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.

Interview on Westgate, Kenya, Somalia, Shabaab & Hammami on Loopcast

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to talk with @rejectionking on @theLoopcast about the recent Shabaab attacks on the Westgate mall and what the implications are for Kenya and Somalia.  This led to a more lengthy discussion on counterterrorism policy/strategy in the Horn which I sort of hijacked and took into a broader discussion – one many people may not care for. BLUF: I don’t think we can nor should try to solve all the world’s problems just to stop a few terrorists.

We concluded with some thoughts on Omar Hammami and his recent killing by al-Shabaab.

So with that, you can visit the Loopcast at this link if you are interested in listening or you can listen below on this embed.


Inside al Shabaab’s Recruitment Process in Somalia

Th Kenyan newspaper The Daily Nation published an excellent, first-hand report of al Shabaab’s recruitment process entitled, “How al Shabaab Captures Hearts Of Somali Youth.” The article traces the path of a Somali refugee, Ahmed, who now resides in Kenya’s Eastleigh slum.

Two weeks ago, I discussed the combination of benefits offered by al Qaeda and affiliated groups (like al Shabaab) to entice new recruits.  I noted that:

Each recruit makes a decision to work based on a perceived wage generated from both pecuniary and non-pecuniary benefits from employment as a terrorist.  Pecuniary benefits represent tangible items received in return for employment: pay, vacation, insurance, etc…and… Non-pecuniary benefits represent intangible items received in return for employment: religious achievement, adventure seeking, group camaraderie, etc. The combination of these benefits presents the wage needed to recruit someone into a terror cell.

Additionally, I discussed how the combination of pecuniary and non-pecuniary benefits needed for recruitment vary based on geographical location:

A terror recruit in Africa may be far more enticed by the tangible, pecuniary benefits offered by al Qaeda while a middle to upper class student recruit from Saudi Arabia might be more interested in the ideological, non-pecuniary benefits of group membership.

The Daily Nation article describing Ahmed’s recruitment exemplifies this recruiting phenomenon where it was a cell phone more than an ideology that initially enticed young recruits in Somalia.

Ahmed was barely 12 years old when he first joined Al-Shabaab. He was a schoolboy in Mogadishu, and when the three-month long holidays approached in 2007, he was nudged by friends to join the insurgents.

“When you join, they give you a mobile phone and every month you are given $30,” he said. “This is what pushes a lot of young people to join.”

Why does this matter? Analysts predominately focus on expensive DC-centric programs to counter al Qaeda’s/al Shabaab’s ideology, eliminate Internet videos and answer evil tweets.  While this may be appropriate for a small handful of Somali Diaspora recruits in the West, the majority of al Shabaab recruits are child soldiers more likely to be pulled from Shabaab’s grasp through the TFG handing out cell phones with $40 of credit every month ($10 more than al Shabaab).

Al Shabaab follows an indoctrination program typical of most all fighting forces (al Qaeda, Taliban, the U.S. military!) that recruit young men: entice them with monetary inducements and social pressure and then solidify their long-run commitment through ideological indoctrination.  Ahmed notes the religious training and attempts to “counter the narrative”:

Preachers delivered sermons for hours about destiny and “the sweetness of the holy war.” They distributed leaflets on Islam and tried “to make the children understand and appreciate suicide bombing.”

In one of these sessions, Ahmed, as a trusted foot soldier now, asked one of the scholars: “Give us a solid proof from the teachings of the Prophet (Muhammad) or the activities of his companions that actually allow suicide bombings.”

The answer, he says, was not forthcoming. Later, he was called aside and was told “that Islam’s biggest scholars had approved of suicide bombings, and that as an ignorant young man, I should keep quiet about it and not defile the mind of the youngsters.

This process of moving young recruits from pecuniary reasons for joining to ideological reasons for staying in the group mirrors the method used by al Qaeda in Southern Somalia between 1992-1994.  As discussed in the report al Qaeda’s (Mis) Adventures in the Horn of Africa and the Harmony documents that informed them, AQ operatives noted:

“the youth started their action in kees mayo city (Kismayo) in southern Somalia by getting engaged in its battle and the tribes men escaped before Aideed. There was 800 brothers in their camps and the escapees asked the youth to protect the city from Aideed provided that they would give up the airport, the harbor and the public utilities in the city for the youth. The youth agreed despite the fact that they smelled the deception…. Nevertheless, their youth learned at last that their elders thoughts is far from theirs. We conclude the following: – The Sheikhs of the group were not Jihadi . the youth were influenced by hearing about the Afghani Jihad. The youth of the young men along with insufficiency of their experience and rashness toward the matters without deliberation hindered their effectiveness.” AFGP-2002-800621

Several other primary source notes from AQ’s recruitment in Somalia can be found at this post.

Some will use Ahmed’s anecdote above to support their preferential focus on countering al Shabaab’s narrative (from DC) as the key element for undermining  al Shabaab’s recruitment.  But one must immediately wonder how developing a feel good CVE website and firing out inspiring tweets will ever influence young boys in Shabaab’s training camps – how would they ever even hear these counter-narratives.

The more important intangible (non-pecuniary) benefit offered by al Shabaab to new recruits comes not from its ideology but its offer of opportunity for those young men amongst Somalia’s less fortunate clans.   The article notes:

Secondly, as incongruous as it may seem, Al-Shabaab is credited for eliminating the boundaries created by the clan systems in Somalia.

Hundreds of young men belonging to the Somali Bantu and minority clans have freely joined the militant group.

In the end, the largest reason recruits defect from al Shabaab comes from al Shabaab’s harsh tactics.  As noted by Ahmed in this article and a year ago by another defector, Mohamed Ibrahim Suley, al Shabaab’s extreme violence turns off both their own operatives and their local popular support.  If a counter-narratives campaign against al Shabaab is deemed necessary, the focus should be on exposing Shabaab’s violent ways more than undermining its religious ideology.

Overall, I believe the greatest counter to al Shabaab’s growth will come from eliminating their base of resources (money and equipment) – resources they use to secure the initial recruitment of vulnerable young men.

Shabab – Clan Rivalry Analysis in Somalia

I just read a post by Ibn Siqilli on Harakat al-Shabab & Somali Clans.  This is clearly one of the best posts I’ve ever read on Somalia.  Ibn Siqilli breaks down group (clan) dynamics, leader competition, the challenge of collaborative jihad, ideological differences, and divergence over national-local objectives versus transnational-jihadi objectives.  He also does some good evaluation of information sources; a rare act in most writing I read.

Ibn Siqilli’s post reminded me of a HOA project I co-edited with Dr. Jacob Shapiro.  Dr. Shapiro and I co-wrote a section on clan rivalry based on AQ’s early 90’s experience in Somalia.  I went back and reviewed the theoretical section, which was skewed by my periodic obsession with labor economics approaches to terror group recruitment. (many have had to suffer through my labor econ chatter, it’s painful!) Here are some sections from this report I thought mirrored Ibn Siqilli’s discussion today:

Although many Somali clan leaders wanted to expel foreign occupiers, their first goal ultimately was always the security of their clan against local competitors. Abu Hafs routinely runs into difficulties building consensus among Somali leaders to focus on foreign occupiers instead of other Somalis. He has to spend scarce resources to create and maintain alliances between the tribes.

and another

the Somali laborers ultimately placed a lower-than-expected value on the
compensation package al-Qa’ida had to offer. The group could not provide benefits sufficient to overcome local loyalties. Although al-Qa’ida was successful in buying their way into a few tribes, the benefits of Salafism in 1993 did not outweigh the cost of tribal exclusion. The primacy of tribalism in Somalia ultimately frustrated al-Qa’ida’s efforts to recruit long term and develop a unified coalition against foreign occupiers. Al-Qa’ida mistook its call for jihad in Afghanistan as a universal motivator for which Muslims in Somalia would join at an equal rate. In 1993 Somalia, this call fell on somewhat deaf ears as survival against local competitors trumped jihad.

I mentioned in a previous post my skepticism of those predicting a unified, dominant Shabab free of internal clan squabbles and fully focused on spreading AQ’s version of jihad throughout HOA.  I do imagine some future AQ-HOA/Shabab attacks in East Africa.  However, I remain skeptical that Shabab will remain dominant and cohesive for long.  I believe internal fractures will ultimately lead Shabab to fight rival local clans more than the ‘far enemy.’

Inside Story on Somalia’s Foreign Fighters

Mohamed Ibrahim Suley’s defection from al-Shabab paints an interesting portrait of foreign fighters in Somalia. A foreign fighter shot Suley for stopping to help a wounded comrade.  Here are some good excerpts:

“I defected from al-Shabab because I was deliberately shot by a foreigner,” the 29-year-old Mr. Suley told a reporter, pulling up his shirt to show bullet scars. “He shot me in the back, after I had defied his order to not help some of my friends.”

“On the advice of teachers at Mr. Suley’s religious school in the city of Kismayo, he and 39 other students joined an Islamist training camp in 2006. They learned to plant land mines and plan assassinations.”

“He would organize and lead to us to the fighting. Most of the time he was carrying a walkie-talkie,” Mr. Suley said, adding that al-Shabab fighters preferred walkie-talkies to mobile phones because they feared cell-phone conversations could be intercepted.”

I hope this story grows in detail.  Many have touted that AQ Central is directing Shabab through foreign fighters.  After this article, I continue to remain skeptical. I also believe that foreign fighters may ultimately be Shabab’s undoing for several reasons.

  1. Shabab’s foreign fighters are elitist- Dr. Bruce Hoffman noted in Inside Terrorism that terrorist groups often lose popular support due to their elitist nature.  I imagine Suley is one of many Shabab foot soldiers that’s had enough of these outsiders.
  2. Foreign fighter leaders often have less experience than those being led–  Somali’s have been fighting for decades.  Many of these foreign fighters, especially the Americans, are really ‘green’. No one likes having an authoritative boss with inferior experience.  Some Somali clan members will likely rebel. The Harmony documents hinted at this but lacked sufficient clarity.  In the future, I’ll be looking for more detail on disgruntled clan members.  This will be key to undermining AQ’s influence.
  3. Shabab foreign fighters aren’t core AQ members–  Despite AQ Central calling for a Somali jihad in 2007, relatively few flocked to Shabab in comparison to conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Those that did join appear to be from a spattering of HOA countries, Scandinavia, the U.S., and just a few from the Gulf and North Africa.  All strong AQ foreign fighter movements usually have a solid Arab cadre signaling the presence of AQ strategic direction, financial and military resources, and operational counsel.  I don’t sense the presence of more than a couple core AQ members.
  4. Near versus Far Enemy Foreign fighters tend to be inspired by ideology and focused on the far enemy.  Shabab’s Somali soldiers likely lean towards survival through the defeat of near enemies.  Dynamics of divergent focus hampered AQ during the 90’s and will likely recur in this new Somali foreign fighter chapter.

Shabab, Aweys, AQ and Somalia

Al Shabab and Hizbul Islam officially united in December after Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys’s forces took a pounding from Shabab around Kismayo.  Aweys loss of Kismayo brought Hizbul Islam under Shabab’s submission.   This latest defeat follows the defection of the Ras Kambooni Brigade from Hizbul Islam to Shabab in February 2010.  Shabab appears to have consolidated power over the southern and central insurgent groups calling for expanded AQ operations in East Africa.

Already, analysts predict doomsday scenarios in which AQ establishes a new safe haven for conducting attacks in HOA and globally.  I’m skeptical this will occur for several reasons.

1. History suggests more competition than unity.

Somali clans and warlords unite and break up all the time.  The Harmony documents describe the shifting sands of clan loyalty. In the 90’s, clan defection and collaborative bargaining through clan leader councils frustrated AQ’s efforts to shift Somali focus to the far enemy.

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.

3. Calls for expanded jihad in Somalia haven’t materialized.

Bin Laden and Zawahiri have called for Somali jihad for the past four years.  Foreign fighters descending on Somalia exist but represent only a small trickle of support compared to the foreign fighter flow into Iraq and AF/PAK. Most answering the jihadi call to Somalia gravitate from the Somali Diaspora suggesting the attraction is more ethnic than ideological.

4. Counters to Shabab aggression can operate without restraint.

Should Shabab continue to expand attacks outside Somalia, I expect HOA countries will stand up to Shabab. What if Shabab overthrew the TFG?  Shabab aggression might prompt another Ethiopian excursion.  I also expect Western CT actions will expand to match Shabab’s growth.  Thus far, U.S. CT efforts in HOA have achieved relative success against AQ operatives floating in Somalia.

5. Resources prove powerful in Somalia.

Why would Shabab seek an alliance with AQ?  Branding brings prestige, and prestige brings resources.  Somali clan resources remain tight under the best circumstances.  Aligning with AQ may bring increased resources from donors.  More likely, “calls for jihad in East Africa” and becoming “AQ’s East Africa” branch represent Shabab’s direct appeals for resource support from AQ Central.  Shabab leaders may not realize that AQ Central doesn’t have sufficient resources for its own operation much less an East African effort.   AQ  knows this game and remembers Somali clans 90’s graft: “Sure AQ, we’ll attack your far enemy, but we’ll need $50 thousand up front for ‘business expenses’ and some support fighting our local Sufi rivals first.”

Why might this time be different?

The only indication I see of something different is Shabab’s recent attacks in Uganda and Kenya which demonstrate their expanded reach and commitment to think bigger.  Whether these attacks represent a shift in support towards AQ objectives or expansion of regional irregular warfare against the AU and other Christian-led neighbors, I am unsure.  But, I’m cautious to dismiss recent Shabab action as simply more of the same.  Only time will tell.  For now, I hope the West stays its current course and strategically thinks through the Somali chess game.

Terrorist Safe Havens: Weak States vs. Failed States

During last week’s Somalia discussions, I argued:

“1- Weak states support terrorism better than failed states- As Dr. Ken Menkhaus has noted many times, failed states like Somalia are hard for everyone. It doesn’t matter if your AQ or Western peacekeepers. The cost of operating in chaos makes terrorism tough.”

In the comments, Petr posted some counterarguments noting:

You are basing this statement on more or less intuitive logic and two case studies (Somalia 92-94, Kenya 92-98). But if you see the broader picture (i.e. more case studies) it gets more complicated.
– it is problematic, even though not unsolvable to treat those countries as one entity and then classify the strength of the statehood.
– in my research it came out that not the strength of a given state but presence of a strategic ally (or radical islamist subculture) is the key variable when it comes to success of al-Qa´ida. I do not want to bother you with details, but simply to say al-Ittihaad could not provide AQ with the safe haven, unlike ash-Shabaab, which in my understanding is a good case of al-Qa´ida success.

The ‘weak state vs. failed state’ debate is one of my favorites (this makes me incredibly dull by the way).  I originally went into the HOA research following the “failed states equals terrorism” equation.  Having read the Harmony documents, spent some time in Kenya, and did some further research, I came to agree strongly with the claim that weak states support terrorism better than failed states thereby following the Menkhaus doctrine :

The case of Somalia suggests that external observers may have been mistaken
in our assumptions about the relationship between terrorism and collapsed
states. The reality is that, at least up to now, transnational criminals and terrorists have found zones of complete state collapse to be relatively inhospitable territory out of which to operate. There are certainly exceptions – the fiefdoms of
drug-lords and radicals in parts of Colombia, for instance. But in general, terrorist networks have instead found safety in weak, corrupted, quasi-states –
Pakistan, Yemen, Kenya, the Philippines, Guinea, Indonesia. Terrorist networks,
like mafias, appear to flourish where states are governed badly rather than not at

Here are my reasons and I’ll address Petr’s notes above.

  1. Case Studies- I actually don’t see my case studies as two fold and defined to the dates mentioned.  I use Somalia (Failed) and Kenya (Weak) as two case studies extending from 1992 to the present.  Somalia’s safe haven support for AQ through the present day has been relatively weak and chaotic.  Sure, AQ has smuggled weapons, done some financing, etc.  But, major terrorist attacks on the West stemming from Somalia have not occurred.  Instead, Kenya has hosted a string of terrorist attacks and provided safe haven for AQ terrorists throughout the past 18 years.  During ’92-’94, AQ members transited through Nairobi airports, drove along the coast, and trafficked through ports in Mombasa, Malindi and Lamu.  The embassy bombings (’98) provide an obvious example of AQ action in Kenya.  AQ members did travel in and out of Somalia from ’94-’98, but they actually lived in Nairobi where they ran front charities and targeted the embassy.  After a brief departure from HOA, Harun Fazul, AQ’s East African commander, didn’t move back to Somalia.  In 2002, Fazul settled near Lamu, Kenya, built his own mosque, developed a fishing business and prepared for two more plots in Kenya: the 2002 Paradise Hotel bombing and the failed SAM missile attack on an El Al jet departing Mombasa.  Fazul has been seen in and out of Kenya for almost 20 years.  He might briefly stop in Somalia to move arms try to influence local groups, etc.  But the longer he stays there, the greater the chance CT folks or a rival clan will identify and interdict him.  The best example of AQ’s freedom of movement in Kenya is seen in the confessions of Omar Said Omar while in Kenyan custody.
  2. Three party problem in Kenya– Petr’s comments above approach only the terrorist side of the failed state story. Weak states provide greater safe haven than failed states because they impede counterterrorists.  In Kenya, there are three parties: AQ, Western CT forces, and the Kenyan government.  Kenya’s weak capacity permits AQ operations and limits Western CT efforts.  In Kenya, Western CT forces can’t interdict AQ and its affiliates militarily, use drones, or build intelligence without restrictions.  Weak state sovereignty requires the U.S. to use partners.  In Somalia, Western CT forces can act without restraint.  Individual AQ training camps or AQ leaders can be targeted.  Indigenous militias can be co-opted to counter AQ.
  3. Predictable Graft is better than Chaotic Graft– In Kenya, AQ operatives can navigate corruption fairly well. Graft is routine and predictable.  Legitimate businesses and charities can be established to generate revenue and augment illicit funding.  In Somalia, AQ’s costs are variable.  As seen in the Somalia Harmony records, operating costs in an austere environment, void of any legitimate transportation and exchange mechanisms, quickly soared to unsustainable levels.  Clan leaders extracted rents haphazardly and often.  Rarely did these clan payments result in AQ accomplishing its goals.

I’ll stop with these three large reasons.  To clarify, I think AQ operates in both Somalia and Kenya.  But, similar weak state issues can be seen in Yemen, Pakistan, and the Sahel today.  Meanwhile, the U.S. has dismantled terrorist operations in Afghanistan and Iraq where it has freedom of movement and no weak state limitations.  Although Iraq may be entering a weak state era soon.

Lastly, Vahid Brown wrote a great biography of Harun Fazul which provides an excellent account of terrorists taking advantage of weak states.  Also, I encourage all interested in the “Failed vs. Weak” state debate to read Dr. Ken Menkhaus article in The Journal of Conflict Studies entitled “Quasi-State, Nation-Building, and Terrorist Safe Havens.”  He explains this much better than I.

I’m taking sometime off for Festivus but I’ll chime in later in the week reference new Somali clan alliances.

Somalia: Terrorism’s Dark Corner, Part 2

To follow up on the past 3 posts about Somalia (1.0, 1.5, 1.75), I’ll return to a project I worked on four years back.  With Dr. Jacob Shapiro and a group of really solid researchers, I got to co-edit and co-write sections of al Qaeda’s (Mis) Adventures in the Horn of Africa.  We based the research on declassified, al-Qaeda (AQ) documents found in Afghanistan detailing AQ’s forays into Somalia between 1992-1994.

AQ sent several teams of trainers to join Somali clans.  Through Special Forces-type methods, AQ envoys would provide training and equipment to Somali clans.  During this process, they would also begin proselytizing hoping their ideology would catch on.  In Somalia, AQ struggled for three reasons.

1- Weak states support terrorism better than failed states– As Dr. Ken Menkhaus has noted many times, failed states like Somalia are hard for everyone.  It doesn’t matter if your AQ or Western peacekeepers.  The cost of operating in chaos makes terrorism tough.

2- Clan trumps AQ–  AQ’s Somalia documents describe continuous clan fighting.  AQ operatives were focused on training Somalis to fight foreign occupiers. Somali clan members were more interested in the near enemy than the far enemy.  The Somalis trained by AQ chose to use their new skills more for settling clan rivalries than attacking UN peacekeepers. AQ also didn’t like how the Somali Shura Council was democratic in their decision-making.  AQ described the situation with the Somali Islamic Union as “Leave it, it is rotten tribalism.” AFGP-2002-800640. The latest Foreign Policy article suggests the same “clan fighting” dynamics persist today in Somalia.

3- AQ’s ideology didn’t stick–  AQ’s ideology couldn’t compete with Somali clan customs.  Often times, Salafi ideology lost out to local versions of Sufi Islam.  AQ calls the Sufis “Big Hairs”.  One document provides a funny story about the Sufi’s and Salafi’s arguing over a Toyota truck. AFGP-2002-600104

4- AQ found success in two ways in Somalia (despite persistent clan disasters)-

a.     Providing security in local areas–  When AQ provided local security to villages, they could win the respect of local clans allowing for the proselytizing of their ideology.  (Reminiscent of The Management of Savagery by Abu Bakr Naji) AQ explained:

“When our brothers were in the Kambooni, they were visited by the Bajuni who asked them to stay and govern, and secure the city. They have noticed that the presence of the brothers prevented the highwaymen from entering the city, and the fishermen began coming to the shore to spend the night in the city. They told our people that they do not want them to leave. They await the arrival of our wives and children. They freely gave fish to our people, and our people guarded the well while reading the Koran, and helped the fishermen get water.” AFGP-2002-600113

Later, Ras Kambooni became a hub for al-Ittihad al-Islami (AIAI) activity.

b.     Attracting youth through propaganda

AQ found success attracting young recruits away from the tribes.  Somali youth had lower opportunity costs for joining AQ-affiliated groups than elder clan members.  Somali youth didn’t own businesses, were unmarried, loved stories of jihad, were less educated, and were far down in the clan pecking order. The “youth” would undertake military action and listen to indoctrination. Here are some interesting AQ quotes reference youth in Somalia.  (These are quotes from the translations, so they are a bit messy)

“The Majertain youth that joined our people are keeping away from the tribal ideology and are fighting in the name of God. Sheikh Hassan started to teach these young men (our dogma). From the political side, contacts were made with “Jihad” (Iskandari Union) supporters to join with us. Procedures were established to deal with the Ogaden tribe, particularly with those who are secular and highwaymen. As a result of this, our brethren earned the respect of the tribes, some of whose members want to join ranks with us. The situation we are experiencing right now is very hard to continue the jihad work in collective way but it is possible to continue with some youth groups that accomplish some operations.” AFGP-2002-800600

“but the youth that established the camps and lived in them, don’t see that the jihad is tied up with anything and most of those youth don’t think about establishing individual businesses.” AFGP-2002-800600

“Going back to the youth, they have a common characteristic which is the hastiness, and that superficial look toward things” AFGP-2002-800600

“the youth started their action in kees mayo city (Kismayo) in southern Somalia by getting engaged in its battle and the tribes men escaped before Aideed. There was 800 brothers in their camps and the escapees asked the youth to protect the city from Aideed provided that they would give up the airport, the harbor and the public utilities in the city for the youth. The youth agreed despite the fact that they smelled the deception…. Nevertheless, their youth learned at last that their elders thoughts is far from theirs. We conclude the following: – The Sheikhs of the group were not Jihadi . the youth were influenced by hearing about the Afghani Jihad. The youth of the young men along with insufficiency of their experience and rashness toward the matters without deliberation hindered their effectiveness.” AFGP-2002-800621

“Finally we need to establish a coordination and communications center to connect the youth in the different areas in and out of the country. It is important to strengthen the unity between the people. This is very important in Jihad.” AFGP-2002-800640

“Jihad radio stations operating in Yemen and Somalia will have a more powerful effect on them than nuclear bombs.” AFGP-2002-600053

There are lots of good quotes in the Harmony documents reference youth recruitment. I only selected these as a few examples. I find the time frame of these AQ statements interesting.  I alluded in a previous post that AQ shifted their strategy based on the influence of Zawahiri and their failures in Somalia.  As seen above, AQ shifted their focus in the early 1990’s to linking youth recruits together through coordination and communication centers.  During the 90’s they established offices, today they accomplish this through the Internet.  While the linking of youth recruitment globally expanded with the Internet, the effectiveness of these modern AQ  “youth recruits” is questionable.

Ironically, al-Shabab means “The Youth”.  AQ does discuss a group in Kismayo that was the  “Islamic Youth Union” that originated from Muslim Brotherhood influence. It’s unclear from the documents where the name al-Shabab originates: the Muslim Brotherhood initiated youth group or AQ calling them the youth. Does anyone know?

It also seems like there would be an age limit on being a member of “The Youth/al-Shabab”.  Kind of like Menudo, you can’t be older than a certain age.  It would be weird to have a 50-year old leader of “The Youth”.  However, the short lifespan of al-Shabab members probably makes this a non-issue.

Somalia: Terrorism’s Dark Corner, Part 1.75

So the information keeps coming in.  Foreign Policy just released an update on their Failed States research identifying new revelations on Somalia.  Foreign Policy concurs that the existence and influence of foreign fighters in Somalia is overstated. Here’s a key quote:

Perhaps even more interesting for Somalia watchers is a June 9, 2009, cable that describes the country’s conflict as a largely clan-against-clan turf war rather than a political or ideological struggle. This explanation conflicts with other popular accounts of the crisis, which tend to focus on religious extremism combined with the potent quest for wealth and security.

As I mentioned  in Part 1 of this post, Somalia is about clan before jihad.  Only in certain locations and at certain times, which I’ll discuss in Part 2, does ideology drive action.  Survival-security trumps ideology for the most part.  Unless ideology can provide security…..more to follow.

Somalia: Terrorism’s Dark Corner, Part 1.5

I was just about to write part 2 of my Somalia post from last week when I found this story reference a Yemeni-born foreign fighter, Rabah Abu-Qalid, dying in Mogadishu fighting this past Sunday.  So here is Part 1.5.

I pondered in Part 1 why there was so little discussion of Somali-Yemeni terrorism associations in Somalia.  With the rise of AQAP, I suspected there would be greater coordination between al-Shabab and Yemeni foreign fighters.  Maybe Abu-Qalid is a symbol of this collaboration?  Has anyone seen any more reporting on this story?

As with anything Somalia, coverage is light.  However, I’m interested in any other articles discussing potential collaboration between Yemeni foreign fighters (any Middle Eastern foreign fighters) and their role in al-Shabab or other Somali groups.  More to follow in part 2……