Building from Andrew Lebovich and I’s discussion and the research contributions of others, I outlined three scenarios with regards to what might be occurring inside al-Shabaab in the lead up to its merger with al-Qaeda. I noted on Thursday several things to watch in the near future to include:
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.
“No one can limit Jihad to himself. It is better to have many Islamic groups and then unite later. This is how we have been carrying out for the last two decades,” Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who merged his Hizbul rebel group with al Shabaab in 2010, told Radio Shabelle late on Saturday.
“We are in al Shabaab but its operation is very wrong, we should correct it… al Shabaab and al Qaeda do not represent the Muslim world, they are only part of it.”
Aweys appears to be indicating a split from a Godane-led al-Shabaab. Aweys also directly countered al-Qaeda in this discussion, which should be a good public relations tool for the West. This split also provides increased support for Scenario #1: Godane kills off old AQ members & Robow affiliated foreign fighters. Many will quickly discuss the clan fractures bringing this split. Others will focus on Shabaab’s debate with regards to strategic focus (Near Enemy vs. Far Enemy). I noted over a year ago that Aweys would be unlikely to stay in al-Shabaab’s camp as:
2. Allies taken by force are the first to defect.
Aweys may be the world’s greatest clan chess player. Aweys cavorted with AQ in the early 90’s, maintained control of his clan for almost twenty years, and led the Islamic Courts Union. Aweys may submit to Shabab for now, but allies born from force usually defect or undermine the conqueror in time. Aweys won’t like being “Number 2” for long. He’s a smooth warlord.
However, I’ve yet to hear anyone mention an obvious issue: age difference. Aweys is about twice the age of Godane. I don’t see how anyone thought Aweys would stay under Godane’s thumb for long.
Next, I’m looking to see what direction Robow breaks. I’m guessing he’ll follow the way of Aweys and create his own local version of al-Shabaab, but only time will tell.
Lastly, Zawahiri looks increasingly dumb for engaging AQ in a merger with al-Shabaab – Bin Laden knew better.