IN PICTURES: Somalia’s Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen, Part 9: Military Forces Rally in Buulobarde, Hiraan region

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabab) Al-Shabaab (Buulobarde) 7

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-Christopher Anzalone (McGill University)

Other  photo essays on the Somali jihadi-insurgent movement Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen:

-Part 1 can be viewed HERE

-Part 2 can be viewed HERE

-Part 3 can be viewed HERE

-Part 4 can be viewed HERE

-Part 5 can be viewed HERE

-Part 6 can be viewed HERE

-Part 7 can be viewed HERE

-”Omar “Abu Mansur al-Amriki” Hammami: The Rise & Fall of an American Jihadi in Somalia” can be viewed HERE

-Part 8 can be viewed HERE

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Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabab) Al-Shabaab (Buulobarde) 5

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabab) Al-Shabaab (Buulobarde) 1

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabab) Al-Shabaab (Buulobarde) 2

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabab) Al-Shabaab (Buulobarde) 3

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabab) Al-Shabaab (Buulobarde) 4

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabab) Al-Shabaab (Buulobarde) 6

 

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabab) Al-Shabaab (Buulobarde) 5

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabab) Al-Shabaab (Buulobarde) 4

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabab) Al-Shabaab (Buulobarde) 3

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabab) Al-Shabaab (Buulobarde) 2

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabab) Al-Shabaab (Buulobarde) 1

IN PICTURES: Somalia’s Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen, Part 8: Defiance in Baraawe for ‘Eid al-Adha

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabaab) Al-Shabab (Baraawe, Eid al-Adha) Ali Rage (Ali Dheere) 3Al-Shabab’s official spokesman, ‘Ali Rage (‘Ali Dheere)

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-Christopher Anzalone (McGill University)

Other  photo essays on the Somali jihadi-insurgent movement Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen:

-Part 1 can be viewed HERE

-Part 2 can be viewed HERE

-Part 3 can be viewed HERE

-Part 4 can be viewed HERE

-Part 5 can be viewed HERE

-Part 6 can be viewed HERE

-Part 7 can be viewed HERE

-“Omar “Abu Mansur al-Amriki” Hammami: The Rise & Fall of an American Jihadi in Somalia” can be viewed HERE

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Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabaab) Al-Shabab (Baraawe, Eid al-Adha) 1

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabaab) Al-Shabab (Baraawe, Eid al-Adha) 2

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabaab) Al-Shabab (Baraawe, Eid al-Adha) 3

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabaab) Al-Shabab (Baraawe, Eid al-Adha) 4

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabaab) Al-Shabab (Baraawe, Eid al-Adha) 5

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabaab) Al-Shabab (Baraawe, Eid al-Adha) 6

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabaab) Al-Shabab (Baraawe, Eid al-Adha) 7

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabaab) Al-Shabab (Baraawe, Eid al-Adha) 8

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabaab) Al-Shabab (Baraawe, Eid al-Adha) Ali Rage (Ali Dheere) 1

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabaab) Al-Shabab (Baraawe, Eid al-Adha) Ali Rage (Ali Dheere) 2

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabaab) Al-Shabab (Baraawe, Eid al-Adha) Muhammad Abu Abdullah (governor, wali of Lower Shabelle)Muhammad Abu ‘Abdullah, Al-Shabab’s governor (wali) of Lower Shabelle

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabab) Al-Shabaab (Baraawe) 1

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabab) Al-Shabaab (Baraawe) 2

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabab) Al-Shabaab (Baraawe) 3

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabab) Al-Shabaab (Baraawe) 4

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabab) Al-Shabaab (Baraawe) 5Muhammad Abu ‘Abdullah, Al-Shabab’s governor (wali) of Lower Shabelle

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabab) Al-Shabaab (Baraawe) 6

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabab) Al-Shabaab (Baraawe) 7

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabab) Al-Shabaab (Baraawe) 8

IN PICTURES: Somalia’s Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen, Part 7: Qur’an Competition for Youth in Lower Shabelle (August 2013)

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabab) Al-Shabaab 1

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-Christopher Anzalone (McGill University)

A photo essay essay on the Somali insurgent movement Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen:

-Part 1 can be viewed HERE

-Part 2 can be viewed HERE

-Part 3 can be viewed HERE

-Part 4 can be viewed HERE

-Part 5 can be viewed HERE

-Part 6 can be viewed HERE

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Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabab) Al-Shabaab 2

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabab) Al-Shabaab 3

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabab) Al-Shabaab 4

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabab) Al-Shabaab 5

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabab) Al-Shabaab 6

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabab) Al-Shabaab 7

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabab) Al-Shabaab 8

IN PICTURES: Somalia’s Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen, Part 6: Al-Shabab Military Forces in Baraawe, Late April 2013

Al-Shabab (Al-Shabaab) in Baraawe 1__________________________


-Christopher Anzalone (McGill University)

A photo essay essay on the Somali insurgent movement Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen:

-Part 1 can be viewed HERE

-Part 2 can be viewed HERE

-Part 3 can be viewed HERE

-Part 4 can be viewed HERE

-Part 5 can be viewed HERE

Al-Shabab (Al-Shabaab) in Baraawe 2

Al-Shabab (Al-Shabaab) in Baraawe 3

Al-Shabab (Al-Shabaab) in Baraawe 4

Al-Shabab (Al-Shabaab) in Baraawe 5

Al-Shabab (Al-Shabaab) in Baraawe 6

Muhammad Abu Abdullah (Al-Shabab, Al-Shabaab) governor of Lower Shabelle

Muhammad Abu ‘Abdullah, Al-Shabab’s governor of Lower Shabelle

Al-Shabab (Al-Shabaab) in Baraawe 12

Al-Shabab (Al-Shabaab) in Baraawe 11

Al-Shabab (Al-Shabaab) in Baraawe 10

Al-Shabab (Al-Shabaab) in Baraawe 9

Al-Shabab (Al-Shabaab) in Baraawe 8

Al-Shabab (Al-Shabaab) in Baraawe 7

IN PICTURES: Somalia’s Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen: Hasan Dahir Aweys, a Photo Essay Sourced from Insurgent Media: Part 5

Hasan Dahir Aweys (Eid al-Adha 1432 prayers in Lafoole, Lower Shabelle)

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-Christopher Anzalone (McGill University)

A photo essay essay on the Somali insurgent movement Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen:

-Part 1 can be viewed HERE

-Part 2 can be viewed HERE

-Part 3 can be viewed HERE

-Part 4 can be viewed HERE

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Hasan Dahir Aweys & Ali Rage (Ali Dheere) at the public event marking the merger of Hizbul Islam with Al-Shabab in late December 2010

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Hasan Dahir Aweys & Ali Rage, Al-Shabab’s spokesman, at a public event in February 2011 during which a captured Burundian AMISOM soldier was displayed

Hasan Dahir Aweys at Al-Shabab’s conference in mid-May 2011 commemorating the killing of Usama bin Laden conference

Hasan Dahir Aweys (Eid al-Adha 1432 prayers in Lafoole, Lower Shabelle)

Hasan Dahir Aweys with Mukhtar Robow at ‘Eid al-Fitr congregational prayers in Lower Shabelle (August 2011)

Hasan Dahir Aweys leads ‘Eid al-Fitr congregational prayers in Lower Shabelle in August 2011

Hasan Dahir Aweys (Meeting with ‘Ayr clan leaders, November 2011)

Hasan Dahir Aweys visits Al-Shabab’s refugee camp in Lower Shabelle, Al Yasir (July 2011)

Hasan Dahir Aweys, Mukhtar Robow (middle), & Muhammad Abu ‘Abdullah, governor of Lower Shabelle, at a conference for Somali ‘ulama in Bay and Bakool regions (December 2011)

The End of a Romance? The Rise and Fall of an American Jihadi: Omar Hammami’s Relationship with Somalia’s Al-Shabab

-Christopher Anzalone (McGill University)

In a 1:10-minute video posted on YouTube on March 16, Omar Hammami, until now the most prominent non-Somali foreign member of the Somali insurgent-jihadi movement Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Movement of the Warrior-Youth; Al-Shabab/Al-Shabaab), issued an “urgentmessage (sic)” to “whoever it [the message] may reach among the Muslims” in which he said that he feared for his life following a dispute with Al-Shabab following “differences” over matters of “shari’a and strategy.”   Sitting in front of the black-and-white flag emblazoned with the Muslim testament of faith (shahada) that Al-Shabab uses, Hammami, who is referred to in transnational Sunni jihadi (hereafter “jihadi“) circles as “Abu Mansur al-Amriki [the American],” does not elaborate on the nature of his dispute with Al-Shabab or whether the dispute was with the movement’s leadership generally or specific members of the insurgent leadership cadre, in which they are also reportedly divisions and disputes over several issues including the response to the famine threatening the Horn of Africa and local or glocal versus full-fledged transnational militancy. The room appears to be the same one, or similar to the one, in a photograph of Hammami that was posted to jihadi Internet forums in December 2011, though it is impossible to tell for sure.

The release of this video from the American citizen who is perhaps most famous for his terrible hip hop songs such as “Send Me a Cruise” and “Blow by Blow” has caused considerable consternation among segments of the cyber jihadi community.  The dispute appears to be genuine has become stronger with the release of multiple messages via Al-Shabab’s official or affiliated media outlets earlier today.  Given the potential importance of this news, it is worth reviewing Hammami’s lengthy relationship with Al-Shabab.

Hammami (b. 1984), a native of Daphne, Alabama and son of a Syrian Muslim father and a Protestant Christian American mother, traveled to Somalia in late November 2006 from Egypt.  According to his former best friend Bernie Culveyhouse, he likely traveled to the East African country because of a desire to aid the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), an umbrella movement that, in 2006, brought the first real semblance of law and order to civil war-torn Somalia  since the fall of dictator Siyaad Barre in 1991.  It is believed that Hammami joined Al-Shabab, which formed part of the UIC’s military wing.  In 2007, wearing a kuffiya scarf over his face and only showing his eyes, he was interviewed by Al-Jazeera Arabic and made an appeal to Americans to heed the example of Somalia.

Hammami became most well known, however, following his starring role in Ambush at Bardale, a 31-minute video released in late March 2009.  The video, produced by Al-Shabab’s media department, then simply referred to as such, documents an ambush by insurgents led by Hammami against an Ethiopian military convoy near the city of Baidoa, capital of the Bay region, in western Somalia in early August 2008.  In the video Hammami, speaking in English, lectures a group of Al-Shabab fighters on hadith, the Qur’an, and strategic and ideological matters concerning the movement’s “jihad” and standing in “ribat,” or guardianship over Muslim lands.  Ambush at Bardale also includes Hammami’s first two hip hop songs, “Blow by Blow” and “Hum Hum,” which feature him and a second unidentified English speaker. Hammami later addresses the camera in Arabic.

Despite his very public persona in the news media, particularly in North America, Hammami’s exact position and role in Al-Shabab has largely been the subject of speculation.  According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s designation of him as an international terrorist, Hammami is (or was) a “military tactician, recruitment strategist, and financial manager” for Al-Shabab.  The designation also accuses him of being involved in the planning of an October 2008 suicide attack in Puntland carried out by U.S. citizen and Al-Shabab fighter Shirwa Ahmed.  Open source material with regard to his role, particularly insurgent primary sources, is generally ambiguous.  In the three official Al-Shabab videos that he’s appeared in, he has been referred to as “shaykh” and “the brother (al-akh).”  The first title is traditionally an honorific title describing either a societal or religious leader though jihadi groups use the term so frequently that the term’s meaning is often of limited use with regards to determining an individual’s specific role.  The second is a term of endearment used by Muslims generally to describe a fellow male Muslim.  In the statement reporting the Hammami-led ambush of Ethiopian forces at Bardale, the Daphne native was referred to as a “field commander” (al-qa’id al-maydani).  His exact role, if any, in the upper echelons of Al-Shabab’s leadership cadre is unclear, at least in open source materials.

In January 2008 the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF), a shadowy jihadi media outlet and distribution network that has for years facilitated the distribution of Al-Shabab’s statements and other media material online, released a 5-page essay penned by Hammami and addressed to “the mujahideen in particular and the Muslims in general.”  In the essay, he criticized the UIC and discussed the differences between it and Al-Shabab.  Whereas the former restricted itself to the “boundaries placed by the Taaghoot [Taghut; tyrant-rulers],” Al-Shabab had “a global goal” that included the formation of a jihadi caliphate, a transnational state, in “all parts of the world.”  Hammami criticized the UIC’s poor treatment of foreign fighters, the “muhajireen” (emigrants) who traveled to aid their Somali Muslim brethren.  Toward the end of his essay, the American discusses Al-Shabab’s purported program or “path” (Minhaj).  How definitive in terms of guidance his discussion of the movement’s program was, however, is unclear.  Al-Shabab’s Somali leaders and more important non-Somali foreign leaders and affiliated Al-Qa’ida Central operatives, such as the late Saleh ‘Ali Saleh al-Nabhan and Fazul ‘Abdullah Muhammad, were likely more influential on the formation of the movement’s ideology.  If continuous reports about purported internal divisions are true, Al-Shabab’s leaders are divided on a number of issues, though this cleavages have not yet precipitated the actual break-up of the movement.  Currently Al-Shabab has a leadership cadre that includes a number of prominent Somali preacher-ideologues, including some who have lived in diaspora communities such as Fu’ad Muhammad Khalaf and ‘Abd al-Qadir Mu’min.  Together with political leaders such as the movement’s amir Ahmed Godane, spokesman ‘Ali Mahamoud Rage (‘Ali Dheere), Robow, and Aweys, these individuals have likely been more influential over the construction of Al-Shabab’s ideology as a movement than Hammami.

