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



    • I’m wondering the same thing about Gadahn. That was part of Andrew Lebovich’s point about Hammami last week. He thought it had been too long since we have heard from Hammami and Gadahn.

      I wonder if Gadahn is already dead? there’s no harm for him putting out propaganda, so why keep him silent? Unless he’s a problem in the organization, or on the wrong team amongst AQ’s infighting.

  1. 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.

    • Excellent scenario, I posted on it this morning as well, made it #4. Here’s my response, basically, I don’t know, reporting is inconsistent.

      “Newly Proposed Scenario #4: Robow, not Godane, Kills off AQ operatives to refocus al-Shabaab on local rather than global issues

      Provided by a reader yesterday in the comments section.

      firefroggy92 March 21, 2012 at 5:00 pm Edit

      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.

      Maybe, from the local versus global perspective, this makes a lot of sense and has been an issue I’ve pushed in the past. It would explain why Robow potentially turned on Hammami. However, I’m not sure this matches up with the reporting I’ve been reading from Somalia, assuming its accurate. Here are a couple references,

      Al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, known as Mukhtar Abu Zubair, was involved in a power struggle with El Berjawi for the leadership of al Qaeda in the region.


      Berjawi took over the leadership of al-Qaeda in Somalia last year after Harun Fazul was killed on June at a Mogadishu road block manned by Transitional Federal Government forces. Fazul had succeeded Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan who was killed by American commandos on September 14, 2009. The car bombing that killed Berjawi is suspected to be the work of the overall Emir, Ahmed Godane alias Abu Zubeyr. Berjawi and al-Shabaab Somalis opposed to Godane’s leadership made several attempts to replace Godane as the overall al-Shabaab leader but foreign fighters led by Al-Ameriki came to his rescue, threatening to pull out foreigners out of Somalia and cut off external funding.

      I don’t trust this account entirely as the role of Hammami is not consistent with other discussions from @ibnSiqili at al-Wasat.

      Here’s another quote reference a January meeting where Team Robow, with Omar Hammami in tow, denounced the killing of AQ operatives and placed blame on Godane.

      At the assembly, al-Shabaab officials including Ali Mohamud Rage, Hassan Dahir Aweys, Mukhtar Robow, as well as a number of foreign jihadists accused other al-Shabaab officials of being behind a conspiracy that resulted in al-Barjawi’s death. Other al-Shabaab officials in attendance included the head of preaching and information, Sheikh Fuad Mohamed Kalaf, the head of the political office, Sheikh Ali Fidow, Sheikh Fuad Shangole, and Omar Hammami (“Al-Amriki”) an American citizen raised in small-town Alabama. One of al_shabaab’s most prominent leaders, Ahmed Godane, as well as several other foreign jihadists were absent from the meeting for unknown reasons. “

      This account while not definitive or clear, does seem to undermine Scenario #4. But, there could be all sorts of betrayal going on.”

  2. I heard about the Shura too. When Sakr was killed in the end of February, the initial reports, one from Hiraan online and the Nairobi star both spoke of infighting between Rubbow and Goddane and that “security officials” were using this divide to take out the foreign militants. “‘There seem to be betrayal among these groups and they are selling each other. We can tell you the fighting between factions in Al-Shabaab is real,’ said a senior security official aware of the operations inside Somalia and who asked not to be named.” Although the articles disagreed on the date the attack took place (showing different sources) they both agreed on that one part (unless they had the same source for that bit.) The source appeared to be Kenyan/Somali security forces, which obviously has a disting bias.

    Please see for my initial assessment of both articles:

    Secondly, the clan differences are a major factor in Somalia and define the politics of HSM. Goddane was Isaaq (Northern), who to the best my knowledge is pawn of AZ, provides hardly any fighters to HSM, while Rubbow’s southern (famine starved) Roxaaweyn provides the majority. Goddane (perhaps on orders from AZ) did not help the southern region (remember they blocked the food aid from ICRC). HSM was no longer serving the people and was working at the behest of AQ who used the Somalis like pawns. To Rubbow this made the AQ operators in HSM a threat to his people, and so he put Fazul on a road that would lead him to that checkpoint in the Afgooye-Mogadishu Corridor.

    Sakr was most likely killed using intel provided by Rubbow or Roxaaweyn tribal elders.
    Bilaal could have very well been offed by Goddane in a power struggle and Rubbow had nothing to do with it. But if you looked at Ibn Siqili article, Rubbow was conspicuously absent from the large rallies announcing the AQ merger. While this is circumstantial there is plenty of evidence that Rubbow did not like AQ meddling in Somali affairs at all. I therefore believe he has a much stronger motive given the circumstances and historical/ethnic/situational context to be behind of the killing of the AQ operatives than Goddane.

    For an excellent analysis (and my source) for clan issues amongst HSM and how it relates to Hammami please read the following by Tom Wyld:


    Qur(27:59)-Sema: Sifa njema ni za M/mungu na salama iwaendee waja wake aliyowachagua,je m/mungu ni bora au wale wanaowashirikisha?

    Qur(42;13)-Hapa m/mungu anasema kwamba ametupa Sheria ileile waliyopewa mitume waliopita lengo dini isimamishwe-sheria ni moja.
    Sheria hiyo inasema-wala msiue nafsi ambayo m/mungu aliyoikataza isipokuwa kwa haki,basi sheria inasema mwenye kuuawa kwa dhuluma tutampa nguvu mrithi wake Qur(17:33).

    Qur(5:32)-Vile vile m/mungu anatuambia pia ktk sheria hiyo kama walivyopewa wana wa Israel kwamba atakayeua mtu au amefanya ufisadi huyu anafaa kuuliwa na ukiua mtu bila ya kufanya hayo ni kama ameua watu wa ulimwengu mzima.

    Kwa hiyo basi m/mungu anatuambia ktk Qur(4:93)-Na mwenye kumuua muumini,basi malipo yake ni jahannam atapata laana na adhabu nzito jahannam,m/mungu anaapa ktk Qur(38:1)-kuwa Quran ni ukumbusho-hukumu na atakayejiepusha na hukumu ya Quran atapata maisha yenye dhiki duniani Qur(20:124),kitakacho tokea ktk Qur(25:68-69)-Wale ambao wanawaomba kinyume na m/mungu alichowapangia,wala hawaui nafsi ila kwa haki,wala hawazini,atakayefanya hayo atapata madhara,atamzidishia adhabu siku ya kiyama atakaa milele.

    M/mungu anauliza ktk Qur(47:14)-Je! Watu wenye kuwa na dalili zitokazo kwa mola wao watakuwa sawa na watu waliopambiwa ubaya wa vitendo vyao na wakafuata matamanio ya nafsi zao?-sio sawa kwa sababu m/mungu anajibu ktk Qur(32:18)-hawawi sawa muumini na fasiki kwa hiyo Qur(9:24)-m/mungu hawaongozi watu mafasiki,na kama hao mafasiki wanajitetea m/mungu anawauliza ktk Qur(68:36-37)-mumekuwaje mnahukumu namna gani? –Au mnacho kitabu mnachokisoma,–hivyo mnavyo hukumu mkaua mnacho kitabu au mnacho kitabu mlicho kisoma kiliwafundisha hivyo,basi Qur(6:105)-Na namna tumekariri aya kwamba wanasema unasoma,ili wapate kubainikiwa watu wanaotaka kujua-hao watu wanaotaka kujua,wanataka kujua kwa kupewa dalili za m/mungu ndani ya Qur-an-Qur(47:14)- Je! Watu wenye kuwa na dalili zitokazo kwa mola wao watakuwa sawa na watu waliopambiwa ubaya wa vitendo vyao na wakafuata matamanio ya nafsi zao?

    M/mungu anasema ktk Qur(10:32)-Ni nini tena baada ya haki ila ni upotofu na Qur(39:36)-na atakaye muacha m/mungu kupotea hakuna tena wa kumuongoa,Qur(10:35)-sema je,yupo ktk hao mnaomshirikisha m/mungu waongozao kwa haki(swali kwa watiifu wa Godane),m/mungu anasema Qur(27:59)-yuko mbali na wale wanaomshirikisha nae-sifa ya malik-Qur(114:2)-yeye ndiye Malik nnasi,yeyote atakayepangiwa na asiyekuwa m/mungu hakuumba chochote,yeye ni maiti wala hajui lini atafufuliwa-kwa sababu imetoa hukumu ktk Qur(68:8)-wala msiwatii anayekadhibisha-sababu anayekatazwa kumtii anayekadhibisha na Qur(5:10)-wanaokataa na kukadhibisha aya zetu hao ni watu wa motoni-sababu nyingine anayekatazwa kumtii mkadhibishaji kama huyu rejea;Qur(47:14).

    M/mungu anasema ktk Qur(3:79)- Haiwi kwa mtu ambaye m/mungu amempa kitabu na unabii,kisha awaambie watu wamuabudu kuweni fanyeni yale anayotaka m/mungu kwa sababu wana kitabu wanachokisoma Qur(4:64)-Hakuleta mtume atiiwe ila kwa idhini ya m/mungu.

    Swali? –kwa wafuasi wa Godane;,-Nyinyi mmepata dalili zipi za kuua watu wasio na hatia na rejea Qur(17:33) na Qur(5:32),sasa nyinyi mmepata ruhusa ya nani ya kufanya kitendo hicho cha kuua,-m/mungu anauliza ktk Qur(3:138)-Usidhani wale wanataka wasifiwe kwa yale wanayoyafanya na wanayotaka kufanya usidhani hawa watasalimika na adhabu(kusifiwa kwamba Mujahid mujahid)
    Baada ya Al-Amriki kutoa taarifa kwa uongozi wa juu,lakini kabla ya hivyo tusikilize utetezi wa m/mungu,anasema-sheria ile aliyopewa Musa na mtume Muhammad ni ya aina moja ktk kule kujitetea Qur(17:2)-Tulimpa Musa kitabu na ni sheria ileile aliyopewa Muhammad ktk jambo la kujitetea,msifanye mtetezi badala yangu(Sifa ya Wakil)-ni ya m/mungu.

    Katika hayo yote yaliyoelezwa huko juu-m/mungu hataki kushirikishwa na akatuletea sheria ya kukataza kuua Qur(17:33)/Qur(5:32),sasa vipi mlipata wapi kumtii fasiki bila idhini ya m/mungu?m/mungu anasema ktk Qur(7:145)-Tuliweka mawaidha ya kila kitu,basi akaawaambia yashike na watu wako wayashike karibuni hivi tunakuonyesha mji wa watu mafasiki,-wakasema wale watu ktk Qur(5:24-25)-sisi hatutaingia humo kamwe madhali hao wamo nenda kapigane na mola wako nasi tutakaa hapa,-nabii Musa akasema,ewe mola wangu similiki ila nafsi yangu na ndugu yangu,niepushe na watu mafasiki.

    Swali; Je!Al-Amriki na wenzake wamekataa kukomboa miji,ndio sababu wamepinga amri ya m/mungu-Au-wamekataa kumtii Amir Godane,kwa sababu wametoka ktk mji-Kisimayu bila uongozi wa M/mungu,wakati m/mungu amekataza ulegevu ktk Qur(47:35)-Basi msilegeee na kutaka salama,maana nyinyi ndio mtakaoshinda,kwa hali hiyo m/mungu anatoa hukumu ktk Q(47:14)- Je! Watu wenye kuwa na dalili zitokazo kwa mola wao watakuwa sawa na watu waliopambiwa ubaya wa vitendo vyao na wakafuata matamanio ya nafsi zao? Kwa hiyo m/mungu atafanyaje?-Qur(3:151)-Tutatia hofu ktk nyoyo za wale waliokufuru,kwa sababu ya kumshirikisha kwao m/mungu na ambao hakuteremsha dalili,na makazi yao yatakuwa motoni,na mabaya yalioje maskani ya madhalimu,masharti m/mungu anatoa ktk Qur(2:38)-Basi watakaofuata uwongofu wangu huo haitakuwa khofu juu yao wala hawatahuzunika.

    Mmekuaje mmelegea,wakati mmeamrishwa msilegee na kutoka Kismayu,na ni wazi ni walegevu-kwani Muhammad na wafuasi wake hawakuwa hivyo ktk Qur(48:29)-Muhammad na wafuasi wake walikuwa wenye nyoyo thabiti-wakali mbele ya makafiri na wanahurumiana wao kwa wao,-mmekuaje mkalegea kwa makafiri wa jeshi la Kenya na mkawa wakali kwa Al-Amriki,Maalim Burhani,Ibrahim Al-Afghan,kisha ulegevu wenu ukazidi kwa makafiri wa jeshi la Kenya mpaka ndugu zenu wakanajisiwa,kuporwa mali zao,kunyanyaswa na mkanadi mkifanya uharibifu Kismayu mtalipa kisasi kwa raia wasiohusika kwa raia wa Kenya,kwani jambo hilo la kisasi cha namna hiyo ni kosa,rejea Qur(2:204)-Kuna watu kauli zao zinafurahisha…,lakini m/mungu anashuhudia ndani ya nyoyo zenu kwamba ni wagomvi kabisa(ugomvi huo ni huu unathibitishwa) Qur(2:205)-Wanaondoka huku ktk ardhi kufanya uharibifu.

