News / Africa

Attack on Somali Islamist Leader Seen Triggering Power Struggle

FILE - An undated file handout picture provided by U.S. website 'Rewards for Justice' shows Somalia's Ahmed Abdi Godane, the leader of Somalia's al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab rebels, who was targeted in a U.S. airstrike.FILE - An undated file handout picture provided by U.S. website 'Rewards for Justice' shows Somalia's Ahmed Abdi Godane, the leader of Somalia's al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab rebels, who was targeted in a U.S. airstrike.
x
FILE - An undated file handout picture provided by U.S. website 'Rewards for Justice' shows Somalia's Ahmed Abdi Godane, the leader of Somalia's al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab rebels, who was targeted in a U.S. airstrike.
FILE - An undated file handout picture provided by U.S. website 'Rewards for Justice' shows Somalia's Ahmed Abdi Godane, the leader of Somalia's al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab rebels, who was targeted in a U.S. airstrike.
Reuters

A hail of U.S. missiles aimed at the leader of Somalia's al-Shabab militants may have left a gaping hole in the group's leadership, potentially the biggest challenge to its unity since it emerged as a fighting force eight years ago.

Washington said on Wednesday it was still uncertain whether the laser-guided attack on Monday had killed Ahmed Godane, who aligned al-Shabab with al-Qaida and authorized the group's deadly raid on a Nairobi shopping mall last year.

A U.S. government source said that a tweet in Arabic from what the United States believed was a legitimate Shabab account had proclaimed Godane dead, but this was still being assessed for its authenticity. Godane has not appeared in social or other media to prove he was still alive, which some other militants who survived U.S. attacks have done.

Al-Shabab, usually vocal on social media and other channels of communication, has yet to comment. There may be good reason for its silence as it seeks a successor.

With no obvious candidate to replace the man who ruled al-Shabab with an iron fist and killed off many of his rivals, experts say there is a real chance his death would trigger infighting or the formation of smaller, potentially more dangerous splinter movements.

“If it is confirmed that he is in fact dead, it is a game-changer in many ways for al-Shabab,” said Abdi Aynte, director of the Heritage Institute for Policy Studies in Mogadishu, the Somali capital.

“What is likely to happen is a struggle for power,” he said. Fragmentation was also possible in the absence of a leader with Godane's experience and ruthless approach to dissent, he added.

Somalia's government, with support from African peacekeepers and Western intelligence, has battled to curb al-Shabab's influence and drive the group from areas it has continued to control since it was expelled from Mogadishu in 2011.

Western governments and neighboring countries want to neutralize a group they say has exploited Somalia's chaos to train foreign fighters.

'Long-lasting war'

Kenya, which has deployed troops with the African Union force AMISOM to quash the Islamist rebels, felt the impact of al-Shabab's reach last September when gunmen from the group launched an attack on the Westgate mall, leaving 67 dead.

“Take your troops out or prepare for a long-lasting war, blood, destruction and evacuation,” Godane, believed to be in his 40s, said shortly after the four-day assault began.

Godane, whose studies took him in the late 1990s to Pakistan and probably from there on a stint to Afghanistan, where the shadow of Osama bin Laden still loomed large, is not the first al-Shabab leader to be targeted by the U.S. military.

In 2008, his predecessor, Aden Hashi Ayro, was killed in a similar U.S. raid. A day or two after that, Godane was declared head by al-Shabab's shura council, at the time an influential body in the group.

War-weary Somalis worry al-Shabab could again recover from a blow to its leadership.

“This is a strategic ideology which cannot be destroyed by the elimination of an individual,” said Hussein Biihi, an elder in the Lower Shabelle region south of Mogadishu, where al-Shabab remain a potent force despite a military offensive by African and Somali troops to recapture towns and territory.

But a new leader may not emerge so swiftly this time.

That is partly because Godane scrapped the shura council which picked him, seeing it as an apparent threat. Using tactics more akin to an African warlord, he also killed rivals or dissenting voices, leaving no one in line to succeed him.

“There is a not a clear, designated crown prince inside al-Shabab,” said Stig Jarle Hansen, a Norwegian expert who has written a book on African jihadists, saying Godane's “solo game” has made the group's task of finding a new leader more difficult.

“If [Godane] is dead now, that is serious for al-Shabab, partly because of his leadership structure,” he said.

Despite his autocratic approach, resentment under him had built up long before Monday's attack. Such differences could flare up as the group seeks to rebuild around a new chief.

Some opponents wanted al-Shabab to focus on a nationalist agenda instead of turning abroad, as championed by Godane.

“He has absolutely expanded al-Shabab's targeting to the wider region,” said Kenneth Menkhaus, a U.S. academic and expert on the Horn of Africa. “Whether he has done that out of strength or weakness is another question.”

