Was Kenya Westgate Attack More AQAP/AQ Central Than Shabaab?

This weekend brought a slew of counterterrorism news.  First, Abu Anas al-Libi was caught in Libya 15 years after the U.S. Embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam for which he was indicted.  Second, and more interestingly, U.S. Navy Seals conducted a raid on the coastal Somali town of Barawe in an attempt to kill or capture the leader of Shabaab’s foreign fighters; a person named Abdikadir Mohamed Abdikadir, aka Ikrima.  (By the way, this story finally cleared after two days of the worst national security reporting I’ve ever seen. Almost every piece of this story was initially reported incorrectly.)  This latest development is the most interesting so far and suggests analysis of the Westgate Mall Attack should be widened a bit.

Immediately after the attack, I like most assumed the attack was the work of al Shabaab as they’ve been threatening attacks in Kenya for years, have sufficient motive to conduct an attack and Shabaab’s emir, Ahmad Godane is a bit of a madman having just killed off many of his internal rivals and American jihadi Omar Hammami (known hereafter as Omar).  But, as more information comes to the surface, the more I’m inclined to believe that this attack may be more the work of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) or al Qaeda Central (AQC) (which are effectively one and the same now, I believe, with the official announcement of Wuhayshi as al Qaeda’s #2).  Here are some things I think should be considered in this alternative hypothesis that AQAP/AQC was more responsible for the Westgate attacks.

  • I think Ikrima is probably not a Godane man – My guess is that Ikrima seems to be an old al Qaeda hand loyal to the Nabhan-Fazul-Berjawi-Sakr.  If Omar was correct that there was a rift between foreign fighters and Godane, I’m inclined to think Ikrima might be doing AQAP/AQC’s work in Somalia rather than Godane’s. The Kenyan intelligence report uncovered by NPR says that Ikrima was a known al Qaeda connection back to Pakistan.

A leaked Kenyan intelligence report confirms that Ikrima was plotting “multiple attacks” inside Kenya, “sanctioned by al-Qaida” in Pakistan, and “involving financial and logistical support from South African operatives.” The report continues:

“By December 2011, the planners had acquired safe houses in Nairobi & Mombasa, trained the executors, received explosives from Somalia and commenced assembly of and concealment of explosives.”

According to the report, Ikrima’s small “terror cell” included two British nationals: an explosives expert named Jermaine John Grant and the infamous White Widow, Samantha Lewthwaite. (Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta had confirmed that a “British woman” may have been among the fighters in Westgate Mall.)

  • Most accounts put Godane in Dinsoor area, not Barawe – The raid was mistakenly reported a  number of different ways and 24 hours ago most news outlets said the raid was targeting Godane.  But most recent accounts about Godane have put him more central to Shabaab’s strongest holds in and around Dinsoor in Bay province.  Barawe is on the coast and I’ve always assumed that the foreign fighters stayed closer to the water to maintain easy access to sea routes to Yemen (See Warsame case) and down into Kenya for attacks and egress (Fazul, Nabhan, Paradise Hotel, etc.).


  • Omar used to always cite Barawe as a hub for dissenters – Omar used to tweet about cleric opinions supporting his position that were coming from Barawe.  Omar always gave me the sense that not only were clerics voicing opposition to Godane from Barawe but that other dissenters of Godane may be based there.  This makes sense that Omar would appeal for their support, as he often did trying to get Ibrahim al-Afghani’s backing.  Afghani once commanded the Kismayo area for Shabaab (just down the coast) and having fought in Afghanistan was one of the few Shabaab members that probably had his own connections with al Qaeda.  Note, Afghani issued a public plea to al Qaeda for the removal of his old comrade Godane.  Afghani’s plea resulted in Godane killing Afghani.
  • Omar’s ghost was one of the first to ask why everyone thought it was Shabaab that did the attack – After Omar’s death, someone took over his @abumamerican twitter account and was one of the only contrarians that was excited about the attack but not believing it was al Shabaab and Godane.  I don’t get the feeling Omar’s ghost has any real idea what happened with Westgate based on his other comments, so I would take this with a large grain of salt.

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  • Two of the named attackers likely have al Qaeda connections – The Kenyan government on Saturday named four individuals in connection with the attack.  The leader appears to be from Sudan and the Kenyan government claimed he was trained by al Qaeda.  Another may potentially be related to Nabhan, al Qaeda’s leader in Somalia up until he was killed by Navy Seals in Barawe in 2009 – sound familiar.

Abu Baara al-Sudani, Omar Nabhan, Khattab al-Kene and Umayr, names that were first broadcast by a local Kenyan television station. Matt Bryden, the former head of the U.N. Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, said via email that al-Kene and Umayr are known members of al-Hijra, the Kenyan arm of al-Shabab.

  • Was this the big attack that was discussed in the al Qaeda conference call that wasn’t a conference call? – So remember just a couple months ago there was this al Qaeda conference call where supposedly Wuhayshi of AQAP said that they had a large attack ready to go and Zawahiri said “ok, get on with it.”  After the revelation of this call there was a string of drone attacks in Yemen, but maybe this Westgate attack was the attack described in the conference call.  Total speculation but it would kind of make sense and by all accounts this Westgate attack has been in the works for a year or more making it plausible that Wuhayshi would mention it.  And whether its Ikrima or Godane, both seemingly have contact with AQAP.  I don’t know anything to confirm this scenario, but I would not be surprised.
  • Really Five Shabaab groups at play – What’s been completely lost in the media is that Shabaab has been fighting internally for almost a year.  Godane has killed off key leaders of Shabaab, foreign fighters and this has resulted in there being up to five different sub-groups of Shabaab that could be involved or not involved in the Westgate attack.  So when you hear “Shabaab Attack” in the news, it could really mean many things.
  1. Shabaab Central Commanded By Godane – This is the Shabaab commanded by Godane and still what most people would think of when they hear Shabaab in the media.
  2. Foreign Fighters in Somalia With AQAP/AQC links -These are the foreign fighters around Barawe that have links to AQAP/AQC and may include Shabaab members left over from Ibrahim al-Afghani’s ranks.
  3. Robow’s militias – These would be Shabaab members loyal to Muktar Robow, Godane’s main living rival in Shabaab circles and they seem to be in and around Bakool region and more north of Diinsoor and far interior from the coast.
  4. Muslim Youth Center – The Kenyan support element to Shabaab and maybe hosting the White Widow, but I’m getting the sense this is all overblown.
  5. al-Hijra – Shabaab’s arm in Kenya that I would assume at a minimum played a support role in the attack and apparently Ikrima was a member of this group.

So after all this discussion, I’m sure I still left something out but I think we should be cosndiering several scenarios with the Westgate attack.

  1. Scenario: Shabaab did the Westgate attack on their own.- This was the most logical explanation at the time. Shabaab has the capacity to pull this off and they have executed many attacks like this in Mogadishu.  Maybe Godane used this as a diversion from the fact he has been killing off his rivals and foreign fighters.  But with more details, I’m starting to think this is less likely.
  2. Scenario: Shabaab Dissenters working with AQ foreign fighters and planners conduct the attack to upstage Godane and Shabaab – Still operating and having their own connections to al Qaeda, wanting to prove themselves to AQAP/AQC and embarass Godane, the Shabaab dissenters combine with the al Qaeda external operations guys to pull off the Westgate attack.  Wow, this would be interesting.
  3. Scenario: Shabaab under Godane and the foreign fighters are all in on it and use al-Hijra/MYC for local Kenyan support – I think this one is also highly likely.  While the infighting has been problematic, maybe the AQ cell in Barawe has been in constant synchronization with Godane and there is no rift between the two elements.  THis would support the non-stop Shabaab tweeting during the attacks and would not be as confusing for al-Hijra and MYC in Kenya as they’ve probably watched the Somalia infighting with some confusion about who they should support.

Anyways, lots to talk about in the Horn of Africa and I look forward to anyone’s thought on the latest developments.

Shabaab’s betrayal of Omar Hammami – In English this time!

After being frustrated by the Arab world ignoring his revelations about the bad behavior of Shabaab in Somalia, Omar Hammami posted an English version of his demise via a Twitter link today.  In January, I suffered through some miserable Arabic translation nightmares to write the post “Hammami Reveals Deceit, Dissension and Death in Shabaab and al Qaeda!“, but now all can read of his demise and betrayal by al Shabaab in the English version at this link.

Back in January, Omar hoped to reach the Muslim world and maybe al Qaeda by publishing his latest troubles in Arabic hoping to appeal to that audience – since his previous YouTube calls for help broadcast in a mix of English and Arabic fell on deaf ears in the Arab World.  Again, it appears Omar’s Arabic revelations from January didn’t find much audience amongst al Qaeda’s mainstream.  However, Omar’s American audience, despite this being Omar’s home country which he despises, has read and paid attention to Omar’s plight.  In January, Omar didn’t seem thrilled about myself and others in the West reading his Arabic pronouncements.

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But today, it appears Omar has changed his tune, reaching out in English this time.  Omar so desperately wants an Arab audience, but maybe he’s realized his biggest audience is in his native country.  Here’s some clips from Omar’s English version of the document.

On Godane (Abu Zubayr):

As for Abu Zubayr’s entrance into the whole affair, well, his background is a bit unclear because he was in Pakistan during the days of the Russian occupation and no one knows with certainty if he really participated in the Jihaad or if he just sat in Peshawar.

On Somalis and their distrust of al Qaeda:

history has proven that the Somalis generally do not want any influence from al-Qaa’idah or foreigners in their internal affairs.

On al Qaeda fomenting fractures with Shabaab as much as Shabaab creating fractures between local Somali (Ansar) vs. Foreign Fighters (Muhajirs)

It is here that I blame the brother s from al-Qaa’idah to some degree (and I mean Abu Talhah as-Sudaani, Abu ‘Abdallaah, Fazul, and an-Nabhaan) because, despite have pure intentions (as we see it, but Allaah is their Reckoner), there developed a sense of competition between them and the brothers of the Salaah ad-Diin camp.

Al Qaeda’s shift to focus on Kenya as anticipated in this document here in 2007:

Eventually, and probably because of such divisiveness, the brothers from al-Qaa’idah went to Ras Chiamboni to focus on training Kenyan Somalis to do outside operations.

On al Qaeda’s lack of strategy in Somalia:

Here I don’t know what to say about the actions of the brothers from al-Qaa’idah. They split up amongst themselves without executing any real strategy.

and on this one, I have nothing to add.  See the closing of the document….

And it seems I was duped by the slogans and the pretty words, and I hadn’t yet learned the realities,

Hammami’s Twitter War with Shabaab & MYC in Somalia & Kenya

This weekend saw the full scale escalation of a Twitter war between Omar Hammami (or at least the Twitter account associated with him) and most of the Muslim world.  Here’s a quick recap of events.

On Friday, I left off with this note reference Hammami’s claims that he had gained some defenders from the Raxanweyn clan.

This account may not be Hammami and is just a propaganda machine uploading old pictures of Hammami and bashing Shabaab. (I don’t think so, but maybe)

Well Saturday morning U.S. time, Hammami answered this question posting this photo on the @abumamerican Twitter account.


Well, I guess that clears it up a bit.  Hammami’s tweet after this picture says he is with other foreign fighters who have been outcast from Shabaab.  This makes sense and may also suggest his Twitter account has been operated by a team of people with whom he is detained or closely affiliated. This might potentially explain the tendency to speak in the third person, occasionally tweet in Somali and Swahili languages, etc.  What’s also interesting is the pattern of Hammami tweets.  They come in bursts and endure only for a few hours before dropping off. This could mean several things such as only having limited power for communication before having to recharge, only being able to communicate before or after a guard shift, operating the tweets on a delay through a relay point, or only having cell coverage for certain periods of the day. Overall, I think Omar’s speaking in third person stuff is a bit ridiculous at this point.  Lastly, who let Ali G join Hammami?  He’s got some nice gear and a tough look. Nice!

Hammami suggests in his Twitter feed that he recently received some visitors and now may have some more folks to protect him.  It also seems he may have been visited by a ‘Sheikh’, potentially form Kenya, who was trying to negotiate some sort of settlement or something.  I may be confused on this. (I’m not sure why I would be confused since understanding terrorist infighting in 140 characters or less is so easy.)

Here’s a quick O.T.R. (Omar Tweet Rundown), noting where there is something interesting, significant or just generally funny.

Omar doesn’t like Godane What’s glaringly obvious is that he does not like Ahmed Godane (Abu Zubayr) the head of al Shabaab. Omar claims on many occasions that Godane’s takfiri ways led to him excommunicating Omar & friends.  In addition, Omar believes Godane is a sissy who never fights in battles and thus is not a true jihadi. (Tell me this is not typical Game of Thrones stuff!)

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Screen Shot 2013-01-13 at 10.09.24 PMOmar says that Fazul and old al Qaeda dudes never liked Shabaab – I’ve contended for a while that it was old al Qaeda guys aligned with Bin Laden, namely Fazul, that prevented the merger of al Qaeda and al Shabaab.  Omar seems to suggest the same.  I’m not sure how he would know this, but it’s interesting nonetheless.
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Omar doesn’t like e-jihadi’s who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk – Omar displayed his frustration in the past about not getting much attention from al Qaeda’s online community.  Omar amplified his view of al Qaeda’s online-only supporters this weekend and I imagine he will continue bashing e-jihadi’s until he gets their attention.

Screen Shot 2013-01-13 at 10.12.01 PM Omar thinks Omar is a big deal – Shabaab contended in December that Omar was a narcissist.  Well, some of these tweets seem to suggest he is quite a diva. It also appears that he might have liked the show In Living Color as a kid, homie!

Screen Shot 2013-01-13 at 10.11.04 PMScreen Shot 2013-01-13 at 10.12.41 PMOmar says he escaped to Bay and Bakool region – As I assumed from his previous tweets about the Rahanweyn clan, Omar is in Sheikh Robow’s territory in Bay and Bakool.
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Omar isn’t getting along with the MYC in Kenya – The Muslim Youth Center, a younger Kenyan extremist group aligned with al Shabaab, have really been sticking it to Omar on Twitter.  Despite sticking up for Kenyans a good bit and warning Kenyans not to join Shabaab, Omar has been getting a lashing from those guys.  (BTW, the MYC Twitter feed is way better than the Shabaab feed. Whomever mans the MYC Twitter account is using it way more effectively than @HSMPress – Shabaab account)

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Lastly, Omar seems to be re-directing any of his supporters away from Shabaab and to other jihadi conflicts – namely Syria.  One of the questions posed is here below.  It seems Omar mistakenly believes that the infighting and conflict he’s found in Shabaab would be absent from the front in Syria.  I think he needs to do some research.

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My last point is for those analysts that maintain that al Qaeda Central or al Qaeda as a collective organization is ‘stronger‘.  In light of the Hammami diatribes, how can this be?  Do you believe a Bin Laden led al Qaeda would allow such a damaging, public dispute occur within its ranks?  I know there have been rifts in al Qaeda before, but they were private and settled without tainting the organization’s foreign fighter pipelines.  While I understand the perspective that certain al Qaeda affiliates may be getting relatively stronger, I do not understand, in light of the recent musings of Omar Hammami on social media, how one can believe that al Qaeda as a whole is stronger.  As Omar suggested in previous tweets, al Qaeda may be having a schism of its own at the highest levels. At the lower ranks, where foreign fighters reside, Hammami’s enduring public bashing shows a loss of centralized control and awareness on the part of al Qaeda globally.

Hammami’s Latest Call Reveals Deceit, Dissension and Death in Shabaab & al Qaeda

Yesterday, I posted about a Twitter account I believed to be that of Omar Hammami or his close associate (here and here). Well, Hammami didn’t disappoint and returned this morning with some tweets and this afternoon with all the real dirt about the al Shabaab fractures and al Qaeda merger/fiasco. Omar, thanks for sending all the details on al Qaeda and al Shabaab’s infighting and how you got pushed out by Godane (Abu Zubayr). You confirmed many of my suspicions from last winter. @Aynte was also thinking along the same lines as well. And for those that were claiming there was no evidence of splits in al-Shabaab, stop being foolish.
Here’s where the morning started off.

Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 10.20.38 PMFirst, a tweet from Omar. I’m not sure how Omar’s mission in Somalia relates to Martin Luther King.  Last time I checked, Martin Luther King was about non-violence and Omar and the Somalia jihad is very much about violence.  I believe MLK had a dream and Omar is having a nightmare.

But, then came this tweet.

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Now we are talking.  Omar seems to think the splits and fractures he is experiencing with al Shabaab are occurring with al Qaeda as well.  Omar, we’d all love to know more so please expand.  I realize you don’t want to put yourself in jeopardy, but I think you’ve already shot one of your feet, so no need to hold back.

Things were quiet for most of the day and then @azelin sent out the links to a new Hammami video showing a tired and gaunt Hammami (See below).  This video link at his YouTube channel was accompanied with two documents in Arabic (Here’s #1 and #2).  Previously, Omar had posted his biography, in english, which was ignored by the e-jihadi crowd.  This time he wrote two Arabic documents, which detail his trials and tribulations in Somalia. I’m assuming he chose Arabic to make sure word got out in the jihadi crowd. While I don’t read Arabic, I’ve gone through the Google translate and talked to a knowledgeable scholar, Dr. Will McCants, about what I think are key passages.

Omar names “names” and illustrates in great detail conflict between different factions in al Shabaab, conflict between al Qaeda and al Shabaab, and even disagreements between different al Qaeda elements in Somalia. Great stuff all around and for those that believe al Qaeda is unified and operates in lock step based on the rules of an all powerful ideology – you need to stop what you are doing and read Omar’s notes.

Again, I’m not an Arabic speaker, but I’ll do some quick paraphrasing here of what I interpreted (could be some mistakes) and the implications.  For Arabic speakers out there, if you do an english translation of these documents, please post and send me the link and I’ll do a post on them here.

  • Connections between al Shabaab and al Qaeda in Yemen – In one section, Omar describes how members of al Qaeda in Yemen (AQAP) showed up in Somalia and were the communication conduit with al Qaeda Central in Afghanistan/Pakistan.  The AQAP members were trying to coordinate the official merger of al Shabaab with al Qaeda.  At the time, Ahmed Godane (Abu Zubayr) was against the merger as he thought the conditions in Somalia were not right yet.  It seems at the point of the AQAP visit, Shabaab thought local public support for an Islamic state was sufficient but that the local populace would reject an alliance with al Qaeda.  However, the foreign fighters present, in principle, did agree to be affiliated with al Qaeda.  (My question: Did Godane balk at unity with al Qaeda at this point because he did not have firm control of al Shabaab and wanted to shore up loose ends before a formal merger?)
  • Desire to conduct external operations in Kenya – Throughout the second document, Hammami consistently discusses the desire by many within al Shabaab and particularly al Qaeda elements to begin conducting foreign operations and a deliberate campaign in Kenya.  However, it appears certain leaders within Shabaab, particularly Godane I think, wanted to keep a lid on the foreign fighters and keep them focused on internal fighting in Somalia.  (My question: Does the recent uptick in al Shabaab activity in Kenya represent a loss of control by Godane over Shabaab?  I would assume with Shabaab’s losses and Godane likely fleeing north to Galgala, his control on those wanting to operate in Kenya is limited.)
  • Fazul’s return to Somalia, his conflict with Godane and resulting death – Omar describes in one section that legendary al Qaeda operative Harun Fazul returned with trainers to Somalia with the intent of establishing an external operations capability to project al Qaeda attacks from Somalia.  Fazul told one of the commanders of foreign fighters, going by the name of A’sar Yusr, that he wanted to establish a training camp in the mountains of Puntland (probably Galgala). From what I understand, A’sar Yusr let Fazul’s plans slip to Godane (Abu Zubayr).  Godane apparently didn’t like Fazul’s plan because 1)  Godane, being from Hargeisa, didn’t want Fazul playing on his turf in Puntland (probably Galgala) and 2) Godane believed Fazul to be aligned with Mukhtar Robow (Abu Mansur) – Godane’s Southern Somalia rival for control of al Shabaab. As I understand it, this led Godane to plot Fazul’s demise setting Fazul up to approach a checkpoint in Mogadishu that was awaiting his arrival and prepared to kill him.  (My note: This passage confirms Nelly Lahoud’s theory that Fazul was betrayed. This section also describes al Qaeda’s intent to conduct external operations from Somalia and matches the reporting of Michelle Shepard where she details how Fazul had plans for attacking London when he was killed.)
  • Conflicts between local Somali clan fighters (Ansar) and foreign fighters (Muhajir)– Hammami describes how many of the trainers that came with Fazul left Somalia.  When they departed, many foreign fighters to Somalia left the country with the trainers to join al Qaeda’s ranks outside of Somalia.  Hammami says the foreign fighters were frustrated because the fighting in Somalia was not a real jihad.  Omar suggests foreign fighters were treated poorly in a variety of ways. As mentioned in his biography, he notes that there were constant tensions about how foreign fighters desired to be separated into their own cadres similar to how its done with Taliban/al Qaeda in Pakistan. There are also some comparisons to how foreign fighters are used in Iraq but I didn’t understand all of this. (My note: Omar, this is an exact replay of al Qaeda’s experience in Somalia from 1992-1994.  The clans didn’t like being bossed around by outsiders and they always wanted to focus on local battles over global issues.)
  • Hammami overstepped with Godane and got punished – In one passage, Hammami describes his rift with Godane and how this has likely put him in his current predicament.  Hammami had pledged at some point to stay out of Shabaab politics.  Godane, at some point, wants to know why the foreign fighters are leaving Somalia.  Hammami volunteers to explain the circumstances under which foreign fighters are frustrated over the local focus of clan fighters. Hammami suggests that a way to alleviate this frustration is for Godane to step aside and let Mukhtar Robow (Abu Mansur) take a bigger leadership role in Shabaab as he is well respected by the local Shabaab fighters and also has good rapport with the foreign fighters.  Godane sees this as a challenge to his leadership and believes Hammami is partaking in politics again (breaking his promise to abstain) and joining the side of his rival Robow.  This overstep later leads to Godane having angst with Hammami. (My notes: Omar needs a class in how to win friends and influence people.  Sounds like he directly questioned Godane’s leadership and it wasn’t received well.)
  • Disastrous merger between al Shabaab and al Qaeda – My interpretation is that Godane calls a meeting for all of al Shabaab’s shura.  Once everyone arrives, Godane announces that al Shabaab is going to officially join al Qaeda. Those in attendance, I believe, were caught a little off guard but were amenable.  Then, Godane’s deputy (Guessing this might be Ibrahim al-Afghani) compels everyone to swear bayat (oath of allegiance) to al Qaeda and Godane.  Those at the meeting think they have been fooled because there is no immediate formal recognition of this merger by al Qaeda Central and Ayman al-Zawahiri.  Those that swore allegiance have a bad taste in their mouth about how this meeting went down as they have been told before they were going to be officially part of al Qaeda only to find out later that this was not true. Instead they would usually find out that a Somali leader had used the claim only as a political ploy to consolidate power.  Also, Robow (Abu Mansur) is not at the meeting, which makes people nervous, and it is weeks (if I remember correctly) before Zawahiri formally and publicly recognizes the merger. (My note: It appears that Godane is a total Machiavelli in Somalia.  Over many months, he systematically kills or pushes out those al Qaeda operatives in the country with connection to al Qaeda global, particularly after Bin Laden’s death.  Once all connections to al Qaeda Central are removed, he uses his remaining connection to al Qaeda to push the merger forward and secure loyalty of other Shabaab leaders and establish sole communication and control with al Qaeda, which I imagine included resources.  Total Game of Thrones going on with Godane, he sounds like a real dick! An additional note for all those that believe an oath to al Qaeda’s is a rigid everlasting and binding agreement that cements loyalty of al Qaeda members forever, please read this section.  This totally undermines such a notion.)
  • Omar asserts that Godane killed off al Qaeda members and foreign fighters such as abu Talha, Fazul, Sudani and detained other foreign fighters – After the al Qaeda merger, Godane gave Hammami a figurehead position on a Shura but ultimately Hammami pushed back on the strategic direction of Shabaab landing him in his current predicament.  Essentially, Godane used his linkage with al Qaeda to take firm control over foreign fighters in Somalia, focus all efforts on local power plays and suppress dissent. (My note: Bin Laden would not go with a Shabaab merger because he knew better and he had his aides in Somalia – Fazul.  Zawahiri fell for the alliance with Godane, and in doing so is now aligned with a leader, Godane, and an affiliate, Shabaab, that killed off core members of al Qaeda. While I don’t think Zawahiri called for the killing of old al Qaeda vets like Fazul, he is negligent for not doing better intel in preparation for the merger.)

There are many other things in these documents and I just haven’t had time to go through it.

Other small things I picked up on:

  • Omar used his own money at some point to hire his own security and car to protect himself against Godane- Shabaab.  (My note: this is when I would have broken with the group probably, like when they are trying to kill me.)
  • Omar explains how Shabaab deliberately discussed shifting back to Phase 1 guerilla warfare once Ethiopia and Kenya had fully invaded.

I’ll stop for now. And Omar, thanks for the information and feel free to send more.  It appears you have resigned yourself to Shabaab and what appears to be a confrontation that will likely lead to your death.  You don’t have to go that way.  You’ve been betrayed by the group you joined.  You could always turn yourself in and encourage those that might be considering a similar path to rethink their choice to join a terrorist group.


Fazul’s AQ & Shabaab Plots in London

Last month, Michelle Shepard reported on the terrorist plans outlined in the documents found on Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (AKA Fazul) when he was killed at a Mogadishu security checkpoint in the summer of 2011.  Shepard describes in her article how Fazul intended to use operatives to conduct attacks in London.  She notes:

“Our objectives are to strike London with low-cost operations that would cause a heavy blow amongst the hierarchy and Jewish communities,” begins the document labelled “International Operations.”

the document continues noting,

“These attacks must be backed with a carefully planned media campaign to show why we chose our targets to refute hypocrites, clear doubts amongst Muslims and also inspire Muslim youth to copy.”

The next two pages show specific plans for the hotels, for Eton school on opening day and for London’s Stamford Hill and Golders Green neighbourhoods, which are populated with “tens of thousands of Jews crammed in a small area.”

Check out the article for some more of the gory details outlined by Fazul. My guess, based on the insights from Shepard’s article, is that Fazul may have been influenced by the Mumbai attacks as the description from the article sounds familiar to the LeT assault in India.  There’s several interesting facets of this article.

  • Lots of plans, but few fully executed plots – Fazul was not only elusive for CT forces but carried a track record having helped perpetrate the Embassy bombings, the Paradise hotel attack and nearly missed shooting down a jet liner.  But, Fazul’s final years were relatively quiet on the external operations front (Although, I do wonder about his involvement in the Uganda suicide bombing, though I have no idea).  Likewise, those attacks in Kenya attributed to Shabaab (uncertain reliability) appear quite amateurish in planning and execution.
  • Somali Diaspora as a terrorism conduit – Since 9/11, many have warned about Middle Eastern Diaspora communities harboring/recruiting al Qaeda terrorists.  At least in the U.S., there appears to be no evidence to support this fear.  However, the Somali Diaspora has been a relatively fertile recruiting ground for Shabaab in the U.S. (i.e. Minneapolis) and Europe (i.e. London, Sweden).  I’m not saying all Somali Diaspora’s are producing Shabaab recruits, but there appears to a stronger connection/fabric amongst Somali Diaspora members than other Diasporas. Fazul, I’m guessing, intended to use these Diaspora connections to execute his London plot.

6 Reasons NOT To Join Shabaab: Courtesy Omar Hammami

If you are a young American male considering joining a foreign terrorist organization in general and al-Shabaab in Somalia in particular, I highly recommend you to read Omar Hammami’s autobiography (available on the Internet, but not yet on Kindle).  Unfortunately for Hammami, he arrived in Somalia before the release of al Qaeda’s (Mis) Adventures in Horn of Africa.  Had he waited until after the summer of 2007, Hammami could have read al Qaeda’s primary source documents from 1992-1994 and diverted his plan.  Al Qaeda’s internal documents ’92-’94 read just like Hammami’s bio from 2012 – tales of suffering, betrayal and defeat. (For some highlights from the 90’s AQ documents, see this post)  The irony is that Bin Laden learned from these Somalia pitfalls of the 90’s and I’m certain they influenced his decision to block a Shabaab-AQ merger as debated in this new Abottabad document released this month. (See SOCOM-2012-0000006-HT)

In follow up to yesterday’s post on Fazul-Hammami connections, I present 6 reasons for why joining al-Shabaab or any extremist group in Somalia appears to be a particularly bad idea; above the obvious point that joining a terrorist group in general is never a good idea.  So here it goes:

#1 – Betrayal

This reason more than any other should be the biggest deterrent for those considering joining al-Shabaab.  If malaria, dehydration, starvation, rival clans or foreign armies don’t kill you, other members of Shabaab will.  I hypothesized a couple months back about 3 or 4 scenarios describing why Hammami was in a particularly precarious place in Somalia.  The crux of my theory: certain elements inside Shabaab were/are killing off other members of Shabaab and al Qaeda.  Well, his bio doesn’t disappoint in this regard.  Starting on page 79, Hammami describes how Shabaab fighters routinely betray each other:

It was during this short stay that we met up with Abu Cabdallaah as-Sudaani (Ciise Cusman Ciise), and a few other Muhaajirs. Cabdul Qaadir Komandos also joined our group at this stage. Abu Cabdallaah had almost died of Malaria and he wouldn’t take on a leadership position for quite a while. He did, however, come with news that our previous Amiir had been martyred in a very strange incident; leaving him the natural successor. Of course I don’t blame Abu Cabdallaah for his death. But the story along with the picture on his camera phone showing that the bullet was aimed precisely for Abu Talxah’s heart makes me want to lay the blame on someone other than the Kuffaar.

The reason for this is the fact that there were multiple groups of Muhaajiriin and leaders in the area of Lekta during the time of Abu Talxah’s death and none of them were attacked by the Ethiopians until quite a while after the fateful shots rang out. In addition to that tid bit it was also said that he was called to have a meeting with some of the other leaders and he went accompanied by one of his lieutenants (while both of them were only armed with pistols). Minutes later shots could be heard and his lieutenant returned unscratched. He allegedly fought off the Ethiopians single handedly with his pistol while Abu Talxah, on the other hand, was shot square in the heart.

That lieutenant was later martyred trying to defend the wives of the Muhaajiriin (Abu Talxah’s included) on the Kenyan border. Once again, he was trying to fend off the Kenyan soldiers with only his pistol. That time, however, he was hit and martyred. No one till this day really knows the true story about his death, but there were definitely plausible motives amongst some of the other groups who didn’t take kindly to Abu Talxah’s insistence upon starting a new group in Kismaayu under the spiritual “leadership” of Xasan Turky.

So foreign fighters, when you get to Somalia, look around, one of the people standing next to you is quite likely to be your killer.

#2 – Clan Infighting

Hammami’s group, on the way to fight foreign forces, routinely encounters other clans they must fight or dissuade to get to their primary enemy.  The original AQ documents from ’92-’94 continuously discuss how clan infighting derailed AQ operatives intentions (AFGP-2002-800640, pg 20ish, think the quote is Abu Hafs, something like “Tribalism, nasty tribalism, leave it [Somalia]”).  Here’s a truck conundrum where fighting occurred with the Mooryaan.

 It turns out that another truck full of Mooryaan came up to us and they shot out our radiator. In response, the brother in the passenger side of our truck shot out the brains of their driver! That was what led the Mooryaan to flee. Instead of chasing them, the brothers started trying to figure out which truck to board now that ours was in need of a radiator.

Later, Hammami notes how he wishes Axmad Madobe would have been killed as he later switches sides.

But before we actually set off we were awakening one night before dawn by the sounds of a million bullets trying to leave the barrel of one gun in about half a second, at regular pulses for a good minute or so. Later on we realized that we were close to Kolbiyo where Axmad Madobe and his crew were being blitzed from the sky. I heard that Abu Muxammad’s boy, Muxammad, was there and that only he (by virtue of running into the forest) and Axmad Madobe survived. In hindsight, it would have been better for Axmad Madobe to have died instead of coming back just to join the Kenyans in attacking Somaalia.

#3 – Water and Food

For Hammami’s crew, there’s either too much water or not enough.  When traveling, their trucks inevitably get stuck in feet of mud. Even when they do find water, the source is fraught with competition from wild animals, rival clans or foreign armies.  See pg. 74-75 for an interesting description as it appears that firefights in Southern Somalia are most likely to occur around watering holes as it brings everyone to a central point.

This water source as it turned out happened to be one used frequently by the Kenyan army.

Hammami and fellow fighters constantly fought for food to continue to survive.

There was also the time in which we sent a man off to come back with news and it seems that instead of bringing us the money and provisions he only brought us a small portion and kept the rest for himself.

#4 – It’s HOT!

For some reason, Hammami didn’t consider how hot Somalia is until he got there.

 It was just as well anyway because the sun in Somaalia happens to be a few thousand light years closer to the earth’s surface than any other country. Any attempt to leave the little cover and shade the tiny trees can afford leads to an immediate heat stroke.

#5 – Going to the bathroom is difficult

Maybe the funniest revelation of Hammami’s bio, how difficult it is to go to the bathroom when you are dehydrated, malnourished and under constant military pressure from the land and air.  This passage speaks for itself. P. 72

By this time everyone was complaining of strange slime in their stool and I don’t believe anyone was anywhere close to ‘regular.’ The trouble with using the bathroom was ten fold. There was the problem of finding a plastic bottle that was not currently in use at the moment, then there was the problem of lugging your hundred pound gun around while trying to fill that bottle up without falling in or getting your gun unnecessarily wet. We must remember now that the Bedouins and planes are still marauding about. After these tasks are completed it becomes necessary to find a place that is not inhabited by human or animal, that is not currently being used as a bathroom, that can not be stumbled upon by anyone while you’re in your comfort zone, and finally a place that is not too far to cause yourself to become lost or the unknown victim of some tragedy that people never came to know of. If you finally reach that place without loosing an eye from the thorns you may then use the bathroom while clutching your gun in the event that a wild animal or enemy approaches. After all is well and done it is finally time to retrace your steps and eventually return to your place of languishing under the trees until the next round.

#6 – Mosquitos!

What’s the number one killer of Shabaab members? The same as all Africans – malaria. Not only does Hammami repeatedly describe being eaten by mosquitos, he details how many of his comrades continue to expire from the disease.  P. 77

that place of ours was cleared out once Jacfar Dheere breathed his last. He had been hanging in despite all odds for a long time but each day he had become weaker and weaker. He had to be carried to the bathroom, he had to be forced to eat or drink, which he normally vomited up, and he was in a generally wretched situation.

and one last reason for good measure – Transportation

Moving from place to place seems nearly impossible for Shabaab.  Hammami’s bio discusses trucks maybe more than anything.  Hammami’s band is always 1) searching for trucks, 2) riding in trucks to unknown locations, 3) getting trucks stuck in the mud and 4) quarreling with others over the ownership or movement of trucks.  I literally laughed out loud as one of the funniest excerpts of the original AQ documents ’92-’94 describes how Sufis (Called “Big Hairs” in the documents, see AFGP-2002-600104–  Author Saif al-Islam, p. 21ish) steal their truck “and how upset they were but they will go get it back”.  Hammami’s group cannot ever seem to get where they want to go.  Here’s a funny transportation excerpt from Hammami p.69:

 One Somaali brother, who looked as though he was new to the matter of practicing his religion, decided to take my seat by force. When I objected, along with a few other brothers, he pretended not to hear anything. Finally, I got off the truck and asked for my bag. Everyone refused to sit up to give me my bag because they too feared losing their positions. Eventually Axmad Madobe climbed out of the truck and asked me nicely to get back on the truck. I explained to him the situation but he just coaxed me into leaving the whole matter.

I could probably come up with 100 reasons from this document, but I’ll stop here for now.  Interested to hear how Hammami’s debacle shakes out…..

When did Hammami encounter Fazul in Somalia?

Last week’s Omar Hammami autobiography describes his integration into the Islamic Courts Union and reads much like any other account detailing a foreign fighters arrival in a far off land.  The insights are limited and sprinkled irregularly throughout the winding document that only describes Omar’s Somalia time up until the formation of al-Shabaab.  Personally, my interests centered on if, when and how Hammami encountered true al Qaeda members in Somalia as there has been persistent debate about the role of al Qaeda, if any, in Somalia.  Well, in this respect, Hammami does provide a glimpse of when a foreign fighter traveling to Somalia might encounter an al Qaeda member – immediately upon arrival.

Based on the Hammami autobiography found at MyPetJawa, Hammami encountered none other than Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (aka Fazul) upon his arrival at the Mogadishu airport.  On page 40-41, Hammami describes his interrogation at the Mogadishu airport after arriving in Somalia in 2006.

I went back to the interrogator after praying and I told him that a very good idea had come to me. I told him that if he sends me back I will be jailed so the best thing for him to do is to just put me in jail here in the land of the Muslims. It was around that time that an SUV pulled up and inside was another interrogator. I was told to enter the SUV and I did so a bit hesitantly (partly because I thought I was being sent back, and partly because I thought I could just be killed at any moment). I saw an AK next to the man and I figured I was being treated as a spy or something. They told me to bring evidence that someone knows me. I told them that I’m coming to visit my wife’s grandmother. At one point they asked for a visa and I told them that the Prophet (S) never asked for visas. People who make Hijrah must only say the testimony of faith and I am a Muslim. They couldn’t debate with that but they didn’t accept it. I finally told them that I came for Jihaad but they did not accept my proof of identity. Finally they told me to call my wife and to have her call her grandmother and prove that I’m here to visit them. The only problem with that was that I hadn’t told anyone that I was coming due to security reasons. She was surprised about the whole thing, but she called her grandmother anyway and they came to the airport to get me. The interrogators accepted this but it was clear that they were still very suspicious of me.

I later realized that the good cop in that scenario was none other than the famed terrorist

Fazul, may Allaah accept him as a martyr.

This is one of the only really interesting parts of Hammami’s initial dribble.  First, Hammami encounters one of al Qaeda’s most elusive members within hours of landing in Mogadishu.  Second, Fazul meets Hammami but doesn’t appear to really pursue Hammami during a time when al Qaeda was allegedly seeking out Western recruits that could infiltrate back into the U.S. as clean operatives with access to soft targets.  Hammami would seem like a ripe opportunity for an AQ operator, but Hammami only mentions encountering Fazul one other time.  On page 60, Hammami wonders if Fazul thought him to be a spy.

It would also be during this short stay in Jilib that I would get my last glimpse of two dear brothers. Fazul had appeared along with almost everyone else from the “Shabaab” (to the great dismay of Abu Talxah who had hoped that the Mogadishu branch of “Shabaab” would put up a fight long enough to buy his branch some time in Kismaayu). When he saw me he remembered our encounter in the airport and said through a big smile: “So you’re still here?” I think he half expected me to really be a spy or something. I wouldn’t see him again despite living within meters of him during his last days in Somaalia.

Fazul rapidly descended on Hammami upon his arrival illustrating how smoothly he maintained trusted sources and layers of protection throughout the Horn of Africa.  It again makes me wonder how he would ultimately meet his demise by stumbling into a checkpoint.  I imagine, Fazul routinely went through checkpoints, airports and government offices without much concern.  Why did Fazul get caught this time last year?  Maybe someone did betray him, or maybe his luck ran out.  For other accounts of Fazul being caught and escaping in Kenya, see this post.

Fazul’s AQ Attacks on the Kenya Coast – 2002

Nelly Lahoud’s article, The Merger of al-Shabaab and Qa’idat al Jihad, discusses many curiosities about al-Qaeda’s presence in Somalia and their relationship with al-Shabaab. The question I’ve always had was why didn’t al-Qaeda establish a formal operation in Somalia with either AIAI, the ICU or al Shabaab at any time over the past 20 years?  AQ always had some operatives in the region; could have established a formal relationship at any time. But, AQ didn’t do it despite having contact and cooperation with Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, the former head of AIAI and current member of al-Shabaab, going back to at least 1993.

An issue I’ve always been curious about was Fazul and AQ’s attacks on the Kenyan coast in 2002.  In 2007, I traveled to Kenya for some research and compared the terrorist attacks orchestrated by Fazul in 2002 with AQ’s early operations in Kenya in the 1992-1994. Fazul floated through Kenya for years living just off Lamu (Siyu Island) before the 2002 attacks and what he pulled on in 2002 was quite elaborate compared to many other AQ attacks (Assuming this was AQ behind this attack).

On 28 November 2002, Fazul and a group of operatives executed two attacks on Israeli targets.  Both of these were lightly covered in the press despite them involving a Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) on a hotel and the launch of a surface-to-air (SAM) missile at Mombasa airport. (Analysts rarely discuss this SAM missile case study when pondering whether AQ will conduct a SAM attack using missiles from Libya, it already happened – 10 years ago!)

Here’s a new recap of these attacks I just stumbled on from Jonathan Fighel:

On the morning of November 28, 2002, Al-Qaeda launched coordinated attacks in Mombassa, Kenya against the Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel and an Israeli passenger jet. The near simultaneous attacks involved Al-Qaeda operatives supported by a local infrastructure. In the first attack, the terrorists fired two SA-7 surface-to-air missiles at a departing Israeli Arkia charter Boeing 757 passenger aircraft, carrying 261 passengers and crew, both missiles missed. The second occurred twenty minutes later, when an explosives laden vehicle driven by two suicide attackers, blew up in front of the Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel. The attack was timed just as the hotel’s Israeli guests arrived—having traveled aboard the same Arkia plane that had embarked on the return flight to Israel. As a result of the Paradise Hotel attack, 15 people were killed (12 Kenyan nationals and three Israeli tourists) and approximately 80 other people were injured.

The Paradise Hotel and the Arkia jet were both specifically Israeli targets.

  • Why did AQ and Fazul choose this time to directly attack an Israeli target?  AQ is always noted as being brilliantly strategic by analysts, but this attack killed and injured mostly Kenyans.  It also didn’t seem to draw great international attention.
  • Were there specifically people on this plane that Fazul and AQ wanted to target?
  • And why hasn’t the counterterrorism analysis community spent much energy trying to figure out where the SAM missiles came from when we have all seemed very concerned about where Libyan missiles have gone?

I hope Nelly Lahoud’s upcoming biographical analysis of Fazul will shed some light on these questions.  In the meantime, if you are considering a stay at the Paradise Hotel and wonder if they’ve made security improvements, feel confident that any future attack will be deterred by the two impenetrable potted plants now protecting the hotel entrance from a potential VBIED. See picture below:

I’m guessing the ripple in the roof running directly above the second potted plant is left over from the 2002 VBIED blast.

Deciphering Hammami Scenarios & Shabaab Splits

Andrew Lebovich and I put forth in our recent paper several hypotheses with regards to the larger implications of Hammami’s plea and what it signals about al-Shabaab fractures and al-Qaeda management problems.  Many have chimed in with excellent points and added to this debate in the past three posts.  Thanks to @Aynte @marisaurgo, @ibnsiqilli @WyldDarkHeart @firefroggy92, @spacebox64, and @KatieZimmerman for their supporting thoughts and research contributions here at this blog and via their respective portals.

Last week, I focused on Hammami’s disaster as it related to larger al-Qaeda.  In my opinion, Zawahiri and those in AQ Central pushing for a merger have the blood of AQ members and foreign fighters in Somalia on their hands.  Zawahiri either deliberately knocked off some internal AQ adversaries or through poor decision making inadvertently let al-Shabaab eliminate AQ members.  One of the reasons I postulated Zawahiri agreed to an AQ-Shabaab merger was to gain access to Western foreign fighters.  Hopefully, Zawahiri’s poor judgment will undermine the recruitment of some foreign fighters to AQ – especially al-Shabaab in Somalia – and sideline one of AQ’s main purposes for merging with al-Shabaab.

With this post, I’ll try to sum up the input of those debating Hammami’s plight and how it relates to al-Shabaab’s internal dimensions. I’ve included a a quick chart outlining key players mentioned and three theories as to what Hammami’s disaster may signal inside al-Shabaab.


Scenario #1: Godane kills off old AQ members & Robow affiliated foreign fighters

(Represented in Red #1 above)

This scenario mirrors the arguments put forth by @Aynte and Lebovich and I last week.  Godane (Ahmed Abdi Godane, aka Mukhtar Abu Zabair), in an effort to consolidate his power in al-Shabaab and to quell old AQ member resistance to a merger, facilitates the removal of Fazul, Bilal al-Barjawi, and Barjawi’s deputy. Godane accomplishes this with a primary ally, Ibrahim al-Afghani (a fellow Ishaaq clan member). Godane proceeds to eliminate other foreign fighters (including Hammami) aligned under Robow (Sheikh Muktar Robow, AKA Abu Mansur). Godane undermines Robow because 1) Robow is from a competing clan focused on local Somali issues and is less interested in global AQ objectives and, 2) Robow is more interested in continuing a military campaign against the TFG rather than pursuing Godane’s guerilla warfare strategy.

Strengths: This theory aligns with Lahoud’s theory of Fazul rebuffing Zawahiri, Aynte’s notion that Fazul, Bilal al-Barjawi, and Barjawi’s deputy were in Team Robow’s camp &  matches with Mesoy’s mention of Godane and Robow battling for control of Shabaab and its military-vs-guerilla warfare strategy.

Weaknesses: This does not jive with @DarkWyldHeart and @firefroggy92’s assertion that AQ members and foreign fighters died amidst clan fighting between Robow and Godane.

Implications for AQ: Culpable for the killing of AQ foreign fighters; through direct orders or negligence.

Scenario #2: Robow kills off AQ fighters and dumps Hammami over Shabaab’s focus

(Represented in Blue #2 above)

In this scenario, Robow, Rahanweyn clan, is in a battle with Godane, Isaaq clan, for control and direction of al-Shabaab.  Robow seeks a locally focused direction for Shabaab, resists a merger with AQ and wants to continue a military style campaign against the TFG rather than pursue Godane’s guerilla warfare/AQ style campaign.  Robow kills off Fazul, Bilal al-Barjawi, and Sakr to rid al-Shabaab of foreign influences.  Additionally, Hammami and foreign fighters loyal to AQ get pushed out by Robow resulting in Hammami’s plea video.  Godane, possibly through al-Afghani, rescues Hammami.

Strengths: This theory adheres to @DarkWyldHeart and @firefroggy92’s assertion that Hammami and AQ’s veterans have been trapped in a Shabaab tug-of-war based on clan dynamics and strategic direction: local vs. global.

Weaknesses: This theory clashes with Lahoud’s notion that Fazul resisted a merger, Anzalone’s placing of Robow, Aweys and Hammami in Fazul’s camp, and Aynte’s tracing of Godane’s influence.

Implications for AQ:  If true, it means a Zawahiri-led AQ entered blindly into a merger with Godane, who really didn’t have control of Shabaab – leading to the death of AQ members and foreign fighters.

Scenario #3: There is no split in al-Shabaab, Godane & Robow jointly decided to push out Hammami

(Represented above in Green #3)

In this scenario, there is no split between Godane and Robow.  Both were equally amenable to joining AQ but in the public space, they preach divergent themes to maintain a local based of support (Robow) while appeasing global funders & facilitators (Godane).  Godane goes after old AQ members (Fazul, Bilal al-Barjawi, and Sakr) with Robow’s knowledge and under the radar of Hammami and other foreign fighers.  After the merger, both Godane and Robow agree to shift al-Shabaab’s focus to guerilla warfare and a closer alliance with AQ.  Hammami rebuffs Robow over this strategic shift.  Robow, Godane and al-Afghani have all had enough of Hammami (since he’s generally a pain-in-the-ass glory hound) and they decide to get rid of him.  Hammami evades them long enough to make a video.

Strengths: This theory still falls in line with Aynte’s Godane influence string and Lahoud’s Fazul offing.  This partially supports the argument of @DarkWyldHeart and @firefroggy92 that Robow was culpable in the death of Fazul & old AQ as well as recent the outing of Hammami.

Weaknesses: Theory completely ignores the implication of clan battles in Shabaab (@DarkWyldHeart and @firefroggy92) and debate over near enemy versus far enemy (Atle Mesoy).

Implications for AQ: Directly implicates AQ. Suggests at a minimum AQ passively supports al-Shabaab’s pushing out of foreign fighters like Hammami and old AQ members like Fazul.

Things to watch:

Ibrahim al-Afghani:  Afghani appears in most discussions as an ally of Godane due to clan linkages.  However, different open source media accounts place him as attacking Hammami and assisting in the offing of older AQ fighters. Some accounts, of dubious credibility, place al-Afghani with Raage and Atom.  Al-Afghani, in any of these contexts, appears to be a serious player in al-Shabaab; keeping a low profile like a serious AQ Operator (Adel, Atiyah, Fazul) rather than AQ Talker (Libi, Zawahiri).  By the way, if anyone has a picture of al-Afghani, please send it my way so I can replace the unhappy face.

Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys:  Aweys has connections with AQ dating back to the 1990’s during his time with AIAI. Yet, he never seemed to get his organization linked up with AQ preferring instead to focus on local issues.  I doubted Aweys commitment to Shabaab in the past and his Hizbul Islam focuses more on the local than the global. If Aweys breaks away from Shabaab, this may be a strong indicator of Shabaab’s increasing weakness.

Discussion of AQAP in Shabaab statements: At different times, both Rage (Ali Mohamed Rage AKA Ali Dhere) and Robow have suggested the group’s connection is directly with AQAP.  This seems logical in light of last year’s Warsame intercept by the U.S. military and recent reports of Somali foreign fighters operating in Yemen.  Thus….

An outlier notion- alternate scenario #4: The AQ-Shabaab merger was nothing more than an exit strategy for Shabaab from Somalia.  Maybe the impetus for the merger came from both Godane and Robow recognizing Shabaab’s eventual defeat under the combined squeeze of TFG, Kenyan, Ethiopian and U.S. military pressure.  Godane orchestrated the merger to facilitate the safe harbor of remaining Shabaab members to Yemen once it becomes necessary.

 My five seconds of thought as to what has happened to Hammami: A recent Somali article (of unknown reliability) says Hammami has been investigated, charged and convicted of being a CIA spy and will be deported to Yemen.  Anytime I see “CIA” in an article from Somalia I get suspicious about the report’s authenticity.  (As seen by Somalia Report’s admitted fabrication of many one reports this week, a correction on another and likely a “CIA” tinged bogus interview with Robow -See update below or read this post at LongWarJournal).  But if I had to take a wild guess based on no information, I’d make the following prediction with regards to Hammami:

  • Shabaab has to make it seem Hammami is alive for a while so foreign fighters don’t get turned off.
  • Shabaab pressures Hammami to make a follow up video where he recants his earlier fears and says everything is fine.
  • Whether he agrees to this or not, Hammami is eventually “killed in a martyrdom operation” under suspicious circumstances translation =  Shabaab gets rid of him over time but in a way that is palatable via jihadi media.  This is Shabaab’s best case scenario at this point.
  • Worst case scenario for Shabaab = they say nothing and Hammami is never heard from again.  This would put doubt in the mind of every potential foreign fighter that considers joining Shabaab.

Here’s a one question survey to see what people think about these three scenarios.

UPDATE: 3/30/12

Robert Young Pelton of Somalia Report didn’t like my statement above:

You need to suspect the interview with Robow is not based on fact. It is one of many interviews we publish with al Shabaab leadership.

Your comment: “As seen by Somalia Report’s admitted fabrication of many reports this week” is incorrect and misleading. We pulled one interview, and corrected another report in which the writer did not clarify that the NGO building, although clearly identified with their signage, was not occupied by the group.

So I updated my comment. I questioned the authenticity of three articles this week from Somalia Report; which in my opinion is manySee Bill Roggio’s report at Long War Journal if you are really interested in this debate.

Are Zawahiri and Godane killing off al-Qaeda members?

In Andrew Lebovich and I’s HSPI article “Hammami’s Plight Amongst al-Shabaab & al-Qaeda’s Game of Throne,” we posed some hypotheses related to recent infighting amongst al-Shabaab factions and their al-Qaeda alliances.  My belief is that Hammami’s scrambling is not solely the result of a minor squabble, but instead an externality of a broad strategy by Mukhtar Abdirahman Godane to secure power within al-Shabaab by eliminating older al-Qaeda elements in Somalia and substituting key al-Shabaab leaders with loyal supporters.

The first hypothesis put forth in the paper addresses potential broader implications of Godane’s internal bullying, assuming the reports of his power play prove true.

 The first possibility is that al-Shabaab’s infighting represents a broader power struggle in al-Qaeda. Assuming the reports of Godane killing off Fazul and other al-Qaeda foreign fighters are true, this likely means Zawahiri actively or passively has permitted the removal of potential competitors to his authority in al-Qaeda. If true, what does this suggest about potentially larger rifts between al-Qaeda’s original members (Sayf al-Adel for example) and Zawahiri’s inner circle?

Evidence for this hypothesis is and will likely be hard to come by. But, I still think it’s worth investigating.  Assuming that Godane and his underlings (potentially al-Afghani) helped facilitate Fazul’s death and have eliminated other AQ foreign fighters in Somalia, what is Ayman al-Zawahiri and al-Qaeda’s influence in these actions?  One of my suspected reasons for the AQ-Shabaab merger was for AQ Central to gain access to precious Western foreign fighters with access to Western targets.  I’ve been examining several scenarios related to this Zawahiri hypothesis and I’ d enjoy any thoughts from al-Qaeda or Somalia experts on any of the below scenarios related to this hypothesis.

Scenario #1 – Zawahiri directly authorized the killing of Fazul and older AQ loyalists to Bin Laden based in Somalia

With Bin Laden dead, Zawahiri sees the opportunity to 1) achieve a unification with al-Shabaab previously blocked by UBL and his “Old Guard” and 2) remove internal opposition to his supremacy from old stalwarts like Fazul (see Nelly Lahoud theory).

Zawahiri then communicates to Godane, after UBL’s death, that the path to an AQ merger arises from the elimination of Fazul, Bilal al-Barjawi, and Barjawi’s deputy – those of old AQ ranks aligned with UBL against a formal merger. Godane agrees and adds in other al-Shabaab rivals to the hit list – rivals which command other AQ foreign fighters like Hammami.

Probability of this Scenario:  1 in 4.  Unlikely, Zawahiri knows better than to give a direct order when it’s easier to imply or turn a blind eye.  Likewise, some have said that Zawahiri is above this sort of infighting and would never turn on a fellow al-Qaeda member.  I completely disagree with this notion.  While I don’t think Zawahiri gave a direct executive order to kill Fazul, I also don’t think he is above such violence – we shouldn’t forget he is a terrorist after all and an ego maniac as well.

Scenario #2 – Godane makes a pitch to Zawahiri for alignment with AQ, Zawahiri agrees and turns a blind eye to the implications

With Bin Laden dead, Godane sees an opportunity to push for a merger with AQ.  Godane pitches the merger to Zawahiri, noting that he may have to “make some personnel changes to shape the merger.”  Zawahiri agrees in principle knowing that this implies the removal of opposition like Fazul.  Zawahiri’s hands are technically clean and Godane has freedom to pursue the merger as needed.

Probability of this Scenario: 1 in 2. Likely.The outcome meets the needs of both leaders.  However, under this scenario, I’d believe that Zawahiri thought Godane had Team Shabaab in line and under his direction; not expecting the mafia style rubbing out of AQ foreign fighters not aligned with Godane’s alliances.

Scenario #3 – Zawahiri agrees to a merger and is completely unaware of Godane’s shoring up of rivals

Under this scenario, Zawahiri, desperately needing some good news and a surge in AQ interest to offset the past year’s events, blindly accepts the merger offer from Godane not realizing that Godane would use the alliance as a means to increase his local power in Shabaab and kill off AQ operatives not in line with his ambitions.  Zawahiri falls for this infighting trap having not been around AQ during its first foray into Somalia in the 1990’s – lessons Bin Laden knew and reflected on in his decision to not pursue a formal alliance with al-Shabaab or AIAI. Zawahiri’s security posture prevents him from knowing of Godane’s potential involvement in killing of veteran AQ members.

Probability of this Scenario:  1 in 16. Slim, unlikely.  Zawahiri remains constrained in terms of communications.  But, he’s not deaf.  The coordination between the merger announcements by Godane and then shortly after by Zawahiri suggest that communication channels remain open.  I strongly doubt that Zawahiri could coordinate his announcement and yet not be able to hear through his intermediaries that Godane may have been involved in killing off three AQ operatives in Somalia.  Zawahiri must have known of the Fazul conspiracies and they clearly did not stop him from accepting a formal merger with Godane and al-Shabaab.  I do think he was/is likely blind to the internal clan killings which may be resulting in AQ foreign fighters meeting their demise.

Scenario #4 – An alternative scenario I haven’t thought of

Does anyone have any thoughts on what it might be?

Probability of this Scenario: 3 in 16. (Did I just blow your mind with that fraction?) Unlikely but definitely possible.  I always assume there is something I’m missing.

I look forward to any other perspectives on this.

Any way you slice it, Zawahiri has the blood of AQ operatives and AQ foreign fighters on his hands.  He’s either directing their deaths, complicit in them, or completely unaware.  I’m not sure which is worse from his perspective.  Maybe Zawahiri does know, and made his decision right after Bin Laden’s death.


See interesting perspective from the comments section here from firefroggy92, asserting that it is Robow killing off AQ members and not Godane.  This seems to counter to the reporting from Somalia, that Godane has been leading the elimination of old AQ members.  But highly possible…anyone have an opinion?

Fazul, Bilaal, and Sakr were all killed at the behest of Muktar Rubow whose southern tribes have been screwed over by Goddane’s Isaaq. Rubbow has been killing off the foreign fighters becuase he wants HSM to focus on the local needs of the people and not the fanciful crusades of AQ. firefroggy92