May 14, 2012
Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri's call for al-Shabaab to continue fighting in Somalia is an attempt to boost the morale of frustrated fighters unsure about the future of their relationship with al-Qaeda, Somali political and security analysts said.
In a video recording released Friday (May 11th), al-Zawahiri called on the al-Qaeda affiliate to disregard international peace efforts and use guerrilla tactics against regional armies in the country.
The timing of the message, which came after the release of documents found in Osama bin Laden's hideout in Pakistan, shows that al-Zawahiri also sought to divert attention from letters written by bin Laden that showed strained relations between the former al-Qaeda leader and al-Shabaab, analysts said.
"The timing is quite clear," said political analyst Osman Mahmoud. "Al-Zawahiri tried to divert attention from the tantalising details revealed in the documents such as scandals and strained relations between the two groups."
In a letter dated August 7th, 2010, the former al-Qaeda leader discouraged al-Shabaab leader Mukhtar Abu al-Zubayr from openly declaring affiliation with the organisation, saying public relationship with al-Qaeda would discourage Arab merchants from aiding Somalis and would strain the relationship between the militants and the Somali people.
"It is clear that the objective of al-Qaeda's leader from this recording aimed at al-Shabaab was to disperse fears and reduce tensions and frustrations stirred by bin Laden's documents," Omar Dahir, director of the Mogadishu-based Centre for Moderation and Dialogue, told Sabahi. "He is also seeking to re-confirm that relations between al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab are good."
Al-Zawahiri also sought to "inspire members of al-Shabaab, which has recently been inflicted with paralysis as a result of military campaigns against it", Dahir added.
In the video, al-Zawahiri urged al-Shabaab to continue fighting and not to fear air strikes. Addressing the "lions of Islam in Somalia", he asked, "What will you do? Will you abandon your religious duty and surrender to the unjust and ally yourself with them and hence, bring upon yourselves the wrath of your maker?"
He added, "Fight them in the manner of guerrilla warfare to annihilate, destroy and blow them up."
Al-Zawahiri knows very well the weak military position of al-Shabaab, which is why he is trying to boost their morale, said political analyst Abdirahman Hussein.
"This new video released by al-Zawahiri addressing al-Shabaab comes as no surprise. What is noteworthy is that the al-Qaeda leader is trying again to boost morale for al-Shabaab fighters so that the group can get back on its feet again," he told Sabahi.
"This message comes from al-Zawahiri at a time when al-Shabaab has been suffering from consecutive, on the ground setbacks as well as diminished military capacity," Hussein said. "Al-Zawahiri's call for al-Shabaab to take up guerrilla warfare tactics is but an indicator that he understands al-Shabaab's military position and the huge setbacks suffered by the group. For this reason, he is trying to encourage them to activate their terrorist operations because he does not want to see the death of the group soon after it joined al-Qaeda."
This is al-Zawahiri's second video message to the group since he announced al-Qaeda's official merger with al-Shabaab in February.
"Al-Zawahiri's speech means nothing to us," said Ahmed Mo'allim Fiqi, head of the Somali National Security Services. "We consider this message from [al-Zawahiri] to his followers in Somalia (al-Shabaab) nothing but a cowardly attempt from a desperate leader."
In a statement made to Radio Mogadishu, the official radio station of the Somali Transitional Federal Government, Fiqi said, "Al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda are the only two enemies of the Somali people."
He asked, "What have al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab given the Somali people other than death, destruction and the blood shedding of innocent people?"
Fiqi said the Somali armed forces, with the help of the Somali people, are "willing to hunt down al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda until they are expelled from Somalia".
He called on al-Shabaab fighters to put down their weapons and join the peace process. He also urged them to apologise to the Somali people who have been harmed by their actions.
"The acts committed by the followers of al-Qaeda in Somalia are unfortunate and contrary to the principles of Islam and morality," he said.
Al-Zawahiri seeks to destroy the lives of Somalis who have been suffering from poverty and war for more than 20 years, said Aadan Abdullahi Mohammed, a security analyst and retired colonel in the Somali army. He said the al-Qaeda leader is calling on his followers to undermine local and regional peace efforts in Somalia.
"This incitement by al-Zawahiri is unfortunate. He would like to take us back, once again, to wars, chaos and instability," Mohammed told Sabahi.
"Extremists might try to stage terrorist attacks as a way to respond to al-Zawahiri, which is why security forces have to raise their alert levels," he said.
Mohammed called on the Somali people to condemn and reject this incitement by the al-Qaeda leader. "Somalia does not need to shed more blood of its innocent people and we also do not need one side inciting the other. What we need is peace, stability and the support of peace efforts in the country," he said.
Mohammed accused the al-Qaeda leader of interfering in the affairs of his country. "We call on the leader of al-Qaeda to not interfere in our affairs. Somalis are well aware of their future and that of their country, and al-Zawahiri has no right to insult us."
Ibrahim Abdullahi, a journalist and writer specialising in the affairs of Islamist movements, said al-Zawahiri's video message will have little impact on the ground.
"Al-Shabaab is currently going through an unenviable and difficult stage due to the repeated military defeats occurring day after day," Abdullahi told Sabahi. "The Somali armed forces and their Ethiopian, Kenyan and AMISOM allies are tightening the noose around the group and will eventually destroy it."
Abdullahi added, "Al-Qaeda is currently unable to lend a helping hand to al-Shabaab in Somalia, because the former has been paralysed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Pakistan, let alone the far flung Somalia, which is far from the centre of al-Qaeda."
"For this reason, al-Zawahiri's message is merely for media consumption and a way to divert attention from the content of bin Laden's documents," he said.
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