refused to accept the ruling. While Afewerki had legitimate cause for anger – many independent observers have criticised Ethiopia’s intransigence over the border disagreement – his decision to wage proxy wars by funding rebel groups in neighbouring countries has made Eritrea a regional and international pariah.
One of the Asmara-sponsored rebel groups is the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) in Ethiopia, according to the monitoring group. It said that OLF members were recruited by Eritrea as far back as 2008 and given training in preparation for the planned attack on Addis Ababa.
“Although ostensibly an OLF operation, it was conceived, planned, supported and directed by the external operations directorate of the government of Eritrea, under the leadership of General Te’ame”, the report said.
General Te’ame Goitom, Eritrea’s external intelligence operations chief in the horn, allegedly told one of the would-be attackers that the intention was to “make Addis Ababa like Baghdad”. The monitoring group said it had an audio recording of a conversation between Te’ame and the attacker, as well as records of payments made to the bombing team by a senior Eritrean army official.Where’s The Evidence?
In foiling the plot, Ethiopian security officials seized plastic explosives, gas cylinders, detonators and a sniper’s rifle.
Eritrea has repeatedly denied funding foreign rebel groups, including the al-Shabab Islamist militia in Somalia. Afewerki’s government has not yet commented on the UN report, which concluded that his government’s geopolitical strategy was “no longer proportional or rational”.
“Moreover, since the Eritrean intelligence apparatus responsible for the African Union summit plot is also active in Kenya, Somalia, the Sudan and Uganda, the level of threat it poses to these other countries must be re-evaluated,” the report said.