An Al-Qaeda-linked militant group is using Iran as its main transit point for illegal charcoal exports from Somalia, enabling the group to earn millions of dollars in profits, a report to the UN Security Council seen by media says.
According to a report cited by AFP and Reuters on October 12, since March, the main destination for the illegal shipments has been ports in Iran, where the charcoal is packaged into white bags labelled "Product of Iran."
The United Nations has banned Somali charcoal imports since 2012 to cut sources of revenue for Al-Shabaab, an Al-Qaeda affiliate that generates revenues for its Islamist insurgency by levying taxes on charcoal production in the regions it controls.
The UN estimates that, despite UN sanctions banning such exports, Somalia produced some 3.6 million bags of charcoal in 2017 for export, generating some $7.5 million in revenue for Al-Shabaab.
The report called Iran a "weak link" in implementing the UN's charcoal ban, and also cast blame on countries such as Ghana and the Ivory Coast for allowing charcoal traffickers to "exploit weaknesses" in their certification processes.
The illegal shipments that arrive in Iran usually carry certificates that falsely state that the Somali charcoal originated in Comoros, Cote d'Ivoire, or Ghana, the unpublished UN report says.
The document identifies Iranian ports in the Kish and Qeshm free zones as the main destinations of the Somali charcoal shipments since March 2018.
From there, the charcoal is sent on "Iran-flagged dhows" to ports in the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Dubai, and elsewhere, where it is mainly used for cooking and smoking shisha water pipes, the report says.
The Iranian mission to the UN did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The report says Iran became a transit point for the illegal Somali shipments after Oman tightened its customs procedures.
The report provided to the UN council was drafted by a UN group of experts tasked with monitoring sanctions on the Somali militants.
Al-Shabaab militants have vowed to overthrow the Somali government, which is backed by the UN and a 20,000-strong force from the African Union stationed in the country.
While Al-Shabaab was pushed out of Mogadishu in 2011 and lost many of other bastions, they still control vast rural areas in the country.
In addition to earnings millions from charcoal sales, Al-Shabaab is making millions annually by imposing tolls on vehicles in areas where they have checkpoints and through taxes on businesses, agriculture, and livestock, the report says.
All this "generates more than enough revenue to sustain its insurgency," it says.