Wednesday, October 23, 2013
For years the Islamist extremist group Al-Shabaab was seen as the
most cohesive, united and powerful force in the failed state of Somalia.
But it is now disintegrating like a house of cards because of internal
divisions and power struggles within its leadership, according to
Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad, a history and political science professor at
Kenya's Kenyatta University.
"They [the militants] are transforming into warring mini-groups,
hunting each other due to their deteriorating ideological differences,
and of course [the group is] on the brink of civil war within itself,"
Abdisamad told IPS in Nairobi.
Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for September's four-day terror
siege on Kenya's Westgate Shopping Mall that resulted in the death of
more than 70 people, and for the Oct. 13 bombing in Ethiopia's capital,
Addis Abba, which killed two Somali nationals who were believed to be
But the militant group, which formally linked with Al-Qaeda in 2012,
has been in a leadership and strategy dispute that has divided it into
two factions - global jihadists and local nationalists.
Abdisamad sees the militants' internal divisions as a golden
opportunity for the Somali government to bring less extremist and
nationalist-minded elements on board.
"Initially, Al-Shabaab came together by default, not by design," he
said, adding that if the Somali government did not capitalise on the
rift and reach out to the nationalist faction, the global jihadists
would win and become stronger.
"And then, the future of Somalia will be uncertain, the stability of
the region will be in question and no doubt the stability of the whole
world will be in question too," Abdisamad said.
He explained that the moment that turned the group's internal war
into an open and public battle was when Al-Shabaab's two co-founders and
top leaders, Ibrahim Haji and Moalim Burhan, were killed by members of
the group in June.
Jama, who was better known by his moniker "Al-Afghani" due to his
Al-Qaeda training in Afghanistan, had a five million dollar U.S. bounty
on his head.
But Al-Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Abdiaziz Abu Musab denied a split
within the group and had said that Jama and Burhan were intentionally
killed in a shoot-out when they rejected an arrest warrant from a Sharia
Two foreign jihadists, the American-born Omar Hammami known as Abu
Mansoor Al-Amriki, who was on the FBI's most wanted list with a five
million dollar reward for his capture, and Osama al-Britani, a British
citizen of Pakistani descent, were also killed by Al-Shabaab last month.
Al-Amriki was perhaps the most well-known Al-Shabaab propagandist
because of his English jihadi rap videos. In 2012 he was the first
member of the group to reveal its split through a short online video
clip in which he said his life was in danger.
He was on the run and survived several assassination attempts by the
Amniyat unit, an intelligence division of Al-Shabaab led by Ahmed Abdi
Godane, who is also known as Sheikh Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, and is the
group's supreme leader. Al-Amriki was eventually killed in September.
Abdisamad explained that Godane is a supporter of global jihad who
believes that Somalia belongs to all Muslims across the world.
"[Godane's] global jihadist faction has an agenda beyond Somalia and
wants to spread Islam from China to Chile, from Cape Town to Canada,"
Another member of the group who was aligned to the nationalist-minded
faction to which Jama belonged, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, escaped from
Al-Shabaab's largest remaining base in Barawe, which is located some
180 km south of Mogadishu.
He surrendered to the Somali government following the murder of Jama
and Burhan. According to Abdisamad, Aweys and his faction are considered
to be less extremist as their intention is to establish an Islamic
state within Somalia borders and not bother neighbouring countries.
"The religious nationalism faction is against globalising the
conflict in Somalia, indiscriminate assassinations and the killing of
clerics, scholars and everyone who seem to have not favoured the
militants. For years they campaigned to replace Godane, which they
failed [to do]," Abdisamad said.
The group's internal division is believed to have contributed to
their loss of strategic towns in southern and central Somalia, including
part of the capital, Mogadishu.
The Bakara market in the capital city was their main source of
funding as the group used to generate millions of dollars from there
through taxation and by extortions from telecommunication companies and
the business community at large. Al-Shabaab was ousted from Mogadishu in
2011 by Somali forces and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM)
Exactly a year later, the group lost its last
remaining and greatest revenue source - the stronghold of Kismayo, a
port city in southern Somalia.
According to a United Nations report, Al-Shabaab used to generate
between 35 to 50 million dollars annually from the southern seaports of
Kismayo and Marko. Both ports are now under the control of Somali forces
and AMISOM troops.
"Such a loss of economic sources and internal divisions have led
hundreds of Al-Shabaab fighters to defect to the government," Somali
journalist, Mohamed Abdi, told IPS. The group, he said, failed to keep
paying their fighters regularly "as they used to do" before the
financial constraints emerged.
Abdi said that the financial constraints and the open rift within the
group's leadership have largely demolished the morale, loyalty and
capability of the group's foot soldiers. It has lead to hundreds of them
deserting to the government or fleeing the organisation and going into
hiding in Somalia or in neighbouring countries.
But Abdisamad Moalim Mohamud, Somalia's former minister for the
interior and national security and a current member of parliament, told
IPS that the group remains a threat not only to Somalia, but also to
regional and global security.
"They have lost more of their foot soldiers and can't counter Somali
and AMISOM forces directly any more. But they are more capable of
conducting effective guerrilla-style warfare such as suicide attacks and
storming places like Westgate Mall in Nairobi and the U.N. compound in
Mogadishu," Mohamud said by phone from Mogadishu.
He said that regional intelligence sharing and developing joint
monitoring platforms and common anti-terror strategies within regional
governments could be used to prevent such a threat. But he disagreed
that their internal division had something to do with nationalism.
"Their rift has a lot to do with the leadership change of Al-Qaeda
than local politics and it is more about pursuing hegemony over the
command and control of the group," Mohamud said.