Osman Ali Ato

Osman Ali Atto

Osman Hassan Ali Atto (Cismaan Xasan Cali Caato) is a Somali warlord, affiliated with the Somali National Alliance.


He is a member of the Somali Hawiye clan, sub-clan Habar Gedir (sub-clan [[Sacad|Sa'ad]and the hiloowle] and was born in 1945. Atto is his nickname meaning "skinny". Osman Ali Atto is a former main financier of the Aidid faction, a multi-millionaire businessman, alleged arms dealer and drug trafficker. Atto owns the biggest landed property in Somalia, including many of the buildings in Mogadishu which are rented to relief agencies and the media. Before the Civil War, Atto was a chauffeur to various representatives for the US oil company Conoco.

Osman Ali Atto has 22 children, 3 of whom went to college in the United States. Atto and his family live, much of the time, in safety outside Somalia. The family owns a residence at the South c Sungara Estate in Nairobi, and derives significant profits from a tanker-trucking company which operates from a strategically situated truck yard at Eldoret, in north-western Kenya. From there, Atto ships gasoline to Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda. This business is allegedly operated by his relatives. In addition to his Somali passport Atto uses passports from Kenya, the United States and possibly Italy.

As commander of his militia Osman Ali Atto is alleged to be responsible for indiscriminate shelling of residential areas, targeting and killing of civilians, kidnapping of civilians and the recruitment of children under 15. All these are considered war crimes.


During the Government of Siad Barre and the first years of the Somali civil war

Atto was manager of a US-oil company during the period of the Siad Barre government. Later he founded his own oil-company and let Barre take part in the profit. He reportedly acquired a stake in Bluebird Aviation during the early 1990s in order to import khat from close relatives based in Kenya.

Osman Ali Atto was already wealthy and strategically well positioned when the civil war started in the spring of 1990. Atto had also been involved with the construction industry. He had been able to acquire trucks and heavy construction machinery, making him the only Somali capable of being a reliable contractor for construction projects by Western companies. Among the Somali country managers of international oil companies, Atto was known as “Monsieur Dozer” because of his ability to cut through the most difficult territory and establish access roads to remote sites. His monopoly made him powerful before other warlords started to ascend. He used this power to become the right hand of general Mohammed Aidid of the USC faction in Mogadishu.

In 1992, Osman Ali Atto helped pave the way for the food airlift and later the American troop landing. He was the Americans' main contact and negotiator with General Mohammed Aidid and Aidid's most important financial backer. Within half a year as the tension escalated and the United Nations began an all-out assault against General Aidid, the American military bombed Osman Ali Atto's garages, destroying hundreds of thousands of dollars of bulldozers and other equipment as well as equipment that gave him the ability to build technicals. American military officials described him as "General Aidid's evil genius." As they searched for Aidid, the American military arrested and imprisoned Osman Ali Atto. In prison on an island off the coast of Somalia for four months, he suffered from malnutrition and severe neglect, former Western diplomats in Somalia say. A year and a half after his release, Osman Ali Atto's garages were running and making technicals (pick-up trucks mounted with heavy artillery) again.

The event has received much attention in the media: The abduction by Task Force Ranger took place on September 21, 1993, from a location near Digfer Hospital. The rangers had made an earlier attempt at Atto's capture, but missed him by seconds. Atto would later be interviewed by CNN. In a speech at a church in Daytona, in January 2003, William Boykin, responsible for the operation, recounted, "There was a man in Mogadishu named Osman Atto... He went on CNN and he laughed at us, and he said, 'They'll never get me because Allah will protect me.' Well, you know what? I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol. The arrest was portrayed in the film Black Hawk Down.

On 7/9/1994 the Lower Jubba Peace Conference lead to a peace agreement signed by Osman Ali Atto as the SNA representative and by general Hersi Morgan of the SNF. However, general Hersi Morgan's adversaries in Lower Jubba, the Absame clan, did not take part, making the peace accord stillborn. In late 1994, Osman Atto's car drove over a land mine and broke both his feet.

Osman Ali Atto's war with Aidid

On 15 June 1995 General Aidid declared a government and was elected president by his coalition, but at the same time, his faction split. Osman Ali Atto declared that he was Chairman of the SNA. Aidid's self-declared government was not recognised internationally and was unable to administer the portion of the city it claimed to control. Fighting between the forces of Osman Ali Atto and of General Aidid in South Mogadishu lead to 200 dead between April and June 1996 and 150 in July 1996. A son of Atto was shot by a sniper in the so-called "banana war". Aidid was wounded and died of his injuries on 1 August in that same year. His son Hussein Mohamed Farrah succeeded him.

On April 27 1996, the faction of the United Somali Congress/Somali National Army (USC/SNA) which supported Osman Ali Atto decided on a programme to enforce the sharia (Islamic court and laws) in southern Mogadishu, where Atto's forces were trying to impose control. A committee was nominated to prepare the installation of Islamic courts and an appeal was issued to Islamic leaders to decide on the religious personalities most suited to head these courts. Islamic courts were already in place in the northern part of Mogadishu controlled by Ali Mahdi Mohammed, Osman Ali Atto's new ally.

After the death of Aidid, fighting continued between Osma Ali Atto and Aidid's successor:

  • Exchange of gunfire and heavy artillery was reported in south Mogadishu between 21 and 24 September, during which time a mortar shell landed in a camp for internally displaced persons, killing seven persons and wounding eight others.
  • On 7 October, at least eight persons were killed and 30 injured near the K-7 intersection in Mogadishu. On 29 October, 16 persons were reportedly killed and 20 wounded in a drive-by shooting by members of the Osman Ali Atto's militia in the Bar Ubah area of south Mogadishu, in retaliation for assassinations on board a boat on 4 October by supporters of Hussein Mohamed Farrah. The same evening, Hussein Mohamed Farrah's militia was said to have killed at least five people in the house of a supporter of Osman Ali Atto.
  • On 30 October, militia loyal to Osman Ali Atto attacked the K-50 airstrip, controlled by the Aidid administration, killing at least 21 civilians and wounding 50 others, in an attempt to kill or kidnap the brother of Hussein Mohamed Farrah.
  • In November 1996, heavy shelling and sporadic gunfire caused a number of civilian deaths in south Mogadishu and the temporary closure of schools in the conflict areas. Local press reported 68 deaths (including 18 children) and at least 112 wounded between 1 and 22 November. Mortar shells misfired and hit civilian homes, displaced persons' camps, schools and markets.
  • Between 13 and 21 December, the forces of Osman Ali Atto were supported by Musa Sudi Yalahow. Fighting took place in south Mogadishu and in Medina district. Over 300 persons were reported to have lost their lives in these battles and over 1,400 were wounded. A large number of the reported casualties were civilians. As a result of the fighting, many people fled the Medina district and places as far away as Galcayo reported receiving new displaced families.
  • On 12 February 1997, fighting erupted in north Mogadishu. Its scale necessitated the evacuation of United Nations personnel from the area.
  • As of 15 February, the fighting had claimed at least 15 lives, five of them are said to be from one family. Forty others were reportedly injured.
  • In south Mogadishu, the tension that had been building between the late General Aidid's forces and those of Osman Ali Atto led to exchanges of fire in mid-March 1996 over control of the Merka port. The fighting, which subsided in Merka itself after elders intervened, continued in Mogadishu in April and caused the loss of many lives. Osman Ali Atto took control of the compound in Mogadishu of the former United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM). He also entered into an alliance with Musa Sudi Yalahow, a supporter of Ali Mahdi Mohamed in the Medina area of south Mogadishu. Ali Mahdi Mohamed's militia attacked the Huriwa district in north Mogadishu which is inhabited by the Habr-Gedir sub-clan. There was also intense fighting for control of Balidogle airport about 60 miles south-west of Mogadishu, where militia loyal to General Aidid had been in control since the departure of UNOSOM. Though the joint forces of Ali Mahdi Mohamed, Osman Ali Atto and another sub-clan briefly gained control of the airport, General Aidid's forces succeeded in recapturing it. Elders tried unsuccessfully to mediate in the conflicts.
  • On 22 September 1997, gunmen assassinated Oman Ali Atto's spokesman in south Mogadishu in his home.
  • On 4 October, two high-ranking officials of Osman Atto's militia were killed aboard a boat travelling from north Mogadishu to Medina when another vessel loaded with heavy weaponry intercepted the boat and opened fire. The local press reported that the weaponry belonged to the Aidid administration. Nine other person were reportedly injured in the same incident.
  • On 3/1/1997 Leaders of the SSA (Somali Salvation Army, the Ali Mahdi Mohammed branch of the United Somali Congress) and Osman Ali Atto met in Sodere, Ethiopia, and signed an agreement to seek a comprehensive peace settlement and establishment of a new government of Somalia. However, tensions within Ali Mahdi Mohamed's Abgal clan worsened, leading to armed conflict in North Mogadishu.
  • On April 15 1998 ten Red Cross and Red Crescent workers were kidnapped 15 by Somali gunmen at a Mogadishu airstrip. The group was held for nine days in a north Mogadishu compound before being released April 24 apparently without any ransom being paid other than US $50,000 to cover "expenses". The kidnappers were from the Da'ud subclan of Ali Mahdi Mohamed's north Mogadishu Abgal clan. During negotiations the kidnappers demanded a $100,000 ransom for each hostage, threatening that they would be executed within 24 hours if no payment was made. Two of those abducted were Swiss, while the others came from Belgium, France, Germany, Kenya, Norway, Somalia, South Africa and United States. Although physically in good health following their ordeal, doctors reported that all ten were suffering from severe psychological trauma. As a result of the incident, the UN has suspended all humanitarian operations in the city and evacuated its foreign workers pending a reassessment of the political and security situation. The Al-Jamhuria newspaper, charged that Osman Atto organised the kidnapping because he felt he had been snubbed by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Somalia office director, Thomas Gurtner, who was among the hostages.
  • In July 16th 1998, militiamen in Mogadishu attacked a United Nations convoy carrying food to flood and famine victims in southern Somalia. The convoy of twenty-eight trucks was being guarded by private security guards who fired back at the militiamen, who were believed to belong to a faction loyal to Osman Ali Atto. Six people were killed and many more wounded in the exchanges.
  • In 1998, at the urging of Egypt and Libya, Ali Mahdi Mohammed and Hussein Aidid established a joint administration for Mogadishu including a joint police force. Osman Ali Atto and several other faction leaders were in strong opposition and factional fighting took place into the first months of 1999.

Implicated in the killing of General Yusuf Tallan

The U.S. Department of State asserted, in its Country Report for Somalia for the year 2000, that the killing of Yusuf Tallan, a former general under the Barre regime was connected to Osman Ali Atto. The report did not provide specific corroboration for the assertion.

Hostage taking (in 2000, ACF) and convoy ambush (in 2001, WFP)

"On 26 July, 2000, several heavily armed vehicles (called technicals), accompanied by about 50 militiamen, attacked the compound of the NGO Action Internationale contre la Faim (ACF) in Mogadishu south. A local warlord (Osman Ali Ato) is believed to have ordered that attack. Two international staff members (French administrator Francoise Deutsch, 46, and British logistician Jonathan Ward, 31) of ACF were taken hostage. They were only released after the International Committee of the Red Cross intervened on their behalf.

Militiamen loyal to Osman Ali Atto are alleged to be responsible for a July 14, 2001 ambush of a World Food Programme (WFP) relief convoy near Mogadishu, in which six persons were killed. The 2002 USA Country Report on Human Rights Practices reported that no actions were taken by the end of 2002 against the militiamen who were said to be responsible.

Transitional National Government (TNG)

  • 8 March 2001: Talks took place among the political opponents of the Somalia's transitional government in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. Several warlords and faction leaders were seeking some form of united opposition to the first government in Somalia for 10 years, which was set up at talks in Djibouti in 2000.

Leaders included the head of the autonomous region of Puntland, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, and General Mohammed Said Hersi Morgan as well as General Adam Abdullahi Gabyo and General Hassan Mohamed Nur. They were meeting other faction leaders from Mogadishu including Mohammed Farah Aidid, Osman Hassan Atto and Musa Sudi Yalahow who had announced that they had resolved their differences.

  • The March 27-April 4 ambush and kidnapping took place of 6 international UN staff and 3 MSF staff in Mogadishu by militia in opposition to the TNG.
  • On June 25, a convoy carrying UNICEF health and nutrition supplies was ambushed in Brava and the supplies looted.
  • On July 5th, a convoy of TNG trucks was ambushed in the centre of Mogadishu by militia allied with Osman Atto and Husein Farah Aidid.
  • On July 7, another TNG vehicle was ambushed near the same location.
  • On 11 July, a member of the Transitional National Assembly TNA was kidnapped, allegedly by supporters of faction leader Osman Hasan Ali Atto after claims that the MP owed money.
  • In July 300 people were killed in Mogadishu in spite of the presence of the TNG’s 2000-strong police force. This was because of the confrontation of the TNG with the members of the SRRC which include Col. Abdullahi Yusuf, Mr. Mohammed Farah Aidid, General Gabyow, General Mohammed Said Hersi Morgan, Mr. Osman Ali Atto, Mr. Musa Sudi Yalahow and others.

President Moi convened a round of reconciliation talks among Somali leaders in Kenya, from 13 to 24 December 2001, at the conclusion of which three separate agreements were signed between the Transitional National Government and the opposition groups represented there, including: the Somali Reconciliation and Restoration Council, led by Osman Ali Atto (none of the five co-chairmen of the Somali Reconciliation and Restoration Council was present); the United Somali Congress/Somali Salvation Alliance, led by Omar Muhamoud Finnish; and the United Somali Congress/Somali National Alliance. The three near-identical agreements called for an all-inclusive government to be formed within one month, with the Transitional National Government proposing to the Transitional National Assembly.

In the course 2001 the Transitional National Government (TNG), led by President Abdiqasim Salad Hassan, had brought on board two of the five faction leaders based in Mogadishu, originally opposed to it. In December 2000, Hussein Haji Bod reached an agreement with the TNG, and in February 2001, Mohamed Afrah Qanyare joined the TNG as Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources. Osman Ali Atto held several positive discussions with the President and provided the TNG with technical assistance in the "Clean-up of Mogadishu” campaign. The other two faction leaders in Mogadishu - Mohammed Farah Aidid and Musa Sudi Yalahow - continued to challenge the authority of the TNG. Ali Atto signed the Nakuru peace deal on a national unity government in December 2001.

In the middle of January 2002 Osman Ali Atto also announced that he was taking the side of the government but keeping forces loyal to him. He did not disclose his motives but reportedly he had been persuaded to do so by mediators of Ali Mahdi Mohammed who had gone into the shadow but still remained in touch. Many analysts believed that the government was formed largely thanks to the support of Ali Mahdi Mohammed. It was he who helped President Abdiqasim Salad Hassan by placing about 10,000 loyal militants under his command.

Transitional Federal Government (TFG)

After his election, Abdullahi Yusuf formed the first Transitional Federal Government TFG, replacing the Transitional National Government (TNG) of Somalia by appointing cabinet ministers in November 2004. One of his appointments was Osman Ali Atto as minister of housing and public works.

In 2006 Osman Ali Atto was involved in peace efforts between TFG and ICU. Atto is of the same clan (the Saad sub-clan of Habar Gedir) as his former (Aidid) comrade in arms Abdi Hasan Awale Qeybdiid, a warlord whose militia lost their checkpoints. Atto said Abdi Hasan Awale Qeybdiid should recognize the legitimacy of Islamic Courts Union as new ruler in the capital. He told the media that he welcomed the operations by ICU to the eradication of all illegal checkpoints formed in and out of the capital.

Following the success of the Supreme Islamic Courts Council in taking Mogadishu, and the entry of Ethiopian troops into Somalia, members of the transitional government started to resign. Before the resignations started, the government consisted of 42 full minsters and a further 60 assistant ministers. On July 27, 2006 19 ministers resigned including minister Osman Ali Atto. Atto said he came back from the capital with an agreement from the Islamic courts that fresh talks be held. But he said that Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Ghedi was "an obstacle to progress" and had refused to listen.

On May 30th he was kidnapped by the Islamic Courts union who are waging an Insurgency against the Ethiopian troops and the Somali government Soldiers. Osman was kidnapped by Insurgents manning a checkpoint while he was driving to Mogadishu. The Islamic Courts later released him.

Atto's financing of warfare

In a letter from the Chairman of the Security Council Committee (established pursuant to resolution 751 in 1992) to the President of the Security Council (dated 25 March 2003) Osman Ali Atto is described as an indivual who exemplifies "the interaction between looting and the exploitation of Somalia's ressources and infrastructure and the financing of warfare". According to this document Atto used the income from airports, check-points, drug-dealing, arms-smuggle, asset stripping and kidnapping to purchase arms and finance his militias.

Airports and Checkpoints

The most significant commodity brought to all airports in Somalia is khat, which accounts for 30 to 50 per cent of the total income for each airport. Daynile airport, located near Mogadishu, generates an estimated $1.5 million in revenues each year. In 2006, shares of those revenues are said to be split between the Mohamed Qanyare Afrah, Osman Ali Atto and the other two shareholders Omar Muhamoud Finnish and the Ifka Halane sharia court.

Checkpoints are spread throughout Somalia, and particularly in central and southern Somalia. They are one of the most immediate sources of cash for warlords. They have been in existence in Somalia since the early 1990s, when the civil war erupted and warlords and clans started to seek sources of revenue to allow them to buy arms and ammunition and other supplies that would permit them to continue fighting. Before the collection of revenues from airports and seaports started, checkpoints were the fastest and probably the easiest way to collect regular and substantial amounts of money. They continue to provide hard currency on a daily basis, enabling warlords to have enough cash on hand to purchase arms, ammunition and khat supplies for the militias. There are approximately 32 checkpoints in the Bay region, compared with about 51 in the Mogadishu area alone. Checkpoints in the Madina district of Mogadishu, Darmoole (a road between Mogadishu and Balad) and at Balad (a town about 30 kilometres north of Mogadishu) provide Muse Sudi Yalahow, the dissident TFG Minister of Commerce and member of the Mogadishu-based opposition, with approximately $1.3 million a year. This amount is exceeded by the approximate $4.3 million that are collected annually by Osman Hassan Ali (Atto), at Afgooye, a town located about 30 kilometres west of Mogadishu.


Khat was the currency by which the warlord's men were paid, and since it suppresses natural appetite, actual food distributed to the men could be that much less. The real beneficiaries of the trade in khat were the warlords. Khat was bleeding the economy dry as most of Somalia's currency winded up in the hands of the warlords or left the country to pay for khat's importation from Kenya and Ethiopia. It also left the Somalis literally bleeding when vicious street fighting erupted between rival warlords over the control of its distribution. The industry leader during the early nineties' crisis was Osman Atto, when he was 2nd in command to Mohammed Farah Aidid. Aidid thus became the strongest warlord.

Hashish from Asian countries was smuggled into Kenya and Tanzania on Somali vessels and small boats. Osman Hassan Ali Atto was said to be involved in this trade. Information indicates that they recently exported more than 400 kilograms of hashish to neighbouring countries. There has also been information about marihuana plantations in Camba, Jilib and Merere in the Juba Valley region.

Looting and kidnapping

Osman Ali Atto is also alleged to be involved in kidnappings and responsible for significant asset-stripping (looting) during the war.

See also


External links

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