A car bomb that exploded outside a court in Bosaso, north Somalia, in May, was aimed at advancing Qatar's interests in the country against the UAE, a recorded mobile-phone conversation has revealed.
The recording, obtained by The New York Times and captured by a "foreign intelligence agency opposed to Qatar's foreign policies", was of a phone call between the Qatari ambassador to Somalia and a businessman close to the Qatari Emir, Sheikh Tamim.
“The bombings and killings, we know who are behind them,” the businessman, Khalifa Al Muhanadi, said in the call on May 18, about a week after the attack.
Mr Muhanadi spoke of the bomb as part of a plan to try to discourage UAE contractors from the country, the paper reported.
“So that’s why they are having attacks there, to make them run away,” the ambassador, Hassan bin Hamza Hashem, told the businessman.
“Our friends were behind the last bombings,” Mr Al Muhanadi, the businessman, told the ambassador.
When the Times asked both men about the authenticity of the call, neither disputed it, but said they were speaking as private citizens rather than on behalf of the government.
The ambassador told the paper he did not know Mr Al Muhanadi. But the businessmen said he was school friends with the envoy.
“I am a retired man and a trader … I do not represent any government,” Mr Al Muhanadi was quoted as saying.
Asked by the Times why he had described the Bosaso attackers as "friends" on the call, Mr Al Muhanadi said: "All Somalis are my friends." Neither Mr Al Muhanadi nor Doha denied the authenticity of the call.
But Doha said that it does not attempt to meddle in the affairs of another sovereign government.
“Anyone doing so is not acting on behalf of our government,” the statement read.
The car bomb had earlier been thought by many to be a response by an ISIS affiliate to a US air strike.
Mr Al Muhanadi and Sheikh Tamim have been photographed together on several occasions, also reports and text messages provided by the foreign intelligence agency that recorded the phone call say they often travel together, the paper reported.
In June 2017, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and other allied states cut off diplomatic ties with Qatar over its support for terrorism.
The Qatari businessman is heard telling the ambassador that he is connected to the Somali president and would work to shift contracts from UAE-owned DP World from that company to Doha.
In February, two gunmen shot and killed a manager at P&O Ports, the company involved in running the Bosaso port. DP World has a 30-year contract to run the port in Bosaso, the northern Somali port city. Al Shabab claimed the attack, saying that the company was occupying the port at Bosaso. However, the new revelation casts doubt on that claim.
“We had warned him but he turned a deaf ear,” an Al Shabab spokesman said of the port manager, according to Reuters. “He was illegally in Somalia.”
The Horn of Africa region is strategically important as it offers passage for shipping from the Strait of Hormuz and greater economic opportunities as the region's markets grow.