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.

13 comments

  1. I thoroughly enjoy reading your posts, which have illuminated several interesting points about the recent upheaval within the internal dynamics of al-Shabaab.

    One issue that I have been asking myself, and on which I would like your feedback, is whether the main reason for the recent deaths of several key AQ operatives in East Africa, namely Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, Fazul Abdullah Mohammad, Bilal al-Berjawi and his deputy “Sakr,” is not because of a possible betrayal by Godane, Aweys, and/or Zawahiri, rather more a direct result of U.S.-led/AMISOM military and intelligence successes in addition to the large number of defections from al-Shabaab. Also, how their deaths have eliminated the major spoilers to the upcoming elections for the TFG in August 2012.

    Given Sharif Ahmed’s historically close relationship with Aweys, who both hail from the same Hawiye clan and seem ideologically aligned with respect to ridding Somalia of the foreign element of global salafist jihad represented by AQ for a relatively less extreme and more nationalist focus, what is the likelihood that Aweys’ impending breakaway from Godane’s al-Shabaab, to which you also alluded in your recent article, will lead to him defecting to the TFG in return for removal from the U.S. designated terrorist list and political influence in the upcoming elections?

    • Matthew,

      In short, you are exactly right. One of the scenarios that is completely ignored in my discussion is that Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, Fazul Abdullah Mohammad, Bilal al-Berjawi and his deputy “Sakr,” were all killed just because the U.S. did a great job of generating intel and hitting targets. The U.S. military got Bin Laden and shortly after nabbed Awlaki in Yemen. With the reallocation of assets and more time focused on the Horn, why shouldn’t we give credit where credit is due?

      However, I was decidedly in this camp up until the merger announcement which was quickly followed by the Hammami video. This made me reconsider Lahoud’s hypothesis that Fazul, a nimble evader of Western CT efforts for almost two decades, wouldn’t knowingly stumble into a TFG checkpoint. (However, the most talented evaders are often finally caught in the most innocuous ways, like Eric Rudolph digging for breakfast when a rookie cop intercepts him in a parking lot.)

      I have personally been of the belief that Fazul prevented al-Shabaab & al Qaeda mergers in the past. So with Hammami on the run and reports of other Western foreign fighters getting killed, I started to wonder if there was something to the Robow & Aweys ruminations about Godane killing off Team Fazul. That being said, you are completely correct, maybe this is just good CT work and there are no real fractures.

      As for your second question,

      what is the likelihood that Aweys’ impending breakaway from Godane’s al-Shabaab, to which you also alluded in your recent article, will lead to him defecting to the TFG in return for removal from the U.S. designated terrorist list and political influence in the upcoming elections?

      Do you mind if I put this in an upcoming blog post?
      I was already pecking away about this issue of how the West handles the defection of designated terrorists and I’ll use your question above as the lead for that post. It’ll be this weekend before I get to it.

      Thanks for the excellent comments!

      • Yes, of course. Thank you for getting back to me. I look forward to reading more of your research. Keep up the great work.

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