Hammami has appeared a number of times at public Al-Shabab functions including a celebration for the children of the movement’s “martyrs” in 2009 or 2010.  His most high profile appearance was at a lengthy conference entitled “We are All Usama” held by Al-Shabab in the Lower Shabelle region south of Mogadishu in mid May 2011 following the killing of Al-Qa’ida Central founder-leader Usama bin Laden by U.S. forces earlier that month in Pakistan.

In photographs released by Al-Shabab and affiliated/sympathetic media outlets, Hammami was pictured alongside a number of senior Al-Shabab leaders including Rahanweyn leader Mukhtar “Abu Mansur” Robow, Hasan Dahir Aweys, Lower Shaballe governor Muhammad Abu ‘Abdullah, preachers ‘Abd al-Qadir Mu’min and Fu’ad Muhammad Khalaf “Shongole,” and Banaadir governor Muhammad Hasan ‘Umar Abu ‘Abd al-Rahman.  In Ambush at Bardale Hammami also appeared alongside Robow planning the ambush against Ethiopian forces.  In that footage and in photographs and video footage from the conference dedicated to Bin Laden.two appeared quite friendly with one another.  It is purely speculative, but it is possible, if rumors of a rift among Al-Shabab leaders is true and the evidence is mixed and not concrete, that the row has been caused by a faction attempting to isolate Robow, who has had a longstanding relationship, based on insurgent media, with Hammami.  Robow is one of the leaders who, according to reports of leadership divisions, is opposed to a fully internationalized militancy, instead favoring a more Somalia and Horn of Africa-centered vision, at least for the medium term.

The amount of media attention that Hammami has attracted is likely disproportionate to his actual role and importance to Al-Shabab.  This is not to say that he was not important to the movement’s recruitment efforts, particularly among English-speakers.  It is interesting to note that Al-Shabab had already recruited dozens of mostly Somali youth in the U.S., Canada, and Britain before its public video unveiling of Hammami in Ambush at Bardale, though this fact does not discount the possibility/likelihood that he was involved prior in an advisory role.

Hammami, as mentioned previously, has appeared in three official video releases produced by Al-Shabab’s media wing, Ambush at Bardale, the September 2009-release Labbayk Ya Usama, and an April 2010 release about a celebration held for children of killed insurgents.  In Labbayk Ya Usama Hammami’s makes a brief non-speaking appearance and is shown observing and directing training of Al-Shabab “special forces” and meeting with other Al-Shabab commanders.  He speaks at the celebration for the children of the “martyrs,” though the children seem more interested in their toys and food, alongside ‘Ali Rage.  Hammami’s hip hop songs, both those released independently (or at least unbranded by) of Al-Shabab’s media department and the two featured in Ambush at Bardale, were branded as being from “Ghaba Productions.”  His most recent lecture, “Lessons Learned,” appeared on YouTube and the Ansar al-Mujahideen English jihadi Internet forum on October 7, 2011 and was subsequently released on other web sites including the predominantly Somali language al-Qimma al-Islamiyya (Islamic Summit) forum.  The latter link was later not working and was possibly removed by forum administrators.  In November, the lecture was translated from English into Arabic by the al-Masada (Place of Lions) Media Foundation, the media office of the Shumukh al-Islam (Islamic pride/glory) Internet forum.  Comparisons made by some of Hammami with Anwar al-‘Awlaqi are, frankly, bordering on the absurd.  Unlike Hammami, al-‘Awlaqi had some semblance of religious legitimacy, at least prior to his public embrace of Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and militancy.  While Hammami was able to speak a caricatured youth slang, it is unlikely that his religious arguments for jihad or even his personal life story carried the same authoritativeness and weight of al-‘Awlaqi’s, since the latter gave up a successful public life and leadership role in the U.S. in order to embrace “true Islam,” at least according to the American-Yemeni preacher’s self-image and the image constructed by AQAP and other jihadis.

The open question is why would Hammami make such a public break with Al-Shabab now?  Speculation in some media coverage and on social media networks, primarily Twitter, has been that the dispute may be related to the movement’s formalizing of its affiliation with Al-Qa’ida Central (AQC) in early February.  This is certainly a possibility.  Praising the charismatic persona of Bin Laden is still a step below being an actual member of an AQC affiliated movement or group, which perhaps Hammami finds undesirable, if only for reasons of personal safety particularly after the U.S. government’s targeted killing of Anwar al-‘Awlaqi on September 30 of last year in Yemen.  Given Al-Shabab’s public embrace of the decision to formally affiliate with AQC, demonstrated by a number of high profile public celebrations in regions under insurgent control that have been attended by many but not all of its senior leadership (at least based on insurgent photographs), the reverse seems unlikely, that is that Hammami broke with Al-Shabab because he supported the affiliation while insurgent leaders opposed it.  The possibility that some Al-Shabab leaders are not as supportive of the affiliation remains.  Robow and Aweys, for example, were not in photographs of insurgent-organized public celebrations in Lower Shabelle and other regions and they have only just begun to reappear in insurgent-affiliated media following the announcement by Godane and Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri.  The exact reasons for this, it should be noted, are unclear. It is possible that the break between Hammami and Al-Shabab’s leadership, if true, is unrelated to the affiliation and concerns other issues, such as the insurgent movement’s application of its particularly harsh and philistine interpretation of shari’a.  Al-Shabab has actively promoted its own version of law and order, a harsh one for sure, and has attempted to establish its control over local shari’a courts through its Office of the Judiciary, which has held “training sessions” for judges from all the regions under insurgent control.

Others suggest that the break may be related to suspicions by Al-Shabab’s domestic leadership with regard to “foreign fighters.”  It is important to remember that there are several different types of such fighters in insurgent ranks.  First, there are those, likely the smallest number, who, like Hammami, are non-Somalis.  This group includes Arabs, South Asians or those of South Asian descent, possibly from Horn of Africa countries, Americans, and Europeans.  Second, there are ethnic Somalis from the diaspora.  Third, there are non-Somalis from in and around the Horn of Africa.  Available evidence, including from insurgent media, is that this group remains welcome by Al-Shabab’s leadership and indeed is increasingly the target of insurgent recruitment efforts.  This includes the affiliation of Ahmad Iman ‘Ali and the Muslim Youth Center in Kenya and the appearance of Swahili-speaking Al-Shabab fighters in insurgent videos, particularly since the November 2010 release of Message to the Umma: And Inspire the Believers.

Al-Shabab today, in a series of Tweets via its Arabic and English-language Twitter accounts and in an official statement released on jihadi Internet forums, denies that Hammami’s life is endanger and says that he still enjoys the “benefits of brotherhood” with themujahideen.”  The Arabic Tweets were posted after the English ones and essentially mirror them in meaning.  The affair will remain purely the subject of speculation until more concrete information emerges.

UPDATE (March 18, 2012): For the time being Hammami seems to have achieved his short-term goal, gaining the attention of a variety of audiences including jihadis with his SOS call.  Al-Shabab, or at least its Al-Kata’ib (The Brigades) Media Foundation, has felt pressured enough by the uploading of his video to publicly respond in an official statement and Tweets on its Twitter accounts.  After assuring their supporters that Hammami is not at risk of harm from them, the insurgent movement has, to some degree, boxed itself in.  If Hammami is killed later by them, Al-Shabab will have to either formulate a strong argument as to why they went against the assurances offered in their statement or, perhaps as likely, make his death look either like the doing of another group such as AMISOM, the weak Somali Transitional Federal Government, Kenya, Ethiopia, or one of their allied Somali militias like Ahlu Sunnah Wal-Jamaacah, or an “accident” which they facilitate, as some analysts have alleged insurgents did with Fazul ‘Abdullah Muhammad (though actual concrete evidence of this thus far has not surfaced.)

Comments left on Hammami’s uploaded video on YouTube include the copy-and-pasted text of the HSMPress English Tweets, by user “golbourne1234,” (another commenter posts the main Arabic text of Al-Shabab’s official statement) and  the bemoaning of “fitna” (social discord) by user “missizx2,” who writes, “Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh, Fitna is everywhere, also on the Ard ul Izzah, my brother I dont think Mujahideen would kill their own brother only because of differences in opinion or understanding, have sabr and keep trust in Allah. And if they execute you because they have a reason according to Shariah (for example like the execution of Ebuzer in Khurasan) then may Allah accept you from among the Shuhada.  ‘Verily, with hardship there is relief ‘(Qur’an 94:6).”  The latter comment, even with the prayer for Hammami to be accepted as a “martyr” if Al-Shabab executes him in a shar’i (legal) fashion, is unlikely to comfort the American.

The Formalizing of an Affiliation: Somalia’s Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen & Al-Qa’ida Central

‘Ali Mahamoud Rage (‘Ali Dheere), Al-Shabab’s spokesman, at a press conference on the killing of Usama bin Laden on May 6, 2011.

-Christopher Anzalone (McGill University)

UPDATE (23 February 2012): Al-Shabab’s Political and Governorates Office has issued two statements today.  The first congratulates the Muslim Ummah on its formal affiliation with Al-Qa’ida Central and gives “special thanks to our amir, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri.”  It states that the Somali insurgent movement’s resources now fall under his authority.  It has yet to be seen if this leads to a significant change in Al-Shabab’s Somalia-centric insurgency.  The second thanks AQC’s Al-Sahab Media Foundation for producing the video announcing the affiliation as well as the Global Islamic Media Front for its longtime online distribution support of Al-Shabab.

UPDATE (17 February 2012): See insurgent photographs from a rally in Baidoa HERE.

UPDATE (14 February 2012): See a second set of insurgent photographs of the rallies HERE.

UPDATE (13 February 2012): Al-Shabab leaders have hosted celebrations across Lower Shabelle for the formalization of affiliation between their movement and Al-Qa’ida Central.  Among those leaders present were spokesman ‘Ali Mahamoud Rage (‘Ali Dheere), governor of Banaadir Muhammad Abu ‘Abd al-Rahman, governor of Lower Shabelle Muhammad Abu ‘Abdullah, and preacher ‘Abd al-Qadir Mu’min.  Noticeably absent, at least in insurgent photographs and the official statement announcing the celebrations, were Mukhtar “Abu Mansur” Robow and Hasan Dahir Aweys.  This may or may not mean the latter two were not present.  If they were not present it may be a sign of a rift, though the nature of cleavages in the movement remain hotly debated.  It is not the first time that not all the “public faces” of Al-Shabab were not present at a major event.  For example, ‘Ali Rage was not pictured in insurgent photographs or video footage of the movement’s conference marking the killing of Usama bin Laden in May 2011. Signs and banners held by civilians present express “joy” at the “union of the mujahideen” and “jihadi movement.”  To see insurgent photographs and read the official statement, see my post at VIEWS FROM THE OCCIDENT.

In a new media release, half audio message and half video message, released on Thursday, February 9 by Al-Qa’ida Central’s (AQC) media outlet, the Al-Sahab (The Clouds) Media Foundation, the group’s amir, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Ahmed Godane, the amir of the Somali insurgent movement Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Movement of the Warrior-Youth; Al-Shabaab) formally announced the official affiliation of Al-Shabab with AQC.  The announcement, which was teased a day prior to its release on jihadi-takfiri Internet forums, formalizes the relationship between the two groups following a lengthy history of ideological affinity and cooperation between them.  Its release has renewed discussions about how Al-Shabab should be classified, as mostly a local or regional insurgency, a transnational militant movement akin to AQC, or a mix of the two.  This post, like much of my current research and writing on Al-Shabab, attempts to make a modest contribution to this discussion.  I have and continue to argue that Al-Shabab is most accurately seen as a type of “glocal” militant movement, a mainly localized militant movement that uses transnational rhetoric and maintains an operational capability to carry out attacks outside of its home base inside Somalia, primarily but not necessarily limited to regional countries in East Africa.

Entitled, Glad Tidings from the Two Shaykhs, Abu al-Zubayr and Amir Ayman al-Zawahiri, the announcement is roughly evenly divided between an audio message from Godane, who is more commonly known in jihadi circles by his nom de guerre “Mukhtar Abu al-Zubayr,” and a video segment from al-Zawahiri, who stoically gives “glad tidings to the Muslim Ummah (worldwide community), in particular to the mujahideen” regarding Al-Shabab’s joining of the Al-Qa’ida organization-led jihadi movement (al-harakat al-jihadiyya) against the alliance of Crusaders, Zionists, and their allies and agents, the munafiqeen (hypocrites, a term used for those who claim to be Muslims but whose actions prove otherwise).  He welcomes “our brothers” Al-Shabab and praises the steadfastness of the movement against the mounting Crusader attacks on it by the United States, Ethiopia, and Kenya, all of whom have become increasingly involved in the Somali civil war that pits Al-Shabab against the weak but internationally-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which depends on the nearly 10,000 African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) soldiers for its survival.  Al-Zawahiri also urges Somalis to stay away from those religious scholars (‘ulama) who seek to lead them astray and who support the corrupt TFG leaders who have allied themselves to “Crusader” forces.

Al-Zawahiri sits in front of a green curtain, which appears to be felt.  He has sat in frot of the same or a very similar curtain in a number of other recent video messages including Days with the Imam: Part 1, released November 15 of last year, The Glory of the East Begins with Damascus, released July 27, and And the Defeats of the Americans Continue, released October 11.  The background setting of the AQC amir’s location suggests that the video segment featuring him was recorded fairly recently, within the last seven months.

Godane, as Al-Shabab’s amir, declares his loyalty to “our amir,” the “beloved amir, the blessed/honorable shaykh,” al-Zawahiri.  During his audio segment, a static background identifies Godane as the speaker and includes a still photograph from the conference in December 2010 at which Al-Shabab announced the joining to it of Hizbul Islam, the Somali Islamist insurgent group formerly headed by Hasan Dahir Aweys, who is now a senior Al-Shabab leader.

The issuing of this announcement now, during a period when both AQC and Al-Shabab are facing mounting pressures, is telling.  It is unclear at the current time who initiated this formal affiliation of Al-Shabab with AQC, or whether it was mutually initiated.  AQC, faced with the loss of its founder, Usama bin Laden, and a senior operational leader and ideologue, ‘Atiyyatullah al-Libi (Jamal Ibrahim Ishtaywi al-Misrati), last year is reeling from losses inflicted by U.S. drone missile strikes and is struggling to remain a relevant force.  Of the two groups, it arguably has the most to gain from formalizing its relationship with Al-Shabab, which continues to control vast swaths of territory in central and southern Somalia.  The insurgent movement or its allies also reportedly have made significant inroads into parts of northern Somalia, both in the autonomous region of Puntland and a contested area between Puntland and the self-declared republic of Somaliland.  Despite significant military setbacks since last spring, Al-Shabab remains a potent force within the country and its military power, even if it is in decline, remains the subject of pride for the Sunni jihadi current.  With the exception of Ansar al-Shari‘a, which is at the very least affiliated with AQAP, no other AQC affiliate controls any significant amount of territory.  The jihadi-insurgent “golden age” in Iraq from 2003 to 2007, during which AQ in the Land of the Two Rivers, the Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen (Mujahideen Shura Council), its successor the Islamic State of Iraq, controlled villages and cities in certain regions, such as Al-Anbar, has long since ended.  The control and governance of territory has long been a transnational jihadi dream and Al-Shabab’s exercise of governing authority, however basic, over large parts of southern and central Somalia is thus something that AQC leaders and transnational jihadis online have long heralded as one of the best examples of what a “jihadi state” can accomplish.  Despite its delusions of grandeur with the Islamic State of Iraq, which, in terms of its actual ability to exercise significant governing authority over territory, exists mostly on paper rather than in practice, the transnational jihadi current’s attention has been shifting away from Iraq and toward other theaters, such as Somalia.

AQC leaders, from Bin Laden to al-Zawahiri to Abu Yahya al-Libi, have long held up Al-Shabab as a source of pride to the transnational jihadi current.  During its heyday from roughly 2008 through the summer of 2010, Al-Shabab represented, for both AQ, broadly defined, ideologues and online jihadis one of the best examples of what can be accomplished, in terms of controlling and governing territory, by “steadfast mujahideen” with few resources in the face of a numerically and technologically-superior set of adversaries, in this case AMISOM, Ethiopia, and their U.S. backers.  This was highlighted, for example, by Abu Yahya al-Libi in Al-Sahab’s 2008 “9/11 anniversary” video, The Results of Seven Years of the Crusades, and he more recently argued that the Kenyan military intervention in Somalia is a step on the way to victory for the “mujahideen” since it will lead to further economic catastrophe for Kenya and the U.S.  AQAP’s deputy amir, Sa’id al-Shihri, also praised Al-Shabab in a February 2010 audio message in which he urged increased cooperation between the two groups.

The fact that Al-Shabab’s successes in Somalia were only made possible by a unique set of circumstances that do not exist and are likely not reproducible in other regions seems not to have been considered by them.  In other words, Al-Shabab’s success at capturing and holding territory has provided AQ and other likeminded jihadis with hope that it is possible for “mujahideen” to implement “God’s rule,” a harsh implementation of a rudimentary form of shari‘a, and act as executors of a kind of state power.

Anwar al-‘Awlaqi, the late American militant preacher affiliated with AQAP who was killed in a U.S. drone missile strike on September 30, was perhaps the most outspoken in his view that Al-Shabab represents the potential of a jihadi state.  In a December 21, 2008 post on his blog, he lauded and congratulated Al-Shabab for its victories in Somalia against the Ethiopians, AMISOM, and the TFG, writing that they filled “our hearts with immense joy.”  He went on to describe Al-Shabab’s project in Somalia as a “university” that “will graduate” distinguished alumni who can share their experiences with and educate other “mujahideen” in implementing a similar social and governing program in other regions.  The Somali theater, he wrote, “will provide its graduates with the hands-on experience that the Ummah greatly needs for its next stage.”

Al-‘Awlaqi reiterated his positive assessment of Al-Shabab in his first, and thus far only publicly released, interview with AQAP’s Al-Malahem Media Foundation, which was released in May 2010.  When asked to clarify his position on the Somali insurgent movement, he said, “The various Islamic movements are searching for a solution for the Ummah, as are the scholars…Today we are seeing the solution in front of our very eyes in Somalia.  This small hand of mujahideen, with limited resources, has been able to establish a state and rule with God’s almighty Shari‘a.  Today, they are providing solutions for the people…Today, they are dealing with the realities and providing solutions from the Islamic Shari ‘a.  For this reason, as I mentioned, this is a unique experience from which the Ummah must derive benefit.”  Clearly, this is a heavily selective description of Al-Shabab’s execution of governing authority over wide swaths of Somalia.  However, al-‘Awlaqi’s response clearly shows how important the Somali theater has been to jihadis as a model to emulate.

SEE HERE FOR A VIDEO CLIP OF ANWAR AL-‘AWLAQI’S DESCRIPTION OF AL-SHABAB.

Despite Al-Shabab’s importance in illustrating how a jihadi state can be run in praxis, the movement’s leaders have not been as frequently cited in videos produced by AQC and its affiliates as the reverse.  An audio clip of Godane was used in Ghazwat al-Mansura, a video in AQIM’s series The Shade of Swords, released on July 22, 2010, to my knowledge for the first, and so far only, time.

For its part, Al-Shabab has for a long time closely affiliated itself ideologically with AQC and the transnational jihadi current in the hope of garnering benefits from this relationship that would otherwise not be available to it.  This has been particularly true in terms of the movement winning financial support and potentially new recruits from outside of Somalia, particularly when the number of diaspora recruits from North America and Western Europe began to slow following the Ethiopian military withdrawal in January 2008.

Mukhtar Robow

Al-Shabab from its early stages embraced and has been strongly influenced by the charismatic persona of Bin Laden.  His image and clips of his audio and video messages have been used in the insurgent movement’s video productions since at least 2008.  For example, his image and audio clips of him were used prominently in Al-Shabab’s video series Martyrdom Operations in Somalia.  Insurgent leaders, from Godane to Mukhtar “Abu Mansur” Robow, ‘Ali Mahamoud Rage (‘Ali Dheere), and Hasan Dahir Aweys have continuously spoken with great affinity for Bin Laden and the late AQC founder continues to occupy a place of prominence in Al-Shabab’s media productions.  The insurgent movement held a major conference entitled “We Are all Usama” in mid-May following his killing in Pakistan.  Senior Al-Shabab leaders including Aweys, Robow, Fu’ad Muhammad Khalaf “Shongole,” and its governor of the Banaadir region, Abu ‘Abd al-Rahman, and ‘Abd al-Qadir Mu’min were present, as was American member Omar “Abu Mansur al-Amriki” Hammami.

Hasan Dahir Aweys

The clearest example of Al-Shabab’s ideological affinity for Bin Laden is a 48-minute video entitled Labbayk Ya Usama, which translates approximately to, “We Heed Your Call” or “At Your Service,” released on September 20, 2009 by Al-Shabab’s media wing.  In the video, Godane refers to Bin Laden, whom he calls by his kunya Abu ‘Abdullah, as “shaykh-i-na wa amir-i-na” (our shaykh and our amir).  Godane and other Al-Shabab leaders, such as Robow, Rage, and Aweys, have long described Bin Laden as the epitome of Muslim resistance to Western imperialism, epitomized by the United States, and its local clients such as Somalia’s TFG.

Insurgent ideological affinity for the transnational jihadism represented by AQC has not been limited to the personage of Bin Laden.  Al-Shabab’s media apparatus, originally called simply “Media Department” and now the “Al-Kata’ib (The Brigades) Media Foundation,” has also made frequent use of video and audio clips from other prominent transnational jihadi ideologues including Al-Qa’ida Central’s Abu Yahya al-Libi (a clip of whom appears in an early Al-Shabab media production, the July 2008 Al-Shabab video eulogy for its founder, Adan Hashi Farah ‘Ayro), the late Al-Qa’ida Central commander in Afghanistan Mustafa Abu’l Yazid, and Al-Qa’ida in Iraq/Islamic State of Iraq leaders Abu Mus‘ab al-Zarqawi (after which it named a research institute that published one issue of its Internet magazine Millat Ibrahim), Abu ‘Umar al-Baghdadi, and Abu Hamza al-Muhajir.  Materials studied by Al-Shabab fighters and missionaries, at academies named after ‘Abdullah ‘Azzam, include, in addition to classical and medieval books on Arabic grammar, Qur’anic commentaries, books of hadith, and prophetic biography, books by Ayman al-Zawahiri (al-Wala’ wa’l Bara’) and Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi (Millat Ibrahim).

In addition to the significant ideological affinity that Al-Shabab’s leaders have for Bin Laden and other transnational jihadi ideologues, the former also get strategic benefit from their affiliation with Al-Qa’ida and the transnational jihadi community it represents.  By distributing its media materials on major jihadi Internet forums through the Global Islamic Media Front and embracing Bin Laden and other jihadi leaders, Al-Shabab is able to reach a broader audience of potential and actual supporters than it would otherwise be able to.  In tandem with its recruitment networks in East Africa, Europe, Australia, and North America, this has enabled it to win new supporters, some of whom have traveled to Somalia in order to join the movement.  It is important to note, however, that Al-Shabab maintains multiple tiers of media communication and messaging: (1) media aimed at transnational jihadis online, (2) Somali domestic and diaspora audiences via Somali language media outlets, which are as or more important than #1, (3) communications aimed at external enemies, for example via the “HSM Press” Twitter account and some of Al-Kata’ib’s videos.

On the operational front, AQC operatives in East Africa played a key role in training and providing ideological guidance to Al-Shabab in its formative days, though their exact roles remain hazy.  Chief among these operatives were Abu Talha al-Sudani (killed in 2007 or 2008), Saleh ‘Ali Saleh al-Nabhani (killed in a U.S. military strike in southern Somalia on September 14, 2009), and Fazul ‘Abdullah Muhammad, also known as Fadil Harun (killed in a chance encounter in June 2001 at a Transitional Federal Government checkpoint in Mogadishu).  Of the three, al-Nabhani occupied the most visible role in aiding Al-Shabab, appearing in a 24-minute video released by Al-Shabab’s media department in August 2008 in which he called on Muslims outside of Somalia to come and aid “their brothers” in that country.  He made specific calls to Muslims in Sudan and Yemen, saying that “we are waiting for reinforcements from Sudan and Yemen, the places of wisdom (al-hikmah) and faith (al-iman).”  Al-Nabhani is shown briefly instructing military exercises alongside Mukhtar Robow in the video.  A day after al-Nabhani’s death, Al-Shabab issued a statement eulogizing him.

During a period of severe crisis in which it is dealing with the effects of a severe famine, declining diaspora financial and manpower support, and growing military pressures from AMISOM, the TFG, Ethiopia, Kenya, their allied militias, and the U.S., Al-Shabab may be wagering that by formally affiliating itself with AQC it will receive financial support or recruits that it may otherwise not have had access to.  Questions remain, however, as to the timing of this announcement.  AQC likely has little spare financial support or manpower that it can send to Al-Shabab, given the former’s needs in Afghanistan and Pakistan. If it was hoping for another safe haven in Somalia, AQC will likely be disappointed in Somalia since the “golden age” of Al-Shabab’s insurgent state is likely over.  However, it may not be direct AQC support that Al-Shabab is aiming for but rather support from non-Somali jihadis who are sympathetic to AQC’s ideological message who may choose Somalia as their field of “jihad” and thus provide the insurgent movement with badly needed reinforcements.

On the operational level, it is unclear whether AQC still has key operatives in East Africa.  The group’s original core group of operatives has died or been killed, likely leaving a vacuum that will be difficult for AQC to fill, particularly given its weakened state and need for all the financial and manpower resources it can get for the Afghanistan-Pakistan front.  The only suspected AQC operative that has been revealed publicly since the chance killing of Fazul ‘Abdullah Muhammad at a TFG checkpoint in Mogadishu on June 8 of last year, has been Abu ‘Abdullah al-Muhajir, who the FBI believes to be American citizen Jehad Serwan Mostafa.  He was present at a major media event staged in October by Al-Shabab and AQC at the insurgent movement’s flagship refugee camp, Al-Yasir, in the Lower Shabelle region, which has since been closed.  The masked al-Muhajir delivered humanitarian and other aid to Al-Yasir.  On banners present at the event, the identities of “AQ” and Al-Shabab were kept distinct and separate.  The aid was labeled as being from “AQ” but distributed in coordination with Al-Shabab.  Al-Muhajir’s exact role in AQC, if any, have not yet been specified in any detail by the group, nor was the aid distribution discussed in any detail, at least yet, in AQC media releases.  Without significant infrastructure in the form of skilled operatives in Somalia, it is unlikely that the official announcement of Al-Shabab’s affiliation with AQC will bring about any immediate significant changes on the ground for the insurgent movement.  The official announcement of affiliation does, however, potentially provide AQC with a propaganda coup in that it is able to continue presenting itself as relevant and it could also provide a new cause for its supporters to unify around.

‘Ali Mahamoud Rage (left) with Abu ‘Abdullah al-Muhajir at Al-Yasir camp in Lower Shabelle in mid-October

Al-Shabab is also likely to remain focused on the ongoing conflict inside Somalia, though it will also likely continue to carry out attacks in Kenya and other neighboring countries that either have soldiers inside the country or have sent soldiers to join the AMISOM force.  Given the reportedly high numbers of non-Somali foreign fighters that have joined its ranks (numbers remain unclear), it is possible that as Al-Shabab becomes increasingly desperate it will attempt to carry out more attacks against countries that are militarily engaged in Somalia.  Al-Shabab has already, it seems, solidified an operational relationship with militant elements within the Kenyan Muslim population and it is likely that Al-Shabab has already and will continue to attempt to form relationships with other Muslim militant groups in the Horn of Africa.  It is important to note that, unlike other AQC affiliates with the exception of AQAP and Ansar al-Shari‘a in Yemen, Al-Shabab has a significant domestic population over which it rules, a constituency so to speak, though clearly not all of the people support the movement’s rule.  Domestic politics and social relations will likely continue to play a major role, if not the most important role, in determining Al-Shabab’s trajectory.

Al-Shabab is a hybrid movement, part domestic insurgency and part jihadi movement with a transnational flare.  It is a “glocal” militant movement that, while focused mainly on waging a domestic insurgency, has deliberately cultivated relations with AQC, AQAP, and the transnational jihadi current which they represent, in part due to real ideological affinity and in for strategic reasons, mainly to expand its limited base of potential recruits and supporters.  Its desire and ability to move fully into the transnational arena, defined here as outside Somalia and the Horn of Africa, remains an open question.  It is possible that the movement will be ultimately uninterested in or incapable of, like AQIM, of moving fully into transnational militancy.  Al-Shabab, despite facing major setbacks during the past year, has succeeded in establishing clandestine recruiting networks on several continents, developed a sophisticated set of media operations, and continues to prove that it remains a potent force inside Somalia, though how long it can remain so under increasing military pressure is unclear.

The possibility of fractures emerging in the movement, particularly as pressure mounts, remain perhaps the greatest danger to Al-Shabab’s existence as a unified, or fairly unified, militant force inside the country.  These fractures will perhaps emerge following the formal affiliation of Al-Shabab with AQC, if consistent reports of a rift between Godane and more Somalia-centric Al-Shabab leaders are true.  These fractures, however, may not emerge in the short term, as the insurgent movement has proven remarkably resilient in the fact of major crises such as the famine.  The Al-Shabab media reaction, in the form of its own press statements, videos, and other media releases, to the official announcement of affiliation will also be telling with regard to how the insurgent movement itself, and not AQC, presents the affiliation.  It also remains to be seen whether the distribution network of Al-Shabab media materials online changes, moving from the Sada al-Jihad (Echo of Jihad) Media Center of the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF) to the Al-Fajr (The Dawn) Media Center, which distributes AQC, AQAP, ISI, and AQIM media materials exclusively, in addition to some of its own material.  Even close allies of AQC in other regions, such as the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, do not have their media materials distributed via Al-Fajr.  Such a shift would be a further sign of Al-Shabab’s full adoption into the AQ family.

As the idiom says, “watch this space.”

IN PICTURES: Somalia’s Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen, a Photo Essay Sourced from Insurgent Media: Part 4

-Christopher Anzalone (McGill University)

A photo essay on the Somali insurgent movement Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen
Part 1 can be viewed HERE.

Part 2 can be viewed HERE.

Part 3 can be viewed HERE.

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‘Abd al-Qadir Mu’min meeting with Murusade clan leaders (April 2011)

‘Ali Mahamoud Rage (Ali Dheere) at graduation of Jaysh al-Hisbah, Harakat al-Shabab’s police force, members in Lower Shabelle (Feb. 2011)

‘Ali Mahamoud Rage (Ali Dheere) with captured Burundian AMISOM equipment at Dayniile

‘Ali Mahamoud Rage (Ali Dheere) at graduation of Jaysh al-Hisbah, Harakat al-Shabab’s police force, members  in Lower Shabelle (Feb. 2011)

A shari’a court run by Harakat al-Shabab in Lower Shabelle

Distribution of Aid by Jaysh al-‘Usrah (Sep. 2011), Harakat al-Shabab’s front line military force

Distribution of Aid by Jaysh al-‘Usrah (Sep. 2011), Harakat al-Shabab’s front line military force

Bay & Bakool clan leaders at meeting with Harakat al-Shabab officials in Baidoa (July 2011)

Celebration for the Children of the Martyrs in Lower Shabelle (September 2011)

Children attending a graduation ceremony of new trainees of Harakat al-Shabab’s police force, Jaysh al-Hisbah, in February 2011

Hasan Dahir Aweys at Al-Yasir Camp, Lower Shabelle (July 2011)

Muhammad Abu ‘Abdullah (far right), Harakat al-Shabab’s governor of Lower Shabelle, at an Eid al-Adha celebration in Marka (Nov. 2011)

Muhammad Abu ‘Abdullah, visit to Lower Shabelle camp (Sep. 2011)

Muhammad Abu ‘Abdullah, Harakat al-Shabab’s governor of Lower Shabelle, at graduation of Jaysh al-Hisbah members in Lower Shabelle (Feb. 2011)

Abu ‘Abd al-Rahman, Harakat al-Shabab’s governor of Banaadir, with captured military equipment in Dayniile on the outskirts of Mogadishu (October 2011)

Harakat al-Shabab preacher-ideologues Fu’ad Muhammad Khalaf “Shongole” (left) and ‘Abd al-Qaadir Mu’min (in green scarf) on a visit to a refugee camp in Lower Shabelle in September 2011

Suldaan Al Muhammad, the former head of Harakat al-Shabab’s Emergency Relief Committee and head of its Zakat Office, which oversees the collection and distribution of the charity required of financially capable Muslims to aid the poor and other groups, such as soldiers,  at Al-Yasir camp, Lower Shabelle (Oct. 2011)

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen Releases Statement & Information on Burundian AMISOM Soldiers Slain at Battle of Dayniile

Harakat al-Shabab spokesman ‘Ali Mahamoud Rage (‘Ali Dheere) holding up a cross necklace or rosary belonging to a slain Burundian soldier at a press conference following fierce fighting between insurgent forces and Burundian soldiers from AMISOM in Dayniile, Mogadishu in late October.

-Christopher Anzalone (McGill University)

The Somali insurgent movement Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabaab) released via its press office today a statement and identifying information on a handful of the Burundian African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) soldiers it says it killed during fierce fighting in Dayniile, a suburb of Mogadishu, in late October.  Insurgent spokesman ‘Ali Mahamoud Rage (‘Ali Dheere) claimed at a press conference held soon after the battle, where scores of bodies in Burundian military uniforms were displayed, that 101 Burundian soldiers had been killed but that insurgents had only been able to retrieve 76 of their bodies.  Harakat al-Shabab’s media department, the Al-Kata’ib (The Brigades) Media Foundation released a video documenting the battle at Dayniile on November 12, which I wrote about in detail as part of an article about the rapid evolution of the movement’s media, which was published at openDemocracy.

The statement may be read HERE.

The information released today includes names of a handful of Burundian soldiers with identifying information such as blood type, rank, and military specialization.  Photographs of identification card were also released.  Harakat al-Shabab’s media department has released similar types of identifying information in the past to disprove AMISOM denials that it has suffered casualties.  For example, in October 2010 at least one Ugandan soldier was killed in a brazen Al-Shabab attack on an AMISOM position in Mogadishu.  AMISOM officials denied that their forces had suffered any casualties or lost any equipment to insurgent forces.  Within a week Harakat al-Shabab released a statement with photographs of a slain Ugandan soldier and a large amount of captured military equipment.  This type of media savvy has long been displayed by Al-Shabab’s media department, which has most recently set up a Twitter account to spar with AMISOM, Kenyan, and other opponents online.  It is unclear why Harakat al-Shabab waited this long to release this information when in the past it has been released soon after the event in question.

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PHOTOGRAPHS RELEASED TODAY:

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PHOTOGRAPHS RELEASED IN OCTOBER 2009 AFTER ATTACK ON UGANDAN POSITION:

‘Ali Rage at a press conference displaying Ugandan casualties and captured AMISOM military equipment

Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen’s Press Office Opens Twitter Account

-Christopher Anzalone (McGill University)

The press office of the Somali Islamist insurgent movement Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Movement of the Warrior-Youth) has opened up a Twitter account, @hsmpress.  The account’s first Tweet, “In the name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful (بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم ),” was posted on December 7.  Every Tweet thus far, save for the first, has been in fairly crisp, idiomatic English, suggesting that the account, if its in fact run by one of Al-Shabab’s offices, is being administered by English-speakers, perhaps some of the English-speaking foreign fighters from the Somali diaspora or other groups in the United States, Canada, or Britain.  Hash tags are also being used, showing that the Tweeter(s) has at least general familiarity with Twitter and its usage.

@hsmpress joins at least two Twitter accounts believed to be affiliated with the Afghan Taliban and a number of other transnational jihadi-takfiri Twitter accounts, some of which have been shut down.  If this account is actually connected to Al-Shabab’s media wing, the opening of @hsmpress is a further sign of the media messaging prowess of the insurgent movement’s media department, at the helm of which is its in-house video production outlet, the Al-Kata’ib (The Brigades) Media Foundation.

Up to this point, @hsmpress is being used mostly to engage in polemics against Kenya, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), and the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG).  The most recent Tweets as of the writing of this post (6:29 P.M. EST) claim that Al-Shabab will release details of the scores of Burundian soldiers from AMISOM believed to have been killed during fierce fighting in the Mogadishu suburb of Dayniile in late October.  In a series of Tweets, @hsmpress writes: “In response to the requests from their families in Burundi, HSM to publish details of some of the #Burundian  soldiers killed in #Somalia.  The details of some of the soldiers will be published Monday 1100h Mecca time and will include names, ID cards, ranks of the slain soldiers.  Note: only families that have contacted us will be given official confirmation regarding the fate of their sons killed in #Somalia battles.”  If this claim is fulfilled it will suggest that the administrator(s) of the account have at least some ties to Al-Shabab’s leadership and/or media department.  It is also possible that the account is simply run by Al-Shabab sympathizers, though the specific claims made with regard to the Burundian casualties, if they pan out, suggest the account’s administrator(s) may have some ties to the insurgent movement.

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