    Sababu gani M/mungu amewaita waharibifu-mnashindwa kuwaona wale wanaofanya uharibifu mji wa Kismayu na kwenda kupiga watu wasio na hatia Kenya-wakati m/mungu aliowatia hatia ni hawa ktk Qur(60:8)-M/mungu hakukukatazeni kuwafanyia wema na uadilifu wale ambao hawakupigana na nyinyi kwa ajili ya dini yenu,wala hawakutoeni ktk ardhi(nchi) zenu,hakika m/mungu anawapenda wale wafanyao uadilifu.

    Uadilifu ni kule kuwapiga wale walio Kismayu(makafiri wa Kenya) sio wale walio kwenye maduka-Nairobi.
    Uadilifu wenyewe ni huu ktk Qur(98:5)-wala hamkuamrishwa ila kumtumikia m/mungu kwa kufuata amri zake na kumtakasia dini-AMRI-ktk Qur(22:39)-mmeamrishwa kupigana na wale ambao wanaowapiga watu kwa sababu ya kuwadhulumu.

    Uadilifu ni kupigana na wale wanaokupigeni na wanaokutoenj nyinyi kutoka ktk miji wala sio wale ambao wasiokupigeni na kutokutoeni nyinyi ktk miji rejea Qur(60:8)-wakati m/mungu anaeleza hivi-ktk Qur(57:25)-ametuma mitume pamoja nao kuna dalili zilizo wazi ili watu wasimamishe uadilifu,ambapo mtume ktk Qur(98:2-3)-mtume aliyetoka kwa m/mungu anayewasomea kurasa zenye kutakaswa,ndani yake zimo sharia madhubuti,na pia m/mungu amesema(mfano) ktk Qur(17:86)-Na kama m/mungu(watu wasifanye uadilifu) angeliondoa haya aliyomfunulia Muhammad,bila shaka msingelipata la kujitetea.

    Kwa nini mmelegea mkaenda kupigana na watu ambao hawakushika silaha,mtume wenu ni yupi? Qur(23:69)-Au hamkumjua mtume wao ndio mkamkanusha-mkawapiga ndugu zenu(wakina Al-Amriki) wakati mlitakiwa mhurumiane mkawaacha makafiri wanashika silaha wanaokupigeni na kukutoeni ktk miji-Qur(3:108)-Hizi ni aya za m/mungu tunakusomeeni kwa ukweli,na m/mungu hataki kudhulumu walimwengu.

    Hukumu yao.ktk Qur(3:86-88)-M/mungu atawaongozaje(baada ya kuyakataa hayo mlioelekezwa huko juu na aya tofauti) baada ya kuyaamini mkakataa na mkashuhudia mtume wenu ni wa haki na zikakufikieni hoja zilizo wazi,basi m/mungu haongozi watu madhalimu,malipo yao ni laana ipo juu yao ya m/mungu,malaika na ya watu wote(mpaka hao waliowaua) Qur(3:88)-humo watakaa milele(moto) hawatapunguziwa adhabu wala nafasi.

    Swali sasa mnasemaje kama mlikaa shura na mkafahamishana utaratibu anaotaka m/mungu,kisha mkarudi mkapinga Qur(32:22)-ni nani dhalimu mkubwa kuliko yule anayekumbushwa kwa aya za mola wake kisha akakataa,hakika sisi ni wenye kuchukua kisasi-kwani mlikaa shura na mkatoa maamuzi na hayo maamuzi hamkukubaliana nayo mkarudi mkapinga kama nyinyi si madhalimu.

    Ni wazi m/mungu amejitoa,akasema; ktk Qur(16:104)-Wale wasioamini aya,hakika m/mungu hawaongozi-mtamzulia m/mungu uwongo kwa sababu hamuamini aya za m/mungu na hawa ni waongo.
    Kwa hivyo mjielewe na walimwengu waelewe kwamba nyinyi ni waongo. Qur(41:52)-Sema mnaonaje ikiwa(aya ni maneno) yametoka kwa m/mungu kisha nyinyi mnakanusha,ni nani aliyekuwa mpinzani(mbali) asiyeweza kushindana na m/mungu kama si nyinyi

    Mcheni mola wenu rudini kwenye hukumu(maamuzi) za m/mungu na miongozo yake aliyoitoa kwa mitume yake ndani Quran pekee.

    Assalamu aleiykum warahmatullahi wabarakatu,


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