April 23, 2012
The lack of comment from al-Shabaab's leaders on the reported execution of foreign jihadist Omar Hammami at the hands of other members may be due to the group's state of confusion, analysts tell Sabahi.
Increased internal divisions and military setbacks have been making fissures more likely within the ranks of the al-Qaeda-affiliated group.
Local and international media have reported since April 5th on the supposed killing of Hammami, also known as Abu Mansour al-Amriki, one of the most prominent of al-Shabaab's foreign leaders. According to the unconfirmed reports, Hammami was beheaded on the orders of al-Shabaab commander Ahmed Abdi Godane.
Subsequent media reports, however, claimed that al-Amriki was alive and that he was spotted in Kismayo last week. According to several Somali news sites, he appeared heavily guarded by al-Shabaab fighters and his movements are restricted pending an ongoing investigation.
Al-Shabaab leaders have not commented on the reports. The US-born jihadist's fate remains subject to much speculation in the media.
Some political analysts say al-Shabaab has been mum on al-Amriki's case because there is no agreement within the leadership.
"Al-Shabaab is engaged in a fierce battle [with government forces] and in the middle of that they had to deal with two of their leaders, Abu Mansour al-Amriki and Hasan Dahir Aweys, surprising others within the leadership with unexpected statements," political analyst Ahmednur Shidane told Sabahi. "Now, it seems they do not want to give contradictory statements."
Last month, Aweys accused other al-Shabaab leaders of shedding the blood of Muslims and murdering innocent civilians in the name of Islam, describing actions of al-Shabaab's leaders as far removed from the religion.
In a video recording last month, Hammami announced that his life "may be in danger by al-Shabaab due to some differences that occurred between us regarding matters of the Sharia and matters of strategy."
Following the video release, al-Shabaab expressed "surprise" and announced that it had opened an investigation to uncover the authenticity of the recording and the goal behind releasing it.
"It is possible that the al-Amriki issue has not been resolved, and since they don't want to contradict one-another, [al-shabaab leaders] are keeping quiet until a final decision is reached," Shidane said.
Political analyst Mohamed Abaas, who follows al-Shabaab developments, said that the group has been quiet because they are still trying to figure out how to deal with the situation.
"It seems to me they are having some issues and that's why they don't want to respond to reports circulating in the media regarding al-Amriki's [alleged] death at their hands," he told Sabahi.
Abaas says al-Shabaab's silence further indicates the complexity Hammami's case represents for the group's relationship with al-Qaeda.
"Al-Shabaab has never been quiet for this long in similar cases in the past. This case seems to be different than others," he said.
Abaas said that if al-Amriki were indeed killed by al-Shabaab elements, it would represent the first time the group killed one of its own foreign-born leaders, something that would increase suspicion over other foreign fighters and destabilise the group.
"Al-Amriki's issue is not something that can be dealt with by al-Shabaab in a hurry due to his high-profile within al-Qaeda," he said.
Abaas says it is not likely al-Amriki's was killed. He said in similar other cases, such as that of Ahmed Keyse, a Somali-born leader within the group who was accused of espionage, the group took up to a year before executing him.
"Al-Amriki's issue would require a similar investigation," he said.
Dahir Hussain, associate dean of the College of Political Sciences at Mogadishu University, says that the elimination of foreign members by the group's leaders would deal a strong blow to al-Shabaab.
"If the assassination of Abu Mansour al-Amriki by al-Shabaab is true, then this constitutes a strong blow to the group's credibility, both inside and abroad. This will also create an imbalance within the group and a turning point in the future," he told Sabahi.
If Hammami were executed by al-Shabaab, other foreign leaders in al-Shabaab would fear the same fate, Hussain said.
"For a long time now, there have been indications of a crisis of confidence between the Somali leaders in the movement on the one hand and foreign jihadists from al-Qaeda fighting within the ranks of al-Shabaab on the other," Hussain said. "This incident, however, will have a huge impact on the future and fate of foreign jihadists in Somalia and will result in deteriorating relations, as well as diminishing trust between both parties."
The silence of al-Amriki sympathisers in the leadership could have resulted from "ensuing confusion" after the news broke out, said Abdirahman Abdullahi, a researcher on al-Shabaab and vice president of the Somali Media Centre in Mogadishu.
Abdullahi told Sabahi that the distrust that dominates al-Shabaab forces its leaders to protect themselves first because they cannot trust other leaders around them.
"It may be that each one of them is keeping his cards close to his chest, since any swift reaction to al-Amriki's [alleged] execution could lead to quick retaliation by the group's emir, Ahmed Abdi Godane who, it is believed, is strongest at this stage," he said. "That is why any leader that is sympathetic with Hammami is very cautious before saying anything that might be perceived as a criticism of the movement or possible rebellion against senior leadership."
Omar Jama, a political analyst who monitors al-Shabaab, says this incident represents the straw that will break the back of al-Shabaab.
"Al-Shabaab may overcome the consequences of al-Amriki's [alleged] execution, but it will not be able to get through the rising differences and the crisis that have resulted from his [reported] death. This incident might be the straw that breaks the back of al-Shabaab. All the indicators point in the direction of its imminent demise," he told Sabahi.
"The al-Shabaab group is in its final death throes and it looks as though it is only steps away from collapse, especially after eliminations and assassinations among the group's leadership have been made public," Jama said. "Al-Shabaab is witnessing internal divisions and has been weakened militarily while suffering from low morale … it is losing many of its areas on a daily basis. Due to these recent military defeats and successive setbacks, al-Shabaab is on the verge of dying."
Meanwhile, the Transitional Federal Government said in a statement on Wednesday (April 18th) that it is "proceeding with its efforts to impose strict measures to destroy terrorist strongholds throughout the country, as well as strengthen its efforts to fight terrorism."
The government said that al-Shabaab suffers from disintegration after the deaths of several of its prominent leaders in recent battles.
Mogadishu Mayor Mohamed Ahmed Nur announced that the Somali government would pay up to $500 to whoever provides information on the whereabouts of the group's leaders.
"I promise the public material reward for any information on hidden explosives. Likewise, if anyone gives information regarding a house in Mogadishu in which members of al-Shabaab are residing, a reward will be given -- $100 dollars for ordinary members and $500 for the group's top officials," Nur said.
This is the first time that the Somali government has announced such a reward for information.
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