February 13, 2012
Somali security analysts say the announcement of the merger between the al-Shabaab movement and al-Qaeda follows logistical and financial losses incurred by both groups, and will reduce popular support for al-Shabaab among Somalis.
A video message posted on extremist forums last week by al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri announced that the al-Shabaab movement has joined al-Qaeda. The announcement came more than eight months after al-Shabaab swore allegiance to the terror group.
"Al-Shabaab will not benefit from joining international terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and the only winner in this deal is al-Qaeda," said Noor Ahmed, a retired Somali army brigadier. "We do not know whether al-Shabaab wants to join the international jihad arena to play a role on the international stage as a means to gain more funds as well as more support."
Ahmed told Sabahi there are "tens of foreign fighters" in the ranks of al-Shabaab. "[Al-Qaeda] needs them in order to be able to send fighters to the western countries they came from in order to stage terrorist attacks there."
Omar Tahir, director of the Centre for Moderation and Dialogue and an expert on Islamist groups in Somalia, told Sabahi that al-Shabaab's leadership is divided into two camps.
He said the first group includes tribal militia leaders such as Hassan Dahir Aways and Mukhtar Robow, also known as Abu Mansour. The second group is lead by extremists influenced by al-Qaeda such as Mukhtar Abu al-Zubair, the leader of al-Shabaab, and Ibrahim al-Afghani.
"In the past couple of months, there was a conflict between the two groups... The focus of this conflict was the role of the foreign fighters in the movement as well as how to deal with al-Qaeda," Tahir told Sabahi.
"The most extreme wing [of al-Shabaab] led by Abu al-Zubair, who wanted to openly and logistically join al-Qaeda, thus rendering Somalia a launching pad for international jihad, succeeded in the internal struggle among al-Shabaab's leadership," he said. "As for the relatively moderate current led by Abu Mansour and with him, Sheikh Aways, who both wanted to follow a more moderate policy in dealing with the outside world as well as a preference for an ideological rather than a full logistical relationship with al-Qaeda, they have lost the battle."
Tahir said the moderate wing sought to present an image of an Islamic state in Somalia governed by al-Shabaab.
Political analyst Mohamed Abdul Razzaq said al-Shabaab's direct affiliation with al-Qaeda will harm the group's support among Somalis.
"Al-Shabaab loses popular support after uniting with al-Qaeda," Abdul Razzaq told Sabahi. "Despite the fact that the group adopted al-Qaeda's ideology, it will lose the hearts and minds of the Somali people after joining al-Qaeda and the group will be unable to have influence on the streets in order to attract new supporters."
Al-Shabaab pledged its allegiance to al-Zawahiri last June when the latter assumed leadership of al-Qaeda after the death of Osama bin Laden. This was considered by security monitors the start of al-Shabaab's membership with al-Qaeda's international terrorism network.
On Monday (February 13th), al-Shabaab held a rally in Elasha Biyaha to pledge its support for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
"[Al-Shabaab] in Somalia has joined directly to al-Qaeda brothers, which means we are part of them," al-Shabab spokesperson Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage was quoted as saying by Somalia's RBC Radio.
"We will work with other brothers of AQAP in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the world and we are part of them," he said. "We are the branch of AQAP in Somalia."
Similar demonstrations were held in Afgoye, Merka and Lafoole, where other al-Shabaab officials called for resistance against the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces, the radio station reported.
Security analysts say such demonstrations may be an attempt to raise morale for al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab, following logistical and financial losses incurred by both groups.
"Al-Shabaab have always been allied with al-Qaeda," said Somali security analyst Abdul Rashid Ishaaq. "Also, al-Shabaab's leadership had actually received orders and directives from al-Qaeda for a long time, not to mention advice and training from members of the international network. Al-Shabaab also uses the terrorist tactics of al-Qaeda such as suicide attacks, car bombs and others."
Ishaaq told Sabahi, "This new announcement, in my personal opinion, is just an attempt to raise morale for both groups because this step comes at a time when both organisations -- al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda -- have witnessed major setbacks due to the elimination of their key commanders during the past 10 months."
The TFG said in a statement on Monday that the joining of the two groups proves that the government and AMISOM forces have been fighting al-Qaeda in Somalia over the past few years.
"We also believe that their union will increase the insecurity in Somalia, East Africa and the rest of the world, and that Somalia risks becoming an al-Qaeda base in East Africa," the statement said. "The Somali government will not take lightly the danger from their official union and will put all its forces as well as the general public at the highest alert to confront the likely danger to the security of Somalia and the East African region."
"We ask all the young people that have been misled by al-Shabaab to stop working with them since it is clear to them that this group has shown its true color by joining the international criminal group of al-Qaeda," the TFG said, adding that al-Shabaab defectors have 15 days to "lay down their arms and follow the peaceful way".
AMISOM said the joining of the two groups represents a new challenge to the peace mission in the region.
"Al-Shabaab carried the hallmark of al-Qaeda as it was not Somali but part of al-Qaeda," said AMISOM spokesperson Major Paddy Akunda. "We knew that and ask everyone to exercise more caution because we are now fighting al-Qaeda. It is a new front [in the war] on terrorism."
Akunda called on the international community to quickly confirm its commitment to Somalia so that it does not become a safe haven for international terrorism.
"We all know that al-Qaeda supports al-Shabaab and that their ideology is not Somali and it is also not Islamic, but rather an al-Qaeda ideology and that is now very clear," said Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali. He said the joining of al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab "comes as no surprise, due to the strong ties between the two".
The Somali Islamic Scholars Association expressed concern about the upcoming stage in Somalia after al-Shabaab joined al-Qaeda.
"Al-Shabaab's decision to join al-Qaeda poses a threat to the future of the Somali homeland," said Sheikh Bashir Ahmed Salad, chairman of the Somali Islamic Scholars Association. "The social makeup and the very nature of the Somali people is not compatible with the orientation of al-Qaeda, and therefore, whoever tries to place the Somali homeland under the banner of al-Qaeda is not taking this into consideration."
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