Highlight: “Te’ame opened his laptop and showed me a video about how Iraqi insurgents have used explosives to powerful effect. He was trying to motivate me […] then he closed the laptop and told me that we would make Addis Ababa like Baghdad”.

A UN report confirmed Eritrea’s foiled plot to ‘make Addis Ababa like Baghdad’, as reported earlier in this blog. The report by ‘the Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea’ that was submitted to the Secretary General, and published today, provides a long list of Eritrea’s ‘support to armed groups involved in violence, destabilization or terrorist acts’ in the Horn of Africa.

[The report is more than 400 pages, including a part on Somalia. Thus, I will provide you with key point of the report, topic by topic, in this blog.]

The major one of Eritrea’s destabilizing attempts and activities is the January 2011 plot to bomb AU Summit that was thwarted by Ethiopia’s National Anti-Terrorism Joint Taskforce, which consists the National Intelligence and Security Service(NISS) and the Federal Police. The report notes the implication of the plot as follows:

Whereas Eritrean support to foreign armed opposition groups has in the past been limited to conventional military operations, the plot to disrupt the African Union summit in Addis Ababa in January 2011, which envisaged mass casualty attacks against civilian targets and the strategic use of explosives to create a climate of fear, represents a qualitative shift in Eritrean tactics.


Here is the section of the report detailing Eritrea’s plot to bomb AU Summit

Case study: planned “Oromo Liberation Front” operation to disrupt the African Union summit

286. In early 2011, Ethiopian intelligence and federal police disrupted a conspiracy to bomb targets in and around Addis Ababa at the time of the sixteenth ordinary session of the Assembly of the African Union, which was scheduled to take place on 30 and 31 January 2011. 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. If executed as planned, the operation would almost certainly have caused mass civilian casualties, damaged the Ethiopian economy and disrupted the African Union summit.[222]

(a) Background to the operation: recruitment, planning and training

287. Planning for the operation appears to have begun in 2008, when the National Security Agency of Eritrea recruited and trained the first of the OLF fighters to be involved in the operation. Fekadu Abdisu Gusu, a survivor from an OLF unit that had been defeated and dispersed with heavy losses by the Ethiopian military, told the Monitoring Group that in 2008 an OLF associate in Kenya had put him in contact with an Eritrean Colonel calling himself “Gemachew Ayana”, also known as “Kercho”. Gemachew gave Fekadu instructions to travel with three other OLF fighters to Eritrea by way of the Sudan. [223]

288. Following his arrival in Eritrea, Fekadu received several weeks of initial training in explosives theory and practice at various sites in and around Asmara, under Gemachew’s supervision. The principal instructor was an Eritrean officer known to his students only by the nickname “Wedi Eyasu”.[224] Upon completion of this training, Fekadu told the Monitoring Group, he was instructed to travel to Addis Ababa to familiarize himself with the city.[225]

289. Two months later Fekadu was recalled to Eritrea for more extended and intensive training in a range of military skills, first near Dek’emhare then at the camp of Een, where he and other OLF trainees spent the rest of 2009. According to Fekadu, a Tigrayan militia group known as “Demhit” was also training at Een during the same period. [226]

290. While Fekadu was training at Een, the Eritrean security services, through Colonel Gemachew, approached an OLF cadre based in Djibouti named Omar Idriss Mohamed, who would eventually become the team leader for the Addis Ababa operation. In interviews with the Monitoring Group, Omar stated that he had joined OLF in 2003, undergone training in Eritrea at Mulubera (near Gash Barka) and Addis Ma’askar, and held increasingly senior posts. During the month of Ramadan (August/September) 2009 he was contacted by OLF Chairman Dawud Ibsa and told to expect a call from an Eritrean officer who would give him a secret assignment. Shortly afterwards he was contacted by Colonel Gemachew, who told him to bring five new recruits to Eritrea.[227] He did so, crossing the border at Dada’atu, and subsequently returned to Djibouti.[228] Imam Sa’id Ahmed, who was among the five, confirms that the group was subsequently assigned to train together with Fekadu at Een.[229]

291. In March 2010, Omar was again recalled to Eritrea, meeting with Gemachew and Te’ame at an Asmara hotel. Te’ame told Omar that he would receive explosives training for “urban operations” and should select two of the five recruits he had brought from Djibouti for this special purpose. Omar travelled to Een to attend the graduation ceremony of the recruits, who knew him under the pseudonym “Yahya”, and selected two of them as Te’ame had requested: Abdulqadir “Gurtu” and Sa’id Mohamed Yusuf “Drogba”.

292. In late April or early May 2011, after two weeks of theoretical and practical training in and around Asmara, the three of them were instructed to prepare for a mission to Djibouti, with the objective of blowing up Ethiopian fuel trucks at a depot on the outskirts of Djibouti town. They were told that the explosives would be delivered to them.

293. For reasons that are unclear, Te’ame recalled Omar to Eritrea before the planned operation could be carried out. Omar and his two associates travelled overland to Djibouti, where they spent several weeks on reconnaissance before being recalled to Eritrea. He and 10 other OLF fighters were sent to Een for a month of refresher training in basic infantry skills, under the supervision of the Een camp commander, Colonel Jamal, with Omar serving as the group’s leader. Upon completion of the training, Omar was recalled to Asmara where Te’ame informed him that his new target for the operation was to be Addis Ababa.

(b) Team 1: Fekadu Abdisu Gusu

294. In March 2010, as final preparation prior to deployment, Fekadu and other trainees were sent to Asmara for a brief course with Wedi Eyasu on the use of mobile telephones and mechanical timers to detonate explosives. According to Sifen Chala Bedada, a member of Fekadu’s team, he and other members unfamiliar with explosives received essentially the same basic training that Fekadu had received, as well as some instruction from Te’ame in operational security and countersurveillance.[230] Gemachew then instructed Fekadu and his team to return to Addis Ababa, where they were to await the arrival of explosives and further orders. Following his deployment, Fekadu remained in contact with Gemachew, with phone records indicating that at least 27 conversations took place between them. [231]

295. Fekadu and his team were sustained in Addis Ababa thanks to periodic money transfers from abroad. Sifen Chala Bedada told the Monitoring Group that Gemachew arranged for him to receive payments through the Dahabshiil and Amal money transfer companies, using various Oromo and Eritrean intermediaries in Kenya and the Sudan. Official documents issued by Amal Express and the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia confirm that such transactions took place (see annex 8.4.b).

(c) Team 2: Omar Idriss Mohamed

296. In mid-2010, Omar was dispatched to Ethiopia with instructions from Te’ame to reconnoitre an overland route to Addis Ababa by way of Chifra, for infiltration of his team, and to survey a number of possible targets in the Ethiopian capital, including the African Union headquarters, the London Café, near Bole Airport, the Axum Hotel, and the Filoha area between the Sheraton Hotel and the Prime Minister’s office.

297. Upon completion of his reconnaissance mission, Omar returned to Eritrea where he rejoined the trainees at Een. Upon their graduation in December 2010, Omar and “Drogba” travelled together to Assab for a final session on explosives with Wadi Eyasu and a briefing from Te’ame. In an interview with the Monitoring Group, Omar recalled Te’ame’s briefing in the following terms:

“One of the targets he gave me was the African Union summit. I was told to rent a Land Cruiser or a car of the same standard as the African Union leaders and delegates. I was to prepare two to four cylinders, hidden in a TV style box, and put it behind the seat of the vehicle. I was to extend the fuse to the front panel of the car. We should study the times that the African Union leaders took their breaks and choose a time that they were either coming or going. Then we should set a mobile phone alarm for that time. We were to sit in a nearby hotel or café and if the leaders came out at a different time, we could call the cell phone.

“The intention was not to kill the leaders, but to show them that they are not safe, that Ethiopia is not safe for them. By so doing, some people may start to listen to what Eritrea is saying about Ethiopia. Some Arab States will be sympathetic to this view.

“Another target was Filoha, near the Palace, the Sheraton and the Prime Minister’s office.

“The third target was Merkato [the largest open air market in Africa] to kill many people. This would make the people complain that the Government is not keeping them safe. We would place the explosives, together with gas cylinders, on an Isuzu pick-up truck. Such a truck can be filled with up to 15 cylinders and 4 to 6 kg of C-4 explosive. We were to wrap the cylinders with detonator cord and extend it to the front of the vehicle. The C-4 would be packed around the inner six cylinders, and the detonator cord would be wrapped around the other nine. The fuse would be placed in one end of the detonator cord and initiated by mobile phone.

“Te’ame opened his laptop and showed me a video about how Iraqi insurgents have used explosives to powerful effect. He was trying to motivate me […] then he closed the laptop and told me that we would make Addis Ababa like Baghdad.”[232]

298. The following day, Omar met again with Te’ame and Gemachew to discuss possible follow-up operations, including bombings of Government-affiliated banks, public transport networks and the Addis Ababa power grid.

