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Somalia: Al-Qaeda’s Ties with Somalia’s Insurgency

Editor’s note: This report is the first installment in a three-part series assessing the current security situation in Somalia. This assessment will focus primarily on al-Qaeda’s presence in the country, the state of the insurgency and Somalia’s ongoing piracy industry. Highlights – Leading insurgent group al-Shabaab expresses growing solidarity with al-Qaeda – Al-Shabaab has shifted from traditional insurgent guerrilla tactics to al-Qaeda-style strategies – Weakening confidence in Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government and withdrawing Ethiopian forces will increase the possibility of direct al-Qaeda involvement Al-Shabaab (“The Youth”) is a radical jihadist group that emerged as a splinter cell of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which governed much of Somalia before being ousted by Ethiopian forces in December 2006. The group was formed under the leadership of Aden Hashi Ayrow, who was killed in a United States air strike in May 2008, and who trained with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan before 2001 with the goal of toppling the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), its Ethiopian backers and turning Somalia into an Islamic state. Many key leaders of the group have received training and collaborated with al-Qaeda elements in East Africa and abroad. Al-Shabaab currently claims allegiance to al-Qaeda, though the extent to which that link exists is ambiguous. Somalia has been a safe haven for many East African al-Qaeda leaders and both al-Shabaab and the ICU have provided shelter for many al-Qaeda members in the past, including Fazul Abdullah Mohammed – the suspected mastermind of the 1998 embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya (Terrorist Attack, Terrorist Attack). The group has also begun to employ tactics similar to al-Qaeda including suicide attacks and targeting civilians. If the security situation in Somalia worsens and al-Shabaab continues to seize control of territories, it is likely that the group will promote its role as integral to the global jihadist movement and create a greater relationship with al-Qaeda in the near to mid-term. Ideological Similarities While Islamic extremists have existed in Somalia for years, al-Shabaab’s strict brand of fundamentalist Islam is unique. Much of the group’s core leadership were trained by al-Qaeda in Afghanistan during the mid-1990s and returned to Somalia in support of the organization. Al-Shabaab was established as early as 2004 as an extremist youth movement whose members provided security for ICU’s leadership, before splitting from the ICU entirely. Al Shabaab has already adopted and enforced strict adherence to Islamic law in the areas under its control, similar to the Taliban. • On October 27, 2008 a 13-year old girl accused of adultery was stoned to death in the southern port town Kismayo controlled by al-Shabaab. While al-Shabaab has previously limited its role to fighting within Somalia, its leadership has recently expressed interest in attacking Western targets, including the United States, if it succeeds in conquering Somalia. This intention follows al-Qaeda’s stated aims, which say it is fighting for “liberation” of all Muslim lands from foreign involvement. Senior leaders of the group including Turki, Sheikh Yusuf Indha’adde and Sheikh Mukhtar Robow, the group’s official spokesman, have appeared in al-Qaeda propaganda videos, while al-Qaeda leaders including Osama bin Laden and Abu Yahya al-Libi have expressed support for their “brothers waging jihad” in Somalia. Mirrored Tactics Al-Shabaab has adopted al-Qaeda tactics including the use of roadside and suicide bombings, car bombs, and multiple coordinated strikes, as well as targets not limited to military and police. Spokesman Robow confirmed this in a statement saying, “We get our tactics and guidelines from them [al-Qaeda].” The group also uses the same justification for the killing of innocent people as al-Qaeda saying victims were either guilty of collaboration with the “enemy” or were

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OODA Analyst

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