April 05, 2012
Analysts of the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabaab have said that recent public criticism by al-Shabaab leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys against other group leaders and their actions indicates escalating tensions within the group's leadership.
On Friday (March 30th), Aweys, former leader of the Hizbul Islam group, accused other al-Shabaab leaders of shedding the blood of Muslims and murdering innocent civilians in the name of Islam. He described actions of al-Shabaab's leaders as far removed from Islam.
"I warn my jihadist brothers in al-Shabaab against letting the blood of the Somali nation and killing innocent civilians in the name of Islam," Aweys told a gathering of his followers.
The warning came less than a week before al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for an attack that killed two Somali sports officials at the national theatre in Mogadishu, and amid rising criticism by local observers that the al-Qaeda allied movement is executing Somali citizens without fair trials for criticism of its actions.
It also came after al-Shabaab's foreign leader, Omar Hammami, known as Abu Mansour al-Amriki, released a statement that he feared for his life from other al-Shabaab leaders because of strategic and ideological differences.
Aweys was commenting on a statement released last week by the leader of al-Shabaab, Ahmed Abdi Godane, also known as Mukhtar abu al-Zubair.
"It is prohibited to form any group, party or armed or unarmed organisation in the jihadist al-Shabaab controlled areas because that is considered a means to divide, weaken and tear Muslims apart. Any group that tries to form a new coalition or a new party inside al-Shabaab is considered the enemy and should be fought," Godane said.
Aweys was the former head of the Islamic Courts Union's Shura council, and was viewed as one of the group's most radical leaders. He took control of Hizbul Islam in 2009, vowing to fight the Somali government. He surrendered to al-Shabaab in 2010 after losing a power struggle with the movement, forcing him to merge his group with al-Shabaab and voluntarily hand over its weapons.
"This public criticism by Sheikh Aweys against the other al-Shabaab leaders reflects the increasing internal divisions and conflicts amongst the leaders of al-Shabaab, which is in a desperate state," said Abdullahi Sheikh Hassan, political analyst and leader of the Peace Coalition party.
"Maybe Sheikh Aweys' goal with this escalation in tensions with other al-Shabaab leaders was to create an opportunity to exit and splinter from the group and create another jihadist movement separate from al-Shabaab," Hassan said. "He might have also wanted to send a message that he is ready to negotiate with the government."
Although Aweys had publicly admitted to differences with Godane in past statements, this is the first time he dared to criticise the actions of al-Shabaab leaders publicly, Hassan said.
According to reports in the Somali media, the dispute between al-Shabaab leaders has deepened since the liberation of Mogadishu by Transitional Federal Government and African Union troops.
Hassan said Aweys has an opportunity to demonstrate his power because he has a militia from his own clan. Godane, however, is from Somaliland and does not enjoy the same tribal support in the south.
In response to threats made by Godane, Aweys said, "You cannot threaten to kill people, and no one group has the exclusive right to jihad because jihad is a [religious] obligation and no single group, such as al-Shabaab, has the right to carry the mantle of jihad. Everyone takes part in jihad, whether as individuals or in groups, organisations and tribes."
"People are afraid to criticise the leaders of al-Shabaab directly because of its arbitrary killing of civilians," he said. "I am not afraid to criticise them."
Mohammed Mustafa, a political analyst, said the tension among al-Shabaab's leaders has increased since the group announced it would join al-Qaeda in February.
"Intense disagreements had plagued the group, but internal divisions surfaced when the group announced it was joining the international network of terrorism, al-Qaeda," Mustafa said. "If this were not the case, why would Sheikh Aweys not have publicly spoken about al-Shabaab's killing of civilians and letting the blood of innocent Somalis before?"
"Since al-Shabaab joined forces with al-Qaeda, there have been signs of increasing internal divisions in al-Shabaab's ranks, and the conflict has increasingly focused upon those who favour joining al-Qaeda and those who oppose it," he said.
Aweys said al-Shabaab's merger with al-Qaeda does not represent an Islamic caliphate that should be followed.
"Al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda are merely a small part of the larger Islamic group and al-Qaeda's ideology should not be viewed as the sole, righteous path for Islam," he said.
Al-Shabaab was never an ideologically unified group, said political analyst Ahmed Abdirahman, as leaders of the group have been divided into two competing camps from the beginning.
According to Abdirahman, the first group includes al-Qaeda inspired jihadists. This faction has been led by Godane, who "aspires to be al-Qaeda's main figure in east Africa" and who was behind the merger with al-Qaeda.
The other faction, which includes Aweys and al-Shabaab official Mukhtar Robow, say they are waging a fight against "foreign occupation". This faction "considers the Somali Transitional Federal Government to be made of puppets, but also thinks it is possible to negotiate with them as long as foreign forces leave the country," Abdirahman said.
Should leaders like Aweys and Robow choose the path of negotiation, Godane could find himself isolated, Abdirahman said.
"He would probably be incapable of continuing on the path of jihad because he does not have fighting power and has lost most of the al-Shabaab militias that belong to the southern tribes," he said. "This is amid on-going military pressure that the group faces from three fronts simultaneously."
Abdirahman Omar Osman "Yarisow", spokesman for the Somali government, has called on Aweys to lay down his weapons, stop killing civilians and join the peace process.
"If Aweys does not respond to such calls, he will end up with the same fate as other terrorists before him, which is why he should choose peace before it is too late," Yarisow said.
Hassan did not rule out communications between Aweys and the government in an attempt to reach a peaceful solution to allow Aweys to join the peace process while renouncing violence, putting down his weapons and disassociating from al-Shabaab.
"It is known that Aweys had always sought to gain political control… but al-Shabaab has thwarted his efforts," Hassan said. "Now, he is trying to present himself to the Somali people as someone who does not abide by al-Shabaab's doctrine, even though his hands are still stained with blood."
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