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Somalia: The Death of a Terrorist: A turning point?

By Dr M. Bali
Thursday, September 18, 2014

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On Sep.1, 2014, [7th of Dhul-Qa’dah 1435 Hijri] Ahmed Godane, the “Sheikh of the Slaughterers,” was killed inside a small vehicle at an encampment just north of Barawe, 105 miles south of Mogadishu, where al-Shabab trains its fighters, by U.S. drones and bombs. The Pentagon confirmed today he died as a result of the airstrike.

"Godane's removal is a major symbolic and operational loss to the largest al-Qaida affiliate in Africa and reflects years of painstaking work by our intelligence, military and law enforcement professionals," a White House statement said. "Even as this is an important step forward in the fight against al-Shabaab, the United States will continue to use the tools at our disposal - financial, diplomatic, intelligence and military - to address the threat that al-Shabaab and other terrorist groups pose to the United States and the American people," it added.

On the same day, the Somali president extended a 45-day amnesty to al Shabaab militants who renounce violence. "While an extreme hardcore may fight over the leadership of al-Shabab, this is a chance for the majority of members of al-Shabab to change course and reject Godane's decision to make them the pawns of an international terror campaign," he said in a statement. "Those who choose to remain know their fate. Al Shabaab is collapsing," the Somali president said, adding: "I say to the members of al Shabaab: Godane is dead and now is the chance for members of al Shabaab to embrace peace."

From 2008 to 2014, Ahmed Godane, 37, a native of Somaliland, north of Somalia, also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, was a major target of the Horn of Africa's War on Terror, as the U.S. placed a $7 million bounty on him in their search for him in 2012. The State Department declared al-Shabaab a terrorist organization in February 2008. A year later Godane pledged allegiance to Al-Qaida. In September 2013, Godane had publicly claimed al-Shabaab was responsible for the deadly Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya, that left 67 people dead one year ago, claiming it was revenge for Kenyan and Western involvement in Somalia.

What the future holds for Somalia

The killing of Godane, the Somalia's most notorious insurgent - an unusually shadowy figure associated with bombings, assassinations and the beheading of local critics, will deal a major blow to al-Shabab as a cohesive and viable fighting force against the Somali government and its Amisom peace-keeping forces. The airstrike removed a key fugitive and cracked the mythic status he held among followers. It takes away a co-founder of that group who was a symbol of the group's murderous agenda region-wide. Godane's highly personalized style had weakened the Shura council that chose him to lead the group in 2008, following the asassination of his predecessor, Hashi Ayro. His brutal purges last year against potential rivals and critics eliminated experienced leaders such as Ibrahim Mead 'afghani', his long-time friend, Omar Shafik Hammami, also known by the pseudonym Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki, and Hassan Dahir Aweys, following a harrowing escape from the al-Shabab's grip, and who is now serving a house arrest in Mogadishu.

His declared successor, whose real name is Mahad Omar Abdi-Kareem aka Ahmad Umar, whose nom de guerre is Abu Ubaidah, the unassuming al-Shabaab representative, or 'waali' to Bay and Bakool regions of southwestern Somalia, was reported not to have the brutal character and charisma Godane had and may not be able to keep al-Shabaab together for long; such fragmentation is possible in the absence of a leader with Godane's experience and ruthless approach to dissent. Similar to Godane, he is either from Somaliland, or from Kalafo, in eastern Ethiopia. In addition, true to the kind, al-Shabaab also stated that it remains aligned with al-Qaida, according to the Site intelligence group, that monitorsstatements by Islamic militant groups. "The leadership also renews its pledge of allegiance to al Qaeda and its leader, Sheikh Ayman al Zawahiri, may Allah protect him," the statement reads. "Avenging the death of our scholars and leaders is a binding obligation on our shoulders that we will never relinquish nor forget no matter how long it takes," also said the al-Shabaab statement, according to SITE.

Al-Shabab is not al-Qaida

While the al-Qaida appears to have a principal strength of surviving the killing of Osama bin Laden, al-Shabab, as a regional affiliate, is in a different situation. It lacks the numerous and independent supporters and donors that Al-Qaida has had that bolstered it despite the demise of its spiritual and tactical leader. Bin Laden was unusual in the sense of being able to stitch together local and regional militant groups worldwide and pushed them to act on their own initiatives. Al-Qaeda-spawned militants are now insinuating themselves into many conflicts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Levant countries, Yemen, Chechnya and parts of Africa, where they have been holding off government troops and is being targeted endlessly by U.S. drone strikes.

Al Shabab today is also buckling under an expanded military campaign that has been slowly degrading its fighting abilities and income-earning potential to keep defending territories it held the previous four years. They have to take all of their operatives and weapons, their leaders, their training camps, take away their safe havens. The current OperationIndian Ocean is on the verge of liberating Barawe, a key coastal port and the most jihadi-friendly town, due to its large ethnic Arabian population, to stanch the militants' earning potential as they have exported charcoal and other contraband and used it to import weapons and pick-up trucks from Yemen, Kenya and other places.

Ultimately, similar to Gaza's Hamas, al-Shabab's future may be determined more by popular revolts and backlash among war-weary Somalis than by the demise of its leaders. If a significant number of Somalis sees strong legitimacy of the new government, that it maintains relatively less corrupt image, respects its own laws and pronouncements, provides improved security and basic public services, that will have far greater impact on the future of jihadism than the killings of key leaders who become victims of drone airstrikes.

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