299. According to Omar, he and Drogba received from Gemachew a bag of approximately 20 kg of C-4 explosive, detonators and a roll of 100 metres of RDX detonator cord (pictures of items recovered from the OLF team are attached in annex 8.4.c).

300. They travelled on foot to Djibouti, then by car across the border into Ethiopia. Omar described in detail to the Monitoring Group the precautions taken at each stage of the journey to avoid detection by Ethiopian police and security forces. Upon arrival in Addis Ababa, Omar handed over the explosives and material to an individual named “Musa”, whose task was to keep the explosives safe until they were required for operations. Omar also contacted Fekadu, whose team was already in place awaiting instructions.

301. Fekadu briefed Omar that they had failed to find a vehicle, since most car hire agencies would not provide a car without a driver, and that to purchase a vehicle required them to present identification. Omar also observed that Fekadu had rented a house in a shared compound, undermining privacy and secrecy.

(d) Team 3: Mohamed Nur “Doctor”

302. While the team in Addis Ababa struggled to prepare the operation, the remaining trainees at Een completed their training and also prepared for deployment overland into Ethiopia. One member of this team, Imam, told the Monitoring Group that an Eritrean logistics officer at Een issued weapons and equipment to the team. As the team sniper, he was given a Dragunov-type sniper rifle, which he carried on the mission (see para. 307 and fig. XIV below, as well as export details and the end-user certificate in annex 8.4.d).[233] The others received Kalashnikov-pattern assault rifles and ammunition.[234] Mohamed Nur “Doctor”, one of the original recruits enlisted by Omar from Djibouti, was designated the team leader.

303. According to both Imam and Sa’id Abdirahman Omar, the team was first travelled to Assab, where Te’ame and Gemachew provided them with final instructions and explosives. Their orders were to travel on foot to the Chifra area, where they should bury the explosives and await further orders from Omar.[235]

(e) The operation unravels

304. In early January 2011, with the date of the operation fast approaching, Omar requested additional funds from Gemachew:

“The additional cash was sent to Addis via Amal hawala from Kenya in the name of Omar Idriss. Then I gave the new $3,000 to the three other guys and I kept the balance of what was remaining from Asmara to myself. Gemachew had also told me he would send $500 to a woman associated with one of the guys — Enani Melesi, a friend of Tesfay [Fekadu], so she could return to Asmara.” [236]

305. The Monitoring Group subsequently obtained the records of both of these transactions, dated 8 January 2011, corroborating Omar’s account (see annex 8.4.b).

306. In the last week of January, with time running out before the African Union summit, Omar felt the need to consult with Gemachew. In order to do so, he would travel to Metemma, near the Sudanese border, where he could call Eritrea from a Sudanese SIM card. Likewise, Gemachew would sometimes travel to Teseney in Eritrea from where he could call with a Sudanese or Ethiopian SIM (see phone records attached in annex 8.4.e). Phone records appear to indicate that they made contact 39 times during Omar’s deployment in Ethiopia, mainly initiated by Gemachew. Omar also spoke once with Te’ame and Dawud Ibsa while they were together at Te’ame’s office.[237] The phone number indicated in phone records for Te’ame’s office is the same one independently provided to the Monitoring Group by another former OLF cadre, arrested in the Sudan, during an interview in May 2011.[238] The Monitoring Group is in possession of an audio recording of a conversation between Omar and Te’ame (archived with the United Nations), and has independently verified Te’ame’s voice.

307. While in Metemma, Omar learned that the team led by “Doctor” had been intercepted by Ethiopian security forces near Bati and that one of them, Imam, had been injured, captured and displayed on Ethiopian television. When arrested, Imam was in possession of a Romanian-made PSL (Dragunov-type) sniper rifle that he told the Monitoring Group had been issued to him at Een. In a letter to the Monitoring Group dated 11 April 2011, the Government of Romania confirmed that it had sold the rifle and attached sniper scope to the Ministry of Defence of Eritrea in 2004 and provided supporting documentation, including an end-user certificate issued by the Government of Eritrea (see annex 8.4.d).

308. Other members of the “Doctor” team escaped and dispersed. Omar told the Monitoring Group that he immediately put the Addis operation on hold while he travelled to Bati to find and rescue the remaining team members. He was able to find only two of his team members, Ali and Abdi, who had gone into hiding in the bush near Gerba; another two had been picked up by the police. “Doctor” had been killed.

309. When Omar and the survivors returned to Addis Ababa, the African Union summit was in progress, but without a suitable vehicle and with time running out, he abandoned the African Union as a target and decided to simply attack two other venues using taxis. After the summit had ended, on the morning of 2 February 2011, together with Abdi and Fekadu, he reconnoitred the Axum Hotel and Filoha.[239] Then Omar called Musa and arranged a meeting in the afternoon to pick up the explosives and detonators. They handed over the equipment in Piazza, and Omar transferred the material to Fekadu’s house.

310. The next morning, police arrested Fekadu and his associates at the house. When Omar tried contacting Fekadu and found his phone switched off, he became nervous and relocated the other team members to a new hotel.

311. The following day Omar boarded a public minibus where other passengers were talking about a police arrest of people with explosives. He avoided Fekadu’s residence and told the rest of his team to move to Kombolcha to avoid capture. Then he visited Fekadu’s residence, and found it empty. After a few more days in Addis, changing hotels each night and divesting himself of false documents and SIM cards, he moved to Nazret. On the way, he was arrested.

(f) Analysis

312. Only one detainee interviewed by the Monitoring Group, team leader Omar Idriss Mohamed, appears to have been in regular contact with the OLF leadership in Asmara. All other team members were isolated from OLF structures from the moment of recruitment and received all training and orders directly from Eritrean officers. According to Omar, only Dawud Ibsa, Chairman of OLF, was aware of the existence of this special operation and its objectives, and he does not appear to have exercised any command or control over its actions.[240] The Monitoring Group therefore concludes that this operation was effectively an Eritrean intelligence activity, falsely flagged as an OLF initiative.

222 – From 7 to 10 March 2011, the Monitoring Group was granted access to evidence recovered by the Government of Ethiopia, including arms, explosives, telephone and financial records and telephone intercepts. During that period, the Group also spent more than 22 hours over a period of three days separately interviewing seven detained members of OLF involved in the operation, including team leader Omar Idriss Mohamed.
223 – Interview with Fekadu Abdisu Gusu, 9 March 2011.
224 – The Monitoring Group believes this individual to be Solomon Eyasu, a Ministry of Defence official who also assists the presidential office in matters of security.
225 – Interview with Fekadu Abdisu Gusu, 9 March 2011.
226 – Interview with Fekadu Abdisu Gusu, 9 March 2011. This information corresponds with information obtained during an interview with an ONLF detainee, November 2010.
227 – The five recruits were: Sa’id Ali Ahmed “Doctor”, Imam Sa’id Ahmed (also known as Yemam also known as Abu Mohamed Telah also known as Abdulwahab), Abdou Sa’id Mufti (also known as “Ali”), Abdulqadir “Gurtu” and Sa’id Mohamed Yusuf “Drogba”.
228 – FRUD commander Mohamed Jabhaa also confirmed to the Monitoring Group the use of Dada’atu as a primary crossing point for members of OLF. Interview, Djibouti, 30 November 2010.
229 – Interview with Imam Sa’id Ahmed, 10 March 2011.
230 – Interview with Sifen Chala Bedada, 10 March 2011.
231 – Confidential document archived at the United Nations.
232 – Interview with Omar Idriss Mohamed, 10 March 2011.
233 – Interview with Imam Sa’id Ahmed, 10 March 2011.
234 – According to Imam Sa’id Ahmed, the members of this team were (a) Sa’id Ali Ahmedey also known as Mohamed Nur also known as “Doctor”; (b) Imam Sa’id Ahmed also known as Abdu Mohamed Toleha; (c) Abdu Sa’id Mufti also known as Ali; (d) Adem Awel Sa’id; (e) Adem Idriss; (f) Sa’id Abdirahman Omar also known as Sa’id Kemse also known as Bow; and (g) Feyera Bekele also known as Abdi.
235 – Separate interviews with Imam Sa’id Ahmed and Sa’id Abdirahman Omar on 10 March 2011.
236 – Interview with Omar Idriss Mohamed, 8 March 2011.
237 – Interview with Omar Idriss Mohamed, 8 March 2011, and telephone records.
238 – Interview, May 2011. The same source told the Monitoring Group he had met with “Yahya” (also known as Omar Idriss Mohamed) during a visit to Asmara in 2010. He travelled twice to Asmara between 2010 and early 2011, where he also met OLF leaders including Dawud Ibsa.
239 – Separate interviews with Omar Idriss Mohamed and Fekadu Abdisu Gusu, both on 9 March 2010.
240 – Interviews with Omar Idriss Mohamed, 8 and 9 March 2010.

Note: Demhit is also known as TPDM

Daniel Berhane

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