Mastery of Islamic debate, poetry

An unnamed “muhajir,” the way the Somali group refers to a foreign fighter, declared “there is a problem” in the way al-Shabab was run and pointed to Godane's tight grip, writing in a letter published on Islamist websites last year and widely accepted by experts as authentic.

In his list of complaints, the fighter criticized al-Shabab's secret prisons and said foreign fighters were declared apostates if they traveled without Godane's consent.

Few potential successors boast the kind of experience and skills that helped Godane keep such a tight hold on power.

Because he came from Somaliland in the north and ran a group with its power base in southern and central Somalia, Godane could claim to stand above local clan politics bedeviling Somalia, even Islamists who say they oppose such parochialism.

Aynte called Godane a “shrewd politician” with a strong pragmatic streak, suggesting his focus on jihad abroad was driven as much by tactics as ideology. When fighting invading Ethiopians in 2006 under another Islamist government in which he served, Godane turned to nationalist rhetoric to rally support.

His Islamist credentials were assured by skills in Islamist debate displayed even as a young man, but Godane was also known for mastery of Somali poetry, notably citing the patriotic Siid Mohamed Abdille, who railed against colonial Italy and Britain until his death in the early 20th century.

Several names are cited as possible successors, such as Sheik Mukhtar Robow, also known as Abu Mansour, who has previously acted as a spokesman for the group. But experts say al-Shabab's leadership structure remains difficult to read.

Even a vacuum in leadership or a struggle for control is unlikely to mean al-Shabab's attacks subside.

“In the interim, it will actually mean the opposite,” said the Heritage Institute's Aynte. “It will mean much nastier violence.”   

You May Like

Nearly 900 Dead, Missing in 2014 Air Disasters

Southeast Asia took a particularly heavy hit; 3 major events involved weather, two planes were shot down in eastern Ukraine, and one crash was attributed to mechanical problems More

Video Islamic State Emergence Transformed Syria, Iraq in 2014

'It was very clear that there were problems building up in Iraq at the end of 2013 but everybody was distracted by Syria,' says one expert, explaining group's rapid rise More

Rights Group: IS Executed Nearly 2,000 in Syria in 6 Months

Islamist group also killed 120 of its own members, most foreign fighters trying to return home, in past two months, according to Syrian Observatory for Human Rights More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russians Head Into Holiday Facing Economic Malaisei
X
Daniel Schearf
December 25, 2014 4:34 PM
Russian preparations for the New Year holiday are clouded by economic recession and a tumbling currency, the ruble. Nonetheless, people in the Russian capital appear to be in a festive mood. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Russians Head Into Holiday Facing Economic Malaise

Russian preparations for the New Year holiday are clouded by economic recession and a tumbling currency, the ruble. Nonetheless, people in the Russian capital appear to be in a festive mood. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Mombasa in Holiday Tourism Slump Due to Security Fears

Kenya's usually popular beachside tourist destination of Mombasa is seeing a much slower holiday season this year due to fears of insecurity as the country has suffered from a string of terror attacks linked to Somali militants. Mohammed Yusuf reports for VOA on how businessmen and tourists feel about the situation.
Video

Video For Somalis, 2014 Marked by Political Instability Within Government

While Somalia has long been torn apart by warfare and violence, this year one of the country's biggest challenges has come from within the government, as political infighting curtails the country's progress, threatens security gains and disappoints the international community. VOA's Gabe Joselow report.
Video

Video 2014 Saw Intensification of Boko Haram Insurgency

The year 2014 saw Nigerian militant sect Boko Haram intensify its five-year insurgency and target civilians in large numbers as it seized territory in the northeast. The kidnapping of nearly 300 schoolgirls in Chibok in April sparked global outrage, but failed to become the turning point against the sect that Nigeria’s president said it would be. The picture at year's end is one of devastation and uncertainty. VOA’s Anne Look reports.
Video

Video Estimates Rising of Foreign Fighters in Iraq, Syria

Foreign fighters are making more of a mark on the battles raging across Syria and Iraq than initially thought. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more.
Video

Video US Political Shift Could Affect Iran Nuclear Talks

Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to resolve Iran’s nuclear crisis are continuing into 2015 after Iran and six world powers failed to agree by a November deadline. U.S. domestic politics, however, could complicate efforts to reach a deal in the new year. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video NYSE: The Icon of Capitalism

From its humble beginnings in 1792 to its status as an economic bellweather for the world, the New York Stock Exchange is an integral part of the story of America. VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from Wall Street.
Video

Video Syrian Refugees in Lebanon Fight to Survive Water Crisis

In a region choking from dwindling water supplies, Lebanon has long been regarded as one of the few places where there is enough. But in recent years, half the people in the country have faced severe shortages. And the more than 1 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon are hit the worst by the water crisis, making the country's most vulnerable people increasingly impoverished and sick. Heather Murdock reports for VOA in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid