News / Africa

Despite Setbacks, al-Shabab Still a Potent Threat

FILE - In this photo released by the African Union-United Nations Information Support Team, alleged al-Shabab members are blindfolded and guarded in Kismayo, southern Somalia on Oct. 3, 2012.
FILE - In this photo released by the African Union-United Nations Information Support Team, alleged al-Shabab members are blindfolded and guarded in Kismayo, southern Somalia on Oct. 3, 2012.
A year ago, Somalia's government and African Union troops were on the move against al-Shabab, taking over town after town.  The al-Qaida-linked militants were in clear retreat, and violent in-fighting among top leaders was shaking the group.

Since then, the tables have turned and al-Shabab appears resurgent with renewed attacks inside and outside Somalia, most notably the assault on an upscale Kenyan shopping mall in September that killed more than 60 civilians.

Analysts say the Islamist militant group should never be underestimated.

In its seven-year existence, al-Shabab has faced strong opposition, including the Ethiopian intervention into Somalia, drone attacks that target top leaders, and the military forces of the Somali government and African Union mission, AMISOM.

But the group has persevered, and according to Cedric Barnes of the International Crisis Group, the setbacks of 2011 and 2012 may have increased its ability to attack.

"In a way what you see is AMISOM swapping roles with al-Shabab," he says.  "Shabab for a time controlled an awful lot of territory in Somalia, but perhaps was more limited by the fact it had more administrative and day-to-day responsibility for a large number of people, especially in urban areas....  

"And now AMISOM is in a similar position to al-Shabab before the big offensive -- its lines are more stretched, it has more responsibility to populations, logistics, whereas al-Shabab is more free from those responsibilities and now it has more capacity to react and change tactics quickly."


In-fighting leaves Godane in charge

In addition, al-Shabab appears to have settled internal unrest after the group's top leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, carried out a purge of his opponents.  

The wrangling first came to light in February 2011 when, according to sources within al-Shabab, several senior leaders accused Godane of straying from the group's core values and showing dictatorial tendencies.

The critics, who included Godane's top two deputies Ibrahim Afghan and Mukhtar Robow Ali Abu Mansour, said Godane violated Islamic laws by describing true Muslims as non-believers and executing Muslims without a trial.  They also accused him him of strategic blunders such as fighting against the Ahlu Sunna militia in central Somalia and the Hiran region.

Godane responded to the challenge against him with combination of pragmatism and violence.  First, in February 2012, he announced a merger with al-Qaida to boost his group's prestige in the militant world.  

Then, in June this year, Godane reportedly ordered the killing of his opponents.  Two of them -- number two deputy Ibrahim Afghan and Ma’alim Hashi, leader of the Shura consultative council, were executed on June 19 in Barawe town.

A third target, Hassan Dahir Aweys, escaped by a whisker.  He is now in a Somali government jail after leaving Barawe on a boat.  A fourth target, Godane's first deputy Mukhtar Robow, is on the run in the jungle in Bay and Bakool regions.

Godane is also allegedly behind the killing of some foreign militants who challenged his leadership, including the American-born Omar Hammami, who made English-language videos meant to appeal to Islamist militants in the U.S.

Earlier this year, Taufail Ahmed of Britain and Dr. Khalid Al-Kene of Kenya were killed execution style in Barawe.  Both had disagreements with Godane before their death.

Those who know him describe Godane as a tough leader who studies people in the militant group, and classifies his opponents as those who are persuadable and those who pose a threat to his control.

Cedric Barnes says in a country like Somalia, you do not rise to a position like Godane's by being consultative and mild-mannered.

“He obviously has had for a long time a deep ambition to be the leading figure in al-Shabab as well as on the wider East Africa stage as well as appealing to the global jihad agenda represented by al-Qaida," Barnes says.  "So of course he has to show a very tough side and brutal side to his leadership, which is not unusual (given) the kind of organization al-Shabab is, which is both a terrorist organizational as well as an insurgency."

Strong organization

Mohamed Farah Al-Ansari is a former al-Shabab commander who now works with the Somali government.  He says that despite the internal wrangling and military setbacks of the past couple of years, al-Shabab remains well organized and continues to raise money through various means and sources, mostly from inside Somalia.

"They rely on charcoal, which is exported from Barawe town," he says.  "They also collect extortion money from poor, ordinary people; they tell them to pay one-third of their wealth with livestock, forms of other wealth, and they cannot refuse.  They apply the same extortion money to Hawala (money services), telecommunication companies."

Experts say al-Shabab also collects money through taxes.  When someone is building a new home they are taxed $120.  A sesame farmer must pay a tax of about $4 on each sack he sells.  Goods that are being transported are levied taxes of about $4.50 per sack, paid at roadside checkpoints.

Meanwhile, Godane has the support of determined young militants known as Amniyat, who assist him with sophisticated intelligence, training and commando-style operations.  These militants operate like federal agents, independent from regional administrations.  The Amniyat are accountable to Godane only, and he regularly replaces their commander to prevent any challenges.

In one instance earlier this year, the Amniyat sent death threats to Zubayr Al-Muhaajir, another prominent militant from abroad.  Al-Muhaajir, a theologian who was acting as the supreme judge in al-Shabab's tribunals, had denounced Godane at a mosque one Friday and accused him of deviating from Islamic principles.

Amniyat advised him to prepare his “karfan,” the white sheet used to cover dead bodies.  He was arrested in June this year and is now believed to be in detention in Barawe town.

Godane and al-Shabab also have a powerful media operation that targets people both inside and outside Somalia.  For the foreign audience, the group sends out messages on Twitter, YouTube and jihadist websites.  Sometimes, it sends out cleverly crafted videos meant for broadcast by the international media.

Inside Somalia, al-Shabab media officers routinely visit regions to propagate the group's message through videos and pictures.  Video clips of jihadist fighters from Afghanistan, Chechnya and Yemen are shown.  Also shown are videos of the war in Somalia.

Al-Shabab's continuing capability was made clear by the recent assault on shoppers in the Westgate mall in Nairobi.  Kenyan investigators say the operation was extensively planned, and that the gunmen had stashed weapons inside the mall ahead of the attack.

The ICG's Barnes says the attack was a reminder and a clear statement of al-Shabab's ability to act against high-profile targets.

"But," he says, "it was also a very clear message to the wider world, to the international community and perhaps also to al-Qaida that it was, or is the number one militant organization in east Africa and it should be taken seriously."

The U.N. Security Council recently authorized deployment of another 4,000 African troops to Somalia.  It appears that despite hopes of peace, Somalia is not done fighting al-Shabab and there may be some heavy fighting to come.

You May Like

Beloved Lion Killing Sparks Virtual, Real Life Outrage

Twitter, as usual, was epicenter for anger directed at Palmer, with some questioning his manhood, calling for him to be released into the wild More

Video Booming London Property Market a Haven for Dirty Money

Billions of dollars from proceeds of crime, especially from Russia, being laundered through London property market, according to anti-corruption activists More

Video Scouts' Decision on Gays Meets Acceptance in Founder's Hometown

One former Scout leader thinks organization will move past political, social debate, get back to its primary focus of turning boys into good citizens 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.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs