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

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces Chaotic World, Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt 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.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid