Last year, American Shabaab member Omar Hammami began a very public campaign to rebut al Shabaab and its emir Ahmed Godane. Throughout 2012, this campaign appeared to be only the misgivings of a disgruntled foreign fighter on the outs with Shabaab’s leader. In January, this campaign gained momentum though as Hammami, feeling threatened, turned up the public pressure on Godane and spilled all the beans on Shabaab’s rifts. Omar’s twitter bashing of Godane gained momentum with each day he remained alive. Meanwhile other key members of Shabaab (not necessarily because of Omar Hammami but along with him) began publicly revealing their misgivings about Godane and Shabaab’s direction. Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys gave speeches of discontent and Godane’s former buddy, Ibrahim al-Afghani, publicly called on al Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al- Zawahiri, to replace Godane as Shabaab’s leader. More recently, Godane attempted to assassinate Omar Hammami which provoked many Shabaab leaders to issue a fatwa to protect Hammami.
So as of a couple weeks ago, it appeared Omar may have been a key element in a Shabaab revolution where Robow, Afghani, Aweys and others take back Shabaab from Godane and change the group’s direction.
Well, turns out Godane and his Shabaab loyalists still have some juice in Somalia. In the past two weeks, Godane has gone on the offensive. In addition to conducting an assault against the UNDP compound in Mogadishu, Godane has run his adversaries to ground. Godane killed his former pal Ibrahim al-Afghani. Sheikh Hassan Aweys is now imprisoned by the Somali government and some tweets I saw said Robow was on the run, potentially defecting to the government or possibly even wounded. The best roundup I’ve read on the latest Somalia & Shabaab details comes from Hassan M. AbuBakr at African Arguments. Check out this post and here is his conclusion.
Godane’s coup, while in essence a movement that is eating its own children, may, indeed, pave the way for the fragmentation of the militant group along clan lines. The nagging question then will be to what extent Godane, a northerner operating in the deep south of Somalia, is able to remain head of what is generally a southern jihadi phenomenon? Moreover, the influx of foreign jihadists into Somalia has, for all practical purposes, decreased and further eroded the place of that country in the annals of global jihad.
Even more interesting now is “Where is Omar Hammami?” After helping foment and being an early advocate for an uprising against Godane, what is the American to do now? On the outs with Shabaab and finding himself with fewer big name supporters everyday, one must wonder how long can Omar continue? Of course, Omar has been on the run for almost a year and a half now so survival has become his expertise. Some have said that he might be dead, and I’m sure this is possible. But I would think with all of Shabaab’s chest thumping over the killing of Afghani, they would surely use Omar’s death as another promotional sign of victory.
- 75% chance he’s still alive – I’m sticking with this. I think Shabaab would be bragging if they killed him.
- 33% chance he’s detained – I don’t think this is likely, but maybe Godane or someone else in Somalia has detained Hammami, and is trying to find a way to get that $5 million reward. This might explain why he’s been so quiet, other than the obvious fact he’s being hunted by Godane and protected by some friends who don’t want him to be blabbering too much. (Note: this event does not have to be mutually exclusive of him being alive – translation= the sum of my percentages here will not equal 100)
- 15% chance he’s dead – I don’t think this is the case yet. I really think we would hear about it from Shabaab if he were dead.
- 10% chance Omar is and always has been part of a Zombie vanguard operating in Somalia. As I noted a couple months back, it is inconceivable how Omar keeps surviving while big name guys like Afghani get sacked. So I’ve upped my estimate of “Omar Hammami’s World War Z” being the impetus behind his survival and Shabaab’s chaos.