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The Anatomy of al-Shabaab
The Anatomy of al-Shabaab Abdirahman ‚Aynte? Ali
The Anatomy of al-Shabaab This paper seeks to retrace the evolution, the formation and the trajectory of alShabaab, the extremist militant group in Somalia. The paper contextualizes the group’s military success vis-à-vis the Somali government and other moderate Islamist groups. Moreover, the paper identifies the ideological underpinnings that inform al-Shabaab’s strict interpretation and application of Sharia, or Islamic Law. Finally, the paper analyzes the prevailing factors—both internal and external— that led to al-Shabaab’s decision to adopt global Jihad as a modus operandi and as a guiding principle.
Al-Shabaab is a Somalia-based radical militant group with ties to al-Qaeda. Among other things, its declared objective is to overthrow the Western-backed moderate Islamist government in Somalia, and replace it with an Islamic state ruled in accordance with the strict, Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. The ultimate goal of al-Shabaab is to help other global jihadists materialize the grand vision of resurrecting the global Islamic caliphate. Before May 2008, al-Shabaab was a little known ragtag militia in Somalia. But the largely obscure entity became familiar to the rest of the world on the first day of May, when at least four
Tomahawk cruise missiles, fired by US warships, flattened al-Shabaab’s compound in central Somalia, killing Aden Hashi Ayro, the reclusive military leader of the group, and his top deputies1. The attack came only two months after the US government designated the group as a terrorist organization 2. Other Western countries, such as Britain, Canada and Australia, to name a few, have since followed the footsteps of the US by classifying the organization a terrorist entity. On April 13, 2010, the White House issued a strongly worded statement directing the Treasury Department to freeze the assets of more Shabaab figures. President Barack Obama said that he ‚declared a national emergency to deal with the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by [the conflict in Somalia.?3 The attack as well as the designation lifted al-Shabaab’s domestic and global stature among Salafijihadist groups. A senior Shabaab leader, Mukhtaar Roobow Abu-Mansoor, welcomed the designation as a ‚badge of honor.? 4 In a subsequent interview
Schmitt, E., Gettleman, J. 2008. Qaida Leader Reported Killed in Somalia. The NY Times, May 2,
US Dept. of State Wesbsite. 2008. Designation of al-Shabaab as a specially Designated Global Terrorist. [accessed on March 1, 2008] 3
White House statement. 2010. Message to Congress Concerning Somalia. [accessed April 14, 2010]
BBC Somali: interview on May 2, 2008
with al-Jazeera, he mockingly said that ‚our only regret is that we’re number 41 on that list, not number one! 5?
Viewed by many global jihadists as an effective Jihadist organization with great potential, al-Shabaab attracted hundreds of foreign fighters into Somalia, aggressively expanded its territorial ambitions and, perhaps more importantly, made lasting inroads with the al-Qaida network6. Al-Shabaab now controls more territory in Somalia than any other entity, including the nascent Government of National Unity (GNU), the semi-autonomous Puntland in the Northeast, and the self-declared Republic of Somaliland in the North7. Its strict Wahhabi rule stretches from the barren heartland regions in Central Somalia, all the way to the lush farms in the South. Al-Shabaab’s battle-hardened forces control significant portions of the capital Mogadishu, and even attack the basis of the African Union peacekeepers (AMISOM) 8. More menacingly, the group has ratcheted up its suicide operations across the country, all the while sharpening its global Jihadist
Al-Jazeera TV: Interview with Roobow in Marka. [accessed on Youtube on November 2008]
Sanders, E. 2008. Conditions may be ripe for al-Qaeda in Somalia. LA Times, August 25,
See excellent map by Long War Journal: http://www.longwarjournal.org/maps/somalia/Somalia_redmap-02022009-norm.jpg 8
Mohamed, I. 2009. Insurgents Kill 11 Peacekeepers in Somalia. Reuters, Feb. 22,
rhetoric. On December 3 rd 2009, the Shabaab is thought to have carried out the most devastating suicide attack in Somalia to date, killing three cabinet ministers, several doctors and medical school graduates, as well as two dozen students, parents and professors. The attack, at graduation ceremony for Benadir University, marked a watershed moment in the Somali conflict: for the first time, the Shabaab, though it didn’t claim the attack because it would have constituted a political suicide, was not sparing ‚soft targets.? More frighteningly, the Danish Security and Intelligence Agency, known by its acronyms PET, confirmed that the suicide bomber lived in Denmark for more than 20 years. 9 As the American government zooms its focus on Yemen, following the Christmas Day attempt to blow-up a jetliner over Detroit, al-Shabaab wasted no time to pledge to dispatch its fighters in support of the al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula 10, or AQAP, which trained and armed the 23-year-old Nigerian suspect with explosives. In fact, al-Shabaab has admitted to ‚swapping? fighters and resources with the AQAP.11 As Medhane Tadesse, an Ethiopian scholar correctly observed, alShabaab drives so much of its power from ‚three F’s: fear, foreign money and
The Copenhagen Post: 2009. Somalia Suicide Bomber from Denmark. December 9,
Mohamed, I. 2010. Al Shabaab Urges Muslims to Support Yemeni Qaeda. Reuters, Jan. 01,
Plaut, M. 2010. Somalia and Yemen ‘Swap Rebels’. BBCNew.com, Jan. 17,
foreign fighters. 12? On February 1, 2010, al-Shabaab has, for the first time, declared that it would ally itself directly with the al-Qaeda Network. The group’s reclusive leader, together with a top Jihadist who is on the US and UN terror list, said that the Shabaab would adjoin ‚the Horn of Africa Jihad to the one led by alQaeda and its leader Sheikh Osama bin Laden.? 13 The statement was historic in that it marks the first admission that the Shabaab is making an effort to become part of al-Qaeda network. Still, it falls short of a full-fledged membership to the coveted network.
Al-Shabaab was able to register this momentous military and organizational success, because it deftly played to the irredentist and the anti-occupation psyche of the Somali public during the brutal two-year invasion of Ethiopia—one that it deliberately provoked in the first place to undermine its moderate brethren and use as cause célèbre for its ultimate global Jihadist agenda. Moreover, al-Shabaab cleverly steered clear of Somalia’s salient clan intricacies—a crucial strategic decision that lent credence to its otherwise doctrinaire and bellicose approach to governance and politicking.
Tadesse, M. 2009. Somalia: Bailing Out the TFG,” InterAfrica Group Briefing. P. 9-15
Childress, S. 2010. Somalia’s Al Shabaab to Ally with Al Qaeda. Wall Street Journal, Feb. 2,
Notwithstanding its success, however, al-Shabaab is virtually isolated. With the exception of negligible elements with in the larger Islamic Awakening Movement (IAM) of Somalia, a non-monolithic, big-tent type of a loosely affiliated Islamist movement that gave birth to al-Shabaab, the vast majority of Somalia’s IAMs, as well as secular nationalists and the public in general, have unequivocally rejected the group’s Jihadist orientation and its kowtowing to al-Qaida14. In the latter part of 2009, schisms with its main ally, Hizbul-Islam, has morphed into violent clashes over the control of the strategic port town of Kismaayo. Though the conflict further isolated the Shabaab, it did help the group widen its territorial control, after it successfully ejected Hizbul-Islam fighters from Kismaayo, and all the way to the Somali-Kenyan border. As a result, the Shabaab is, by some estimates, the undisputed ruler of more than fifty percent of the Somali soil, which is roughly the size of Texas.
Under that backdrop, this paper seeks to analyze the factors that led to alShabaab’s military success. I will begin by retracing al-Shabaab’s short history, which in essence is the history of the heterogeneous Islamic Awakening Movement of Somalia and its offshoots. Al-Shabaab was founded out of the
BBCNews.com. 2009. Somalis Reject Bin Laden Threats. [accessed on March 20, 2009]
ashes of one of IAM’s Salafi faction, al-Ittihad al-Islmaiya, or AIAI. Its seminal success is anchored in two crucial stages:
a) Irredentism: The Shabaab traces its roots back to the erstwhile irredentist Islamist movement, which for years aimed at recovering the Somali-inhibited regions of Ethiopia and Kenya. It continues to use a hybrid of irredentism and global Jihad.
b) Salafi-Jihadism: Upon the falter of the irredentist Islamist movement after the withdrawal of Ethiopia from Somalia at the end of 2008, al-Shabaab began to rapidly mutate into global Jihadist movement. Unlike the Taliban, al-Shabaab hasn’t internalized the concept of citizenship and international borders. It admitted of aiming at the restoration of the worldwide Islamic caliphate. And although it’s not part of it, the top echelon of the Shabaab and its vision is decidedly a byproduct of al-Qaeda. Perhaps more frightening for the West, the Shabaab has successfully recruited dozens—some say hundreds— of Somalis with Western passports. These young and impressionable recruits have the nimbleness to move around the world undetected, posing serious threat to the national security of the US and other Western countries should they return with militant ideology. In fact, one of
them has returned to Denmark and on New Year’s Day 201015 attempted to kill the controversial cartoonist, Kurt Westergaard, whose 2005 depictions of the Prophet Muhammad outraged the Muslim world. In the US, more than 14 people were indicted for helping at least two dozen Somali-Americans to return to Somalia and fight for al-Shabaab. In the summer of 2009, Australian authorities foiled what they billed as potentially the ‚most serious terrorist attack on Australian soil.? Authorities alleged that the men who planned to attack a military base near Sydney belonged to a Shabaab cell that included two men who were trained by the group 16. But like the Taliban, the continued expansion of the Shabaab is driven by similar circumstances, (chronic insecurity and naked foreign intervention). Still, the Somali group is far more prone to global Jihadist ideology, and will thereby require sharply different approach.
Tactically, al-Shabaab has instrumentalized some of the military methods articulated by Abu Bakr Naji, the so-called al-Qaeda military tactician, whose poignant ideas are articulated in his book, ‚The Management of Savagery,? in
Dawar, A. 2010. Intruder Shot at Home of Danish Cartoonist. The Guardian, Jan. 2,
Wilson, L., Stewart, C. 2009. Melbourne terror attack ‘could have claimed many lives’. The Australian August 16
which he calls Jihadist organizations to compel the enemy to attack Muslim lands17. The idea is that the enemy, frustrated by mobile urban insurgency, will falter in the face of sustained quagmire. The Shabaab, acting on that strategy, provoked Ethiopia to attack Somalia in 2006, so that, as Naji’s grand strategy articulates, it can ‚overstretch? the enemy’s military resources, expose its weaknesses, harness the popular anger that results from the invasion, and in the end create brutal savagery that will force people to yearn for someone to manage it. Clearly, the Shabaab is positioning itself to be the one that manages that state of savagery. Its sustained violence in Mogadishu, the only major town not under its full domain, is a clear manifestation of this strategy. While the regions under its control enjoy a reliable modicum of stability, the Shabaab terrorizes the capital with daily assassinations, mortar shells and attacks against foreign peacekeepers. Hence the state of savagery that prevails in Mogadishu.
Finally, I will conclude with the apocalyptic scenario: the strategic implications of an al-Shabaab takeover of entire Somalia, particularly Mogadishu. How will such scenario upend the domestic and global dynamics? Will al-Qaeda set up a
Naji, A. [undated] The Management of Savagery. As translated by Will McCants for Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. P. 16-54
permanent shop in Somalia after it had failed to do so in the past? And if it does, what would that mean for the United States, its Western allies and Somalia’s non-Muslim neighbors? But before answering these important questions, we need to fully understand the evolution of al-Shabaab from a little known ragtag militia to a world class Jihadist organization.
The evolution of al-Shabaab Literally, the Arabic word ‚Shabaab? means ‚the youth.? Like all Islamist groups in Somalia, al-Shabaab is the byproduct of the larger Islamic Awakening Movement (IAM) of Somalia, ‚ the non-Sufi Islamic phenomenon that began to trickle into Somalia since the early 1960s, shortly after Southern and Northern Somali territories declared their separate independences from the Italian and British colonies, respectively, and formed the modern-day Somali state. Prior to that, the salient Islamic orientation in Somalia was decidedly Sufi. 18? The IAM can be divided into two major orientations
(itijah): the Salafi and the Ikhwani orientations.19 Members of the latter orientation can largely be lumped into what Dr. Quintan Wiktorowicz describes as ‚politicos.? They’re nonviolent political Islamists who internalized ‚that
Aynte, Yusuf. A. 2009. Somalia: the root cause of the tragedy. Cairo: Cairo Printing Press
Elmi, A. 2008. Making sense of Islam and Islamic Awakening in Somalia. Unpublished PhD dissertation
protecting the purity of Islam is essential, but…that real protection requires addressing political issues as well. 20? The Salafis, on the other hand, especially the most prominent group al-Ittihad al-Islamiya, or AIAI, mesh well into Wiktorowicz’s description of Jihadist groups: Those who support ‚the use of violence to establish Islamic states.21? Al-Shabaab, though it’s still transforming, is a direct descendant of AIAI. Many analysts rightfully believe that it’s a nonmonolithic organization 22. Others believe that the group is divided into three main geographical units: Bay and Bakool, South Central (including Mogadishu) and North Somalia (including Somaliland and Puntland). 23 Each unit has had links to the AIAI—the foremost and the best known Salafi-jihadist organization in Somalia. Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the Bush Administration branded AIAI a terrorist organization. However, most experts correctly note that AIAI effectively ceased to exist—or at least disintegrated— in 1997, when it was crushed by neighboring Ethiopia in the southwest region of Gedo, where AIAI
Wiktorowicz, Q. 2006. The anatomy of the Salafi Movement. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism. 29 (3): P. 207-239 21
Middleton, R. 2008. Ethiopia’s Somalia Dilemma. BBCNews.com. Dec. 2,
Hanson, S. 2009. Al-Shabaab. CFR.org (Council on Foreign Relations Website [accessed Feb. 27, 2009]
controlled for years24. During its twilight years in the mid 1990s, AIAI was dominated by irredentist Islamists whose primary agenda was to annex territories of ‚Greater Somalia,? an expansive term that includes the Somaliinhabited regions in Ethiopia and Kenya, and the tiny Republic of Djibouti 25. Practically, though, AIAI’s main struggle was aimed at the Somali region in Ethiopia, sometimes known as ‚Ogaden.?
Various accounts claim that al-Shabaab was officially established around late 1990s or early 2000s26. But the most authoritative account—a former member of AIAI—asserts that it was formally incorporated in 2003 at an AIAI alumni conference in Laasa’aanood, a town in northern Somalia 27. According to this account, former senior members of AIAI, including Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys (who’s on the US terrorism list), and Sheikh Ali Warsame, his brother in-law and onetime chairman of AIAI, among hundreds of Salafis, held what was billed as a strategic conference aimed at ‚de-militarizing? the Salafi movement, and forging a post-911 strategy for the organization. This source claims that Sheikh Warsame
Menkhaus, K. 2004. Somalia: State of collapse and the threat of terrorism. Paper for IISS Adelphi . P. 63
Crisis Group. 2005. Somalia’s Islamists. Africa Report 100. P.7-10
Crisis Group. 2008. Somalia: To Move Beyond the Failed State. Africa Report No. 147. P. 10-17
A telephone interview with former AIAI member, Sheikh Saeed, A. April, 2009
advocated for a non-armed, unified Salafi political front in Somalia, ‚in tandem with the global realities of today.?
Reportedly, Aweys was reluctant to this
notion, but nonetheless affirmed it out of deference to his senior brother in-law. But, according to the source, a group of battle-hardened, Afghan-trained pious young men rejected the elders’ call as ‚a capitulation to the US and its Christian infidels.? The group’s leaders were, Ahmed Abdi Aw-Mohamed Godane, a native of Hargeysa, Somaliland, and Aden Hashi Ayrow. Together with about a dozen men in their late 30s or early 40s angrily stormed out of the conference after publicly blasting Sheikh Warsame as a Western apologizer. Within few days, Godane and Ayrow held a parallel conference in the same town and officially launched Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujaahideen. In addition to Godane and Ayrow, all key players of al-Shabaab were present at the very first incorporation meeting. According to this source who was present at this meeting, the few dozen men who gathered at an old primary school were furious that the ‚Salafi elders abandoned the cause of jihad. 29?
The final communiqué of the meeting harshly indicted the ‚apologist elders? for disowning the cause of jihad, especially with respect to the Somali-inhabited region of Ethiopia, at a time when the Ethiopian government ‚is encroaching on Muslim territories—from Somaliland, to Puntland and even Mogadishu 30.? The passionate discussion was reportedly led by the more articulate figures, such as Godane, and his close associate, Ibrahim Haji Jama Mi’ad, who earned the nom de guerre ‚al-Afghani? for his years of Jihad in Afghanistan. Ayrow and others interjected with both tactical and strategic notes. By the end of a three-day meeting, al-Shabaab was formally established. Ayrow, then in his late 20s, was installed as the ‚Amir? and Godane, al-Afghani, Roobow and the late Abdullahi Ma’alin Abu ‘Uteyba as top deputies, each charged with a specific task and/or region.
Despite the inordinate secrecy inherent in the organization (typically, the group jealously guards its internal deliberations), it’s publicly stated objective was unequivocally irredentist: ‚To reclaim Muslim territories from the Ethiopian infidels and establish an Islamic state in the Somali-inhabited regions of East
Africa, to be governed by Sharia and Sunnah as interpreted by the Salaf al-Saalih [the rightful first generation.] 31?
Ideology and Creed
Like most global Jihadist organizations around the world, al-Shabaab, by ideology, is a Salafi-Jihadist movement. In their words, Ashley Elliot and G-S Holzer define the Shabaab as ‚a populist group with a Salafist orientatin… 32? The term Salafi, according to Quitan Wiktorowicz, ‚is used to denote those who follow the example of the companions (salaf) of the Prophet Mohammed. 33? Although not all Salafis are Jihadists, most are Wahhabis in their creed, or ‘Aqidah. In its teachings, the Wahhabi creed overemphasizes on the unity of God (Allah), or Tawheed, above all else. It applies a strict literal interpretation of the Qur’an—a document they view as immutable and timeless, contrary to mainstream Muslims34. In Somalia, the Salafi ideology and its Wahhabi creed
Mukhtar, A. 2007. ‘al-Shabaab waa urur caynkee ah?’ translation: “Who’s al-Shabaab.” Qaadisiya.com [accessed on March 22, 2008] 32
Elliot, A., Holzer, G-S. 2009. The invention of ‘terrorism’ in Somalia: paradigms and policy in US foreign relations. South African Journal of International Affairs. 16 (2): 231 33
Wiktorowicz, Q. 2005. A Genealogy of Radical Islam. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 28(2):75-98
was first introduced by Sheikh Nur Ali ‘Olow in the 1950s35. Upon returning from Egypt and Saudi Arabia—the bastion of the Salafi movement—, where he was schooled, he began preaching at one of Mogadishu’s biggest mosques 36. He quickly gained traction by challenging the mystical practices that long cast doubts on the authenticity of the Sufi scholars. In few years, ‘Olow has attracted immense following in Mogadishu and elsewhere, but more importantly, he laid the foundation for the first non-Sufi movement in Mogadishu. In the following decade, many more young scholars returned from Saudi Arabia as full-time preachers of the Saudi Ministry of Endowment and Islamic Affairs. By the 1980s, the Salafi movement took a hold in Somalia. But by the collapse of the central government in Somalia, the AIAI was in full gear, and the Jihadist wing of the Salafi movement prevailed.
According to former members and Somali intelligence officials, the Shabaab is currently structured in a pyramidal, three-layered superstructure: the Qiyadah (the top leadership), the Muhaajiruun (the foreign fighters and Somalis with
Mayow, A. 2010. The Salafi Creed in Somalia. [in Arabic] Alshahid.com, [accessed on Jan. 27, 2010]
A VOA Somali Service interview with Sheikh Mohamed Garyare, a founding IAM member, July 2009
foreign passports) and the Ansar (the local Somali fighters). The Ansar constitute the vast majority of foot soldiers, but they are almost entirely excluded from the Qiyadah, which is dominated by the Muhaajiruun, and Somalis who fought in places like Afghanistan, Kashmir and Chechnya. The Qiyadah consists of as many as hundred field commanders spread across the country, but a Shura Council (a consultative body) of about seven-to-ten men form the ultimate decision-making authority. Members of this exceptionally secretive body are, by some accounts, more than seventy percent non-Somali. Except in battles, the Muhaajirtuun, who are estimated to number around four-to-six hundred, are camped and trained separately in an effort to contain their activity, as their defection can expose the inner workings of the organization 37. A 17-year-old Somali-American member of the Muhaajiruun named Burhan Hassan, was shot dead when he attempted to flee and apparently return to his family in Minnesota38. The number of Shabaab fighters is the subject of intense guesswork. But estimates put it as many as 6,000 fighters, and as little as half of that.
Clan and Identity
Author interviews with Sheikh Mohamed Pakistani, Asad Sharif and Somali intelligence officials. 2009
Levine, M. 2009. Group Linked to al Qaeda May Have Killed Minnesota Man Recruited in Somalia. FOXNews.com, [accessed on June 09, 2009: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,525339,00.html]
Clan loyalty is a salient problem in Somalia. The Somali society is primarily organized through the logic of lineage. Alliances are mostly forged through the proximity with which one’s lineage or ancestry is traceable to the other. Even the Islamic Awakening Movement, which to a certain degree curtailed the influence of clan loyalty among its rank and file, has often succumbed to this transcendent problem, because it abided by the unwritten rule of subordinating to the clan hierarchy. This rule stipulates that Islamic identity should compliment, not challenge ‚the primacy of clannism. 39?
For all practical purposes, al-Shabaab has broken this cycle. And it achieved this astronomical success in two fundamental ways: First, it exploited the people’s collective yearn for unity. Remarkably, the founding fathers of al-Shabaab represent a clan diversity of surprising proportions in the standards of Somalia, where the accepted mode of power division has been a proportion known as ‚4.5,? which is based on the unscientific assumption that Somalis are divided into four equal clans (units), and a consortium of clans lumped into a half unit. Al-Shabaab has ignored this rule, and in fact has empowered minority clans by allowing them to take senior positions within al-Shabaab, and, in some cases,
CTC.USMA.edu. [undated declassified report.] al-Qaida’s (mis)adventures in the Horn of Africa. *accessed Oct. 6, 2008]
even telling them to use their newfound power against ‚traditionally oppressive clans,? according to a former commander 40. This has enabled the group to do well in most parts of the country. One expert noted that al-Shabaab has ‚issued strong and convincing signals of its rejection of clan loyalty. 41? In the Somali context, this is crucial to winning the hearts and minds of a deeply clannish society. Secondly, the group has aggressively recruited very young fighters who were yet to be thrust into their deeply rooted clan dogma. These fighters, often barely pupils, have easily been indoctrinated into the global Jihadist ideology. Ashley Elliot and Georg-Sebastian Holzer note that the Shabaab ‚comprises part of a generational struggle, seeking to overturn the generation that led Somalia to ruin.42?
A rundown of the group’s top Somali leadership reflects all four major clans in Somalia. Ahmed Abdi Aw-Mohamed Godane, and his close associate, Ibrahim Haji Jama al-Afghani, the Amir and his deputy, hail from the Dir/Isaaq clan,
Interview with former Shabaab commander Sheikh Mohamed Sheikh Ali “Pakistani,” December 2009
Bruton, B. 2008. Self Induced Stalemate in Somalia: An Assessment of U.S. Policy of Options. Policy paper at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. [accessed on Nov. 2008] 42. Elliot, A., Holzer, G-S. 2009. The invention of ‘terrorism’ in Somalia: paradigms and policy in US foreign relations. South African Journal of International Affairs. 16 (2): 231
which dominates the Northwestern regions of the self-declared Republic of Somaliland. Aden Hashi Ayrow, the former Amir, and Abdullahi Ma’alin Ali Nahar Abu ‘Uteyba, a former security chief who was killed by a separate US air strike in 2006, as well as the current political chief, Sheikh Hussein Ali Fidow, hail from the Hawiye clan. Mogadishu is the bastion of the Hawiye clan. Together with South-Central Somalia, the Hawiye dominates the nerve center of the country. Mukhtar Roobow Ali Abu Mansoor, the former spokesman and a top commander, hails from the Rahanweyn clan, which dominates SouthWestern Somalia, including Baidoa, the strategic city that used to be the seat of the government before al-Shabaab took it over in January 2009. Fuad Mohamed Khalaf Shangole, a Swedish citizen, hails from the Daarood clan, which dominates the North-Eastern regions of Puntland.
The death of the two Hawiye figures has somewhat dented the ‚clan-blind? mantra that al-Shabaab long prided itself. But the group quickly elevated another Hawiye figure in the clan’s stronghold in and around Mogadishu to fill the gap. Sheikh Ali Mohamed Hussein, a previously unknown figure, is promoted to be the governor of Banadir region, which includes Mogadishu. Another Hawiye, Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage (Ali Dheere) is also promoted as the new spokesman
of the Shabaab. Clearly, al-Shabaab has weathered the intricate clan storms better than any other entity in Somalia. Perhaps it has learned from al-Qaida’s misadventures in the country, which in the past was entangled and stymied by a web of complex clan system as it tried to gain a foothold in Somalia 43.
Notwithstanding its intra-clan success, however, al-Shabaab has grappled to identify with the Somali public. In fact, it consistently uses non-Somali, Jihadist symbols and identities that unnerve many Somalis and cast aspersion on its purported goal of liberating Somalia. For instance, it refrained from using the Somali flag during the insurgency against Ethiopia 44. Instead, its fighters carried aloft a black flag with the Shahaada (the declaration of the faith) emblazoned across it, using white text. This description is a slight variation from al-Qaida’s flag, which has a yellow text on it. In a speech at a graduation ceremony, Roobow outlawed the Somali flag, claiming that it became a God-like symbol worshipped by many 45. Moreover, many Somalis are alarmed by the Arabisation of the Shabaab. In addition to holding official press conferences in Arabic, the
43. CTC.USMA.edu. [undated declassified report.] al-Qaida’s (mis)adventures in the Horn of Africa. [accessed Oct. 6, 2008] Op. Cit 44
Mukhtar, A. 2007. ‘al-Shabaab waa urur caynkee ah?’ Translated to “Who’s al-Shabaab?” Op. Cit.
Hassan, M. 2010. Al-Shabaab bans Somali flag. [translated from Somali] Hiiraan.com [accessed Jan. 2]
group’s leaders invariably go by the nickname of ‚Abu someone,? to denote the names of their children—usually the eldest child. This practice is innately Arabic, but has been widely used by Arab jihadists, sometimes to conceal their real identity. The Arabisation practice is also detected in al-Shabaab’s propaganda machine. In a number of propaganda videos, al-Shabaab’s militia is seen singing to Arabic Anaasheed (songs) that glorify suicide bombings, and extol the leadership of Osama bin Laden 46.
Perhaps al-Shabaab’s scariest and best known identity is its gun-toting militia, who are known among the public as ‚the masked men,? for they obscure their faces with red scarves 47. This practice is consistent with the group’s secretive nature. To this day, the faces of the top echelon of al-Shabaab are not known to the world, including apparently the US intelligence community 48. With the exception of Sheikh Roobow (and now spokesman Sheikh Ali Dheere), the top tier is characteristically reclusive and never speaks to the news media. Ayrow’s
Youtube video: Undated: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-i6sMYkEVE – [accessed on Dec. 2008]
McGregor, A. 2007. The Leading Factions Behind the Somali Insurgency JamestownFoundation.com, [accessed on April 30, 2007] 48
The US Treasury Department and the State Department don’t have the pictures of Godane, al-Afghani and other top leaders on their websites. They also didn’t have Ayrow’s photo until after his death, when some Somali websites published his image. They do, however, have images of Roobow, al-Turki & Aweys
face was unknown to the outside world, but upon his death, the group released videos and pictures casting him in a heroic light.
The concept of citizenship is entirely a Western-fabricated notion to the Shabaab. Unlike the Taliban, which recognized international borders as part of its identity and actually maintained diplomatic relations with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the leaders of al-Shabaab even cast doubts on the legitimacy of nation states as we know them. In an interview with the BBC, Roobow called ‚all Muslims? to join them in their jihad. Challenged on how his foreigners would be different from the Ethiopians, he asserted that he doesn’t recognize Muslims as foreigners. ‚These are Western-fabricated nationalities. Muslims are one ummah,? he said49. Like other international political Islamists, most other groups within the IAM of Somalia have abandoned religion as citizenship and internalized the concept of citizenship through territorial nationstates50. This assertion was subsequently repeated over and over by the Shabaab leaders.
Al-Shabaab and the irredentist movement
BBC Somali: Interview. May 2, 2008. Op. Cit.
For extended treatment, see: Ayoob, M. 2008. The Many Faces of Political Islam. Op. Cit. P.16-17
Irredentism denotes the notion of annexing a territory administered by another state. In the erstwhile irredentist Islamist movement of Somalia, this notion called for recovering the Somali-inhabited regions of Ethiopia and Kenya. Somali Islamists first espoused this notion in the early 1960s, mainly to compete with the more popular dogma of Pan-Somalism 51—which essentially adopted the same irredentist mantra of ‚Greater Somalia,? but was a clever way of spinning it. The Pan-Somalism dogma was the mantra of then powerful secular politicians. With collapse of the Somali state in 1991, Somali Islamists, namely AIAI, not only embraced the irredentist message of ‚Greater Somalia,? but took it to a whole new level. It found an AIAI arm in the Somali region of Ethiopia and consistently attacked Ethiopia from its basis in the border regions of Gedo and Lower Jubba52. When Ethiopia finally retaliated in 1997 and crushed the AIAI in Gedo, many of its most qualified fighters were sent to Afghanistan. This cell included Ayrow, Godane, Roobow and Abu ‘Uteyba53.
Mahadallah, H. 2008. Islamic Courts, Ethiopian Intervention and Its Implications for the Security of the Horn of Africa. Horn of Africa Journal. 4(11): 33-45 52
Crisis Group Report. 2005. Somalia’s Islamists. Op. Cit. p. 7-10
Crisis Group Report. 2007. Somalia: To move beyond…” Op. Cit. P. 10-17
Following the palpable months of 9/11, all of them returned to Somalia, and eventually coalesced around two camps: one in Mogadishu, led by Ayrow, and protected by Sheikh Aweys. The other camp was in the deep jungles of the Lower Jubba region, under the auspices of a reclusive, powerful former AIAI senior leader, Sheikh Hassan Abdillahi Hirsi Al-Turki54. (The latter is also on the US terrorism list. He was born in the Somali inhabited region of Ethiopia, and is probably the most influential irredentist of all Islamists. He has deep connections to his clan, the Ogaden, which is one of the major Somali clans in the Somali region of Ethiopia. In February 2010, he formally joined al-Shabaab, putting an end to long held suspicion that he hid his loyalty to them out of deference to his brother in-law, Sheikh Ahmed Madoobe, a top Hizbul-Islam officer who was ejected from the strategic town of Kismaayo by Shabaab fighters.)
With their newfound safe heavens, al-Shabaab vigorously tried to revive the irredentist Islamist movement to no avail. Hence its plan b: a spade of headlinegrabbing assassinations and cemetery desecrations in Mogadishu and other regions. In 2005, men who masked their faces desecrated a century-old Italian
Wadanka.com. 2007-2010. The History of Islamist Organizations in Somalia. [translated] Series 6. http://wadanka.com/General/2563.html – [accessed on Sept. 30, 2008]
graveyard in Mogadishu. Few months later, a BBC producer, Kate Payton, and the country’s best known peace activist, Abdulqadir Yahye, were assassinated in Mogadishu. In addition, more than hundred people, mostly former military generals, professors, businessmen, journalists and activists were quietly assassinated over the next few years. No group has claimed these assassinations, but the victims had one thing in common: they all criticized the Shabaab, or their activities. Former Shabaab field commander said the objectives of the assassinations were twofold: First, it was a deliberate, preemptive attempt to eliminate dissent and potential roadblocks. Second, it was designed to inject fear and terror in the hearts of the elite class in Mogadishu, who at the time wielded significant influence by their sheer domination of the business, media and academia55. Meanwhile, two Italian nuns were killed in Somaliland. Top alShabaab leaders were either indicted for these crimes, or are strongly believed to have orchestrated them56.
Around this time, the US intelligence agencies launched an aggressive surveillance campaign on key al-Shabaab operatives, who, in addition to these
Interview with Sheikh Mohamed Sheikh Ali “Pakistani,” December 2009, Op. Cit
Crisis Group Report. 2005. Somalia’s Islamists. Op. Cit. P. 21
heinous acts, were alleged to be harboring the three men who perpetrated the 1998 embassy bombings. Unbeknown to the CIA until this time was the group’s formal name, so it conveniently called it the ‚special group. 57? In Mogadishu, the group conducted its training operations and preaching lectures at the Salahuddin Center, a renovated Italian-era compound that housed the Italian graveyards until the Shabaab desecrated them. According to a former Shabaab commander who was first recruited and trained at the Salahuddin Center, the building was heavily guarded by about a dozen battlewagons mounted with anti-aircraft guns, known in the Somali lingo as ‚technicals.? The commander of the camp was Ayrow, although Godane, al-Afghani, Abu ‘Uteyba and Roobow all made infrequent appearances and provided some training. But a major attraction at the camp were the Jihadist videos sent from places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Chechnya, which Osama bin Laden made guest appearances 58.
In 2006, al-Shabaab finally got something to be riled up: word got out that the CIA ‚deputized? the most reviled Somali warlords in the capital to hunt down suspected terrorists. The warlords attacked Ayrow’s house, planning to rendition
Ibid, P. 21-26
Interview with Sheikh Mohamed Sheikh Ali “Pakistani,” December 2009, Opt. Cit
him and potentially other Islamist figures to the Americans59. But the warlords were selling innocent local imams to the highest bidder. Their vicious actions instigated a public uprising, but more importantly, unified members of the oncedisunited Islamic Awakening Movement, for they became rendition targets. As a result, they coalesced around a new umbrella, the Union of Islamic Courts, or UIC, which was a coalition of mostly apolitical clan courts. It was a turning point in Somalia. Moderate Islamists, who until now were timid about challenging the warlords, have now been thrust into the conflict. Devoid of their own strong militia, the moderates relied heavily on the well-armed, highly disciplined militant group in Mogadishu, personified in al-Shabaab. Still, the Shabaab were all too aware that their extreme ideology was out of bounds for the average Somali, so it cut a deal with the moderate Islamists: the Shabaab would become the military wing of the new UIC umbrella, but the moderates will be the public face. The UIC elected Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, then 40, as the new public face. Within the Islamic Awakening Movement, Sheikh Sharif is a member of the ‚Tajamu’u Al-Islami,? a moderate group that branches off of the Ikhwani
Gettleman, Jeffrey. February 2009. The most dangerous place in the world. Foreign Policy
orientation. The Tajamu’u, also known as the ‚Aala-Sheikh,? was never armed, but was politically inclined.
The warlords were ejected in no time, and the UIC, under the leadership of the current Somali president Sheikh Sharif, did the unimaginable: pacified Mogadishu and the South-Central Somalia under one administration for the first time in 16 years. The Somali public and editorial pages welcomed the change with unqualified support60.
Despite the near unanimous fanfare in support of the change, Al-Shabaab was unsettled by the moderate leadership of the UIC, particularly its chairman, Sheikh Sharif since the early days of their 2006 marriage of convenience under the UIC. They perceived him of being disloyal to the irredentist, Jihadist agenda they espoused. Sheikh Sharif’s non-Salafi, non-Wahhabi orientation was another source of mutual suspicion between him, al-Shabaab, and their Salafi protégés, namely Sheikh Aweys and Sheikh al-Turki.
Hiiraan Online editorial. 2006. Sheikh Sharif: 2006 HOL person of the year. (accessed Jan. 30, 2007)
However, a number of successive events sealed the deal for al-Shabaab to finally distance itself from the UIC, unveil its true agenda61, and eventually declare President Sheikh Sharif an apostate. First, Sheikh Sharif began to mend fences with the United States, the European Union and the United Nations, soon after the UIC came to power. He sent a conciliatory letter to all of them, essentially distancing the UIC from al-Qaeda and global Jihad, and ensuring a deeply uncomfortable West that his movement, albeit its Islamist creed, is purely domestic in its agenda and traditionalist in its orientation 62. Secondly, al-Shabaab was offended by Sheikh Sharif’s decision to join the Khartoum peace talks with the Transitional Federal Government (TFG).
Thirdly, they were incensed by the
‚moderate? label associated with Sheikh Sharif by the Western media. To them, that was an affront to their purist interpretation of Islam. Fourthly, the Shabaab was enraged by Sheikh Sharif’s decision to surrender to Kenyan authorities at the Somali-Kenyan border, following the Ethiopian invasion during the waning days of 2006. Sheikh Sharif was quickly transferred to a hotel in Nairobi, where he met with American diplomats, who were ‚instrumental…in his safe passage,? as 61
Norell, M. 2008. Islamist Networks in Somalia. Swedish Defense Research Agency
BBC News. 2006. Somalia: Who Supports Who? Dec., 28 Marchal, R. 2007. Somalia: A New Front Against Terrorism. Crisis in the Horn of Africa. [accessed Oct. 2009] 63
reported by the New York Times64. Few months after that, most anti-Ethiopian groups—Islamists, secular politicians, Diaspora groups, clan elders and civil society members gathered in Eritrea and established a broad-based coalition aimed at dislodging Ethiopia from Somalia. The Shabaab was the only antiEthiopian group that boycotted this coalition, citing its incompatibility with secular groups. This marked the first round of political isolation that al-Shabaab sowed for itself. Fifthly and most importantly, al-Shabaab declared Sheikh Sharif an ‚apostate65? when he joined Djibouti peace talks with the TFG—a process that led to his election as the president of the Government of National Unity (GNU). Ahmed Abdi Godane, the reclusive leader of al-Shabaab told congregants at a mosque in the port city of Kismaayo, that Sheikh Sharif was always the ‚infidels’ favorite puppet. 66
The elation for UIC’s victory short-lived, thanks to the divergent views held by the non-monolithic leadership of the UIC. The moderate leadership of the UIC wanted nothing more than ending the chronic insecurity and providing a
Gettleman, J. 2007. Somali Islamists’ No. 2 Leader Surrenders in Kenyan Capital. NY Times. Jan. 23,
Youtube video by Fuad Shangole. Undated. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5JFmQmQTCDg
Godane made the remarks during a Friday sermon attended by al-Shabaab fighters only after the election of Sheikh Sharif as the president of Somalia.
modicum of stability. They cracked down on piracy, re-commissioned the airport and the seaport in the capital, and removed countless extortion roadblocks67. AlShabaab, on the other hand, wanted to morph this domestic victory into global jihad. Its battle-hardened militia and their Afghan-trained commanders felt extremely underutilized. To them, the jihad was just commencing, and therefore the underused energy of the Mujaahideen ought to be redirected to alleviate the suffering of other Muslims across the Somalia and potentially the Horn of Africa. Sheikh al-Turki, al-Shabaab’s unwavering ally, declared that the UIC forces will continue their ‚liberation? efforts until they reach Somaliland, the northmost region of the country 68. Somaliland authorities, who until then thought that they’re insulated from the chaotic south, were jolted by al-Turki’s remarks. So was Puntland, the Northeast region that enjoyed relative stability. Facing the threat of being overrun by the powerful UIC militia, which was inching toward its border, Puntland declared that it will adopt Sharia as its constitution69.
Gettleman, Jeffrey. February 2009. The most dangerous place in the world. Foreign Policy RadioSomaliland.com. 2006. Sheikh Turki declared aimed at Hargeysa. [accessed on Sept. 26, 2006]
Hassan, M. O. 2006. Head of region in Somalia says he will rule according to Islamic law. Associated Press, Nov. 2006
Clearly, al-Shabaab militia was asking the same questions that Arab-Afghans asked themselves after defeating the Soviet in Union in 1989: what to do next 70? Al-Shabaab’s position was buttressed by the hard-line cleric, Sheikh Aweys, who by this time created ‚Majlis As-Shura? (the consultative body) within the UIC body. The body was widely seen as eclipsing the powers of the moderate Sheikh Sharif, who headed the UIC’s Executive Committee 71. In the end, al-Shabaab prevailed. On December 13, 2006, a senior member of al-Shabaab declared jihad on neighboring Ethiopia, which already maintained an unknown number of troops in Baidoa—the South-Central city that used to be government’s seat. In doing so, al-Shabaab entered the next phase of its short history: global jihad.
Global Jihad as a Modus Operandi
Global Jihad—the notion that the entire world is an open, perpetual battlefield between Muslims and non-Muslims for the sake of resurrecting the erstwhile Islamic caliphate— is a proposition internalized and institutionalized by the founding fathers of the Shabaab during their stint in Afghanistan. To them, it 70
Huckabey, J., Stout, M. [undated] Al Qaida’s Views of Authoritarian Intelligence Services in the Middle East. Institute for Defense Analysis. P. 4-5 71
Milas, S. 2007. Flawed Sheikhs and Failed Strategies: Lessons of the Jihadist Debacle in Somalia. Crisis in the Horn of Africa. [accessed February 2009]
was only a matter of time before Jihad was launched in Somalia. But they desperately needed a cause célèbre to instigate that moment. The 2006 conflict between the American and Ethiopian-backed secular warlords was a fortuitous happenstance. It afforded the Jihadist minority within the larger IAM a crucial organizing moment without stoking suspicion. The public was squarely behind the effort to oust the warlords. Still, that conflict was insufficient to spark global Jihad. The moderate leadership of the UIC was uninterested—and probably even opposed— in global Jihad. Amid the uncertainty that resulted following the defeat of the warlords in the summer of 2006, al-Shabaab, with the help of alQaeda operatives under their auspice, moved to provoke Ethiopia, the region’s Christian powerhouse, to attack Somalia. It was a calculated, controlled provocation: the Shabaab declared that it would invade Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, should the latter not withdraw its troops from Baidoa, then the seat of the Transitional Federal Government.
To be fair, it would be inaccurate to blame al-Shabaab alone for provoking Ethiopia to enter Somalia, as Ethiopia already maintained an unknown number of troops inside Somalia for some time. 72 But the full-fledged invasion that
Associated Press: 2006. Ethiopia enters central Somalia. [accessed on July 20, 2006]
resulted from Ethiopia’s push deep to the Somali capital was by in large the sole making of al-Shabaab, which declared unilateral Jihad on Ethiopia. As the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point correctly observes, ‚situations marked by heightened external threats play to the interests of hardliners, while conditions favoring negotiations, compromise and normalization play into the hands of moderates. Not surprisingly, Islamist hardliners have sought to manufacture conditions of jihad with Ethiopia as a means of consolidating power and marginalizing moderate rivals73.”
By provoking Ethiopia to attack directly, al-Shabaab was deftly operationalizing a well-known tactic by the eminent al-Qaeda theoretician, Abu Bakr Naji, who urged Jihadists to compel the enemy to attack directly 74. Al-Shabaab was fully aware that its poorly trained and lightly armed ragtag militia wouldn’t be able to withstand an unsparing onslaught by the professional military of Ethiopia—the largest and the most powerful in sub-Saharan Africa. Instead, al-Shabaab’s main objective was threefold: first, as Naji articulated, to ‚vex and exhaust? the
73. CTC.USMA.edu. [undated declassified report.] al-Qaida’s (mis)adventures in the Horn of Africa. [accessed Oct. 6, 2008]
74. Naji, A. [undated] The Management of Savagery. As translated by Will McCants for Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. P. 16-54
Ethiopian army by overstretching it beyond its capacity. Second, to harness and capitalize on the anger that results from the Christian invasion of a Muslim, arch enemy nation, and transform that anger into a positive energy. Third, al-Shabaab wanted to expose Ethiopia’s inherent weakness and its eternal inability to permanently hold on to Muslim land.
By all accounts, this textbook strategy by Naji 75yielded the desired results for alShabaab. The Ethiopian invasion supplied al-Shabaab the credence it yearned for among the Somali people, so that it can be seen as a freedom-fighting force 76. As they projected effectiveness and profound discipline, their membership skyrocketed and their financial contributions swelled.
By the time Ethiopia withdrew its troops from Somalia in December 2008, alShabaab emerged far more popular and powerful than ever, exposed Ethiopia’s weakness to Eritrea— its principal adversary—and more importantly, transformed its domestic, irredentist struggle into a global Jihadist dictum. Hundreds of foreign fighters trickled into Somalia 77, and the al-Qaeda chief,
Mahammed, A. 2009. Al-Shabaab: This Emerging Terror Group is Impediment to Peace and Stability. Hiiraan.com [accessed on April 30, 2009] 77
Baldor, L. 2009. Terrorists Filter in Africa. Associated Press. [accessed on April 29, 2009]
Osama Bin Laden, issued his first video message dedicated entirely to Somalia 78. In it, he calls for the overthrow of President Sheikh Sharif, whom he compares to Arab ‚apostate? presidents. Bin Laden’s message was widely repudiated by Somalis across the board, including by the hard-line cleric Sh. Aweys79. But the message galvanized global Jihadists and markedly catapulted al-Shabaab’s stature among them. As expected, al-Shabaab did not only welcome the call, but it responded with an oath of allegiance to bin Laden. The significance of this announcement is underscored by the person who made the announcement for the Shabaab, and the timing: Godane, the Amir, issued his own audio on Eid alFitr, Islam’s holiest holiday80. This further isolated the Shabaab politically.
Bin Laden’s message, however, marks a turning point for al-Shabaab’s global Jihadist adventures. In an interview with al-Jazeera, spokesman Roobow said that once ‚we free Somalia from Christian involvement and turn it to a SalafiIslamic state, we will move in the quest for the resurrection of a worldwide caliphate 81.? Weeks after bin Laden’s message, al-Shabaab’s propaganda arm
Youtube audio: 2009. Fight on, Champions, by Osama bin Laden. [accessed on March 19, 2009]
BBCNews.com. 2009. Somalis Reject Bin Laden Threats. [accessed on March 20, 2009]
Youtube video. 2009. Al Shabaab: Labaik Ya Usama. [accessed on Sept. 22, 2009]
Al-Jazeera TV. 2008. interview with Roobow in Somalia. Accessed via Youtube. Op. Cit.
issued a sophisticated video, featuring a Caucasian American named Omar Hammami. This 25-year-old whose nom de guerre is Abu Mansoor al-Amriki, commands an-all English speaking unit of young Somali men, recruited from Diaspora communities, including the United States 82. The only logical interpretation of the video, besides being a tool of recruitment, was that alShabaab has officially embraced global Jihad as its primary agenda. Al-Amriki is a former University of Alabama student who spent years in Toronto as a businessman with the Somali community there, and was once married to a Somali-Canadian 83. A Somali intelligence official and a former member of the Qiyadah said he’s a member of the Shura Council, the organization’s highest authority84.
Even though al-Shabaab has not waged a known terrorist attack outside Somalia, (except the attack on the Danish cartoonist, carried out by a member and the foiled attack in Australia) it’s rapidly mutating into a global Jihadist organization. Its recent declaration that it would align its Jihad in the Horn of 82
Aynte, A. 2009. Missing Youth’s Story Rattles Local Somali Community. Minnesota Independent. [accessed on April 29, 2009] 83
Elliott, A. and Aynte, A. 2010. The Jihadist Next Door. The New York Times Magazine. [accessed on Jan. 30, 2010] 84
Interviews with Sh. Mohamed Pakistani and a Somali intelligence official. 2009/2010
Africa with bin Laden’s global struggle, is thus far the clearest indication of its trajectory. Now that more than half of Somalia is under its domain, the Shabaab is rapidly morphing into al-Qaeda’s outfit in the region, as the latter bolsters its presence in the region, with the Yemen branch gaining infamy. Ibrahim alMaqdisi, a senior Shabaab official told a crowd in Kismaayo that his organization’s ambitions are far beyond Somalia. ‚We will establish Islamic rule from Alaska to Chile to South Africa, Japan, Russian, Australia, Solomon Islands and all the way to Iceland. Be warned: we’re coming. 85? An American counterterrorism official told the Washington Post that, though there’s no credible body of reporting that the Shabaab is planning to attack the United States, the US is not discounting the threat of an attack in the US or Europe 86. But the official said that the US was more concerned about an attack on Western interests in the region. On April 27, 2009, al-Shabaab issued a public threat to annex the Somaliinhabited region of Kenya and implement Sharia87. Two weeks prior to that, the
Al Jazeera TV. [Undated]. Accessed via Youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5fI43gnPlk
Jaffe, G., DeYoung, K. 2009. Obama Team Mulls Aims of Somali Extremists. WashingtonPost.com. [Accessed on April 11, 2009] 87
Clotty, P. 2009. Somali Government Condemns Insurgent Moves to Annex Parts of Kenya. VOAnews.com. [accessed on April 28, 2009]
group claimed the responsibility of mortar attacks at the plane of a US Congressman who was on a rare visit to Mogadishu 88.
Notwithstanding the repeated affirmation by the Shabaab of its global Jihadist objectives, and despite its continued overtures to al-Qaeda, some experts seem to be convinced that the Shabaab is utilizing the Jihadist language only to garner the recognition of the al-Qaeda Network and its affiliates. Elliot and Holzer wrote that ‚the Shabaab deploys the language of jihad both to attract international assistance and to provide a structure to govern. The strategy is purposive, not merely ideological. 89? This argument is flawed in two fundamental ways. Firstly, that the Shabaab is a domestic, pan-Somali movement is being disproved by the hundreds of foreign fighters, including key al-Qaeda figures, who are wrecking havoc on Somalia at the behest of both the Shabaab and al-Qaeda. The globe-trotting, Jihad-loving, multi-ethnic fighters who swing to action as soon as an area is declared a Jihad land is a staple of global Jihad. Secondly, al-Shabaab’s declaration of adjoining its Horn of Africa operations to
Reuters. 2009. Al-Shabaab says behind U.S. Congressman Attack. April 13.
89. Elliot, A., Holzer, G-S. 2009. The invention of ‘terrorism’ in Somalia: paradigms and policy in US foreign relations. South African Journal of International Affairs. 16 (2): 231
the global Jihad led by Osama bin Laden all but erodes the possibility that the group retains a domestic Somali agenda. In fact, Elliot and Holzer concede that the Shabaab failed to make the case for the so-called ‚just war? since Ethiopia withdrew its troops from Somalia. They write that ‚following the Ethiopian withdrawal and introduction of sharia law [by the Somali government], it has become increasingly hard for the Shabaab to make the ‘just war case. Somalis are simply less convinced by the casting of former Islamic Courts leader President Ahmed and the AMISOM forces as ‘infidels. 90?
‘State of Savagery’
While the areas under its control are remarkably peaceful by the standards of Somalia, the capital is subjected to the wrath of the Shabaab deliberately, because it’s the only major town in the South that’s not under its domain. Targeted assassinations are rampant. Mortar attacks terrorize the public. The goal is simple: create a state of savagery as articulated by Naji. Once the ‚law of the jungle? ensues, the public will yearn for someone—anyone, irrespective of creed
Ibid, P. 230
or competence—to manage savagery91. The Shabaab would like to manage the savagery, and Mogadishu stands its way of achieving this momentous dream.
The apocalyptic scenario
If al-Shabaab dares to put Mogadishu under its domain —an uphill battle—, it will upend a combustible situation into an apocalyptic scenario. As Jeffrey Gettleman rightfully notes, that would inevitably mean a re-invasion by Ethiopia, and maybe an involvement by the United States 92. Even Kenya maybe tempted to join the invasion granted that it was threatened by al-Shabaab. More menacingly, al-Qaeda may finally be able to set up permanent basis in the country, cognizant that al-Shabaab is bereft of its hitherto deterrent—the nasty clan feud. For al-Qaeda, this would be a new lease on life—one that’s probably more lasting than the first one with the Taliban.
There are three key reasons for this. First, the Taliban was primarily a domestic movement aimed at ruling Afghanistan based on its Wahhabi interpretation of
91. Naji, A. [undated] The Management of Savagery. As translated by Will McCants for Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. P. 16-54
. Gettleman, Jeffrey. February 2009. The most dangerous place in the world. Foreign Policy
Islam. It did recognize international borders, internalized the concept of citizenship, and never pursued a global Jihadist agenda. Al-Shabaab is the polar opposite of that. Secondly, the Taliban is—or at least was— principally a Pashto movement. Therefore, its influence was largely confined to Pashto areas in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Al-Shabaab is a clan-blind movement that successfully transcended the prohibitive clan lines of Somalia, and has penetrated the Diaspora Somalis by recruiting hundreds of young, mobile men who, thrust in militant ideology, can wreck havoc in the West. Thirdly, the leadership of the Taliban was not a product of al-Qaeda, whereas the leadership of al-Shabaab is.
In its short history, the radical Somali group al-Shabaab evolved from a littleknown extremist group to a global Jihadist offshoot with links to al-Qaeda. It cleverly exploited the irredentist Islamist movement of Somalia to provoke Ethiopia to attack directly, so that it can activate its ultimate global Jihadist agenda, marginalize its moderate allies within the Union of Islamic Courts, and expand the territory under its domain. Key to the group’s seminal success is its unusual ability to avoid the prohibitive clan complexities of Somalia. All four
major clans are represented in the leadership of the Shabaab. But instead of using this newfound skill to reach out to the rest of the Islamic Awakening Movement (IAM) —the very umbrella that gave birth to it—-, the Shabaab isolated itself by kowtowing to al-Qaeda, rapidly mutating to a global Jihadist offshoot, threatening to annex parts of Kenya and popularizing suicide attacks against civilian targets. As a result, the IAMs are largely behind President Sheikh Sharif’s Government of National Unity (GNU).
Tactically, al-Shabaab has taken a page from Abu Bakr Naji’s ‚The Management of Savagery.? The group successfully implemented the first phase of Naji’s theory, which was to compel the enemy to attack directly, ‚overstretch? him, expose his weakness, all the while capitalizing on the anger that ensues from the enemy’s invasion. Now it seems that the Shabaab is implementing the second phase of Naji’s theory: subjecting the areas not under its domain, namely Mogadishu, to ‚the law of the jungle in its primit
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