Saturday, March 17, 2012

US-born al-Shabab fighter 'fears for life'

US-born al-Shabab fighter 'fears for life'

American Islamist fighter says in online video he may be in danger from fellow extremists over "Sharia...and strategy".

A US-born Islamist fighter viewed as a key foreign leader within Somalia's al-Shabab group has said he fears his life is now in danger from fellow extremists.

Omar Hamami, better known as Abu Mansoor al-Amriki, gave the warning in an undated video posted on several Somali websites and YouTube on Saturday.

"To whomever it may reach from the Muslims, from Abu Mansoor al-Amriki, I record this message today because I feel that my life may be endangered by Harakat Shabab al-Mujahideen due to some differences that occurred between us regarding matters of the Sharia and matters of the strategy," he said, speaking in English.

The bearded Amriki, dressed in a black robe and with a checked scarf, posed in front of the al-Shabab's black flag and beside an automatic rifle in the minute-long video, but did not provide a location.

He provided no further details about the threats or differences with other al-Shabab commanders.

The video adds weight to reports of growing divisions within the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab, who face pressure on three fronts by regional and pro-government forces. Al-Shabab aims to depose the weak, US-backed Transitional Federal Government in Somalia and impose Islamic law.

Brotherhood 'privileges'

Amriki had previously been seen as a key leader for foreign fighters in al-Shabab, alongside top Somali commanders Muktar Robow and Sheikh Hasan Dahir Aweys.

Some suggest Somali al-Shabab fighters view the foreign gunmen as a liability, even as potential spies, while missile strikes have targeted the foreign extremists.

However, al-Shabab spokesmen dismissed Amriki's concerns in messages posted Saturday on internet website Twitter.

"We assure our Muslim brothers that Al-Amriki is not endangered by the mujahideen, and our brother still enjoys all the privileges of brotherhood," they wrote.

"A formal investigation is just underway and HSM [Shabab] is still attempting to verify the authenticity as well as the motivations behind the video," the post added.

Guerrilla tactics

Alabama-born Amriki, who has reportedly been based in restive Somalia since late 2006 and is wanted by the United States on terrorism charges, has issued previous videos calling for foreign recruits, including singing rap songs praising jihad.

The Royal United Services Institution, a security think-tank, estimates that there are around 200 foreign fighters in the ranks of al-Shabab. African Union military commanders have said they have reports some are fleeing Somalia for Yemen.

Al-Shabab last month lost control of their strategic base of Baidoa to Ethiopian troops and pro-government Somali forces, the second major loss for the rebels in six months after the majority pulled out of the capital Mogadishu.

However, experts warn that al-Shabab fighters are far from defeated and remain a major threat, especially now they have switched to guerrilla tactics in many areas after leaving fixed fighting positions.

Source: Agencies

Al-Qaeda and al-Shabab: Double the trouble?

We ask what the formal merger of the two groups means for the conflict in Somalia.

Somalia's armed Islamist movement al-Shabab has joined ranks with al-Qaeda, the latter's chief Ayman al-Zawahiri has announced in a video message posted on online forums.

"Al-Shabab lost most of the domestic revenue sources they used to rely on and now there are military and political pressures coming from different sides and as a result they might need some support."

- Afyare Elmi, the author of Understanding the Somali conflagration: Identity, political Islam and peacebuilding

"I will break the good news to our Islamic nation, which will ... annoy the crusaders, and it is that the Shabab movement in Somalia has joined al-Qaeda," al-Zawahiri said in the video published on Thursday.

Al-Shabab has been battling Somalia's transitional government since 2006. Last August, the group lost control of the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

But despite their withdrawal, al-Shabab has carried out a series of deadly attacks in the capital.

The most recent of these saw 15 people killed on Wednesday in a bomb blast outside a popular cafe.

The attacks indicate that the group is resorting to tactics that more closely resemble those of a terrorist organisation. Yet, leadership and strategy remains unclear within this notoriously unpredictable group.

"Now it is formal, so the international community must now tackle al-Qaeda in Somalia. It is no longer a simple regional problem. It is a problem for the world."

- Paddy Ankunda, the spokesperson for the African Union mission in Somalia

So, what does this merger mean for the conflict in Somalia? How big a threat does al-Shabab's formal alliance with al-Qaeda pose? And how can African Union forces and the Somali government deal with the new tactics being employed by al-Shabab as it attacks soft targets in the country's capital? Is the Somali street bracing itself for a new round of bloodshed and just how severe might it be?

Joining Inside Story to discuss this are: Paddy Ankunda, a spokesperson for the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM); Afyare Elmi, a lecturer in international politics at Qatar University and the author of Understanding the Somalia conflagration: Identity, political Islam and peacebuilding; and Rohan Gunaratna, the head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research and the author of Inside al-Qaeda.

"This alliance is much more than al-Qaeda simply working together with al-Shabab. This means that the supporters, sympathisers will continue to provide assistance not only to al-Qaeda but also to al-Shabab because of this formal merger. As a result, it is very important for the international security organisations to look at al-Shabab more closely."

Rohan Gunaratna, the author of Inside al-Qaeda
Who are the al-Shabab?

Al-Shabab, which means 'the youth' in Arabic, is an armed group that grew out of other Islamist militias that have been battling Somalia's transitional government since 2006. It currently controls much of southern Somalia – with an estimated 9,000 fighters. It wants to impose a strict version of sharia. It is already considered a terrorist movement by the US. Al-Shabab leaders have claimed affiliation with al-Qaeda since 2007.

In 2009, the group released a video pledging allegiance to al-Qaeda. Osama bin Laden praised the group. In February 2010, the group admitted for the first time to having links to al-Qaeda. In July 2010, al-Shabab showed its ability to strike beyond Somalia – killing dozens of Ugandans in the Ugandan capital Kampala. Ugandan troops provide the bulk of the 9,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia.

In 2011, the Pentagon approved $45m in arms shipments to African troops fighting against al-Shabab in Somalia. In October 2011, Kenyan troops crossed into southern Somalia to hit back over a series of kidnappings it blamed on the group. In November, 2011, leaders of Kenya, Uganda and Somalia formed a regional front against al-Shabab vowing to defeat the group.

Source: Al Jazeera

Al-Shabab 'join ranks' with al-Qaeda

Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri says that Somali group has joined forces with his organisation in video posted online.

Somalia's armed Islamist movement al-Shabab has joined ranks with al-Qaeda, the latter's chief Ayman al-Zawahiri has announced in a video message posted on online forums.

"I will break the good news to our Islamic nation, which will... annoy the crusaders, and it is that the Shabab movement in Somalia has joined al-Qaeda," Zawahiri said in the video published on Thursday.

In-depth coverage of the regional political crisis
"The jihadist movement is with the grace of Allah, growing and spreading within its Muslim nation despite facing the fiercest crusade campaign in history by the West."

In the first part of the video, al-Shabab's leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubair, addressed Zawahiri, saying: "We will move along with you as faithful soldiers."

Al-Shabab controls much of southern and central Somalia and has claimed responsibility for numerous kidnappings and bombings in the country.

The group said it was behind an attack on Wednesday that killed at least 11 people and wounded 34 others in the Somali capital.

Al Jazeera's Nazanine Moshiri, reporting from Nairobi in neighbouring Kenya, said that Mogadishu was "trying to rebuild itself after the al-Shabab withdrawal ... but the attack shows al-Shabab is able to get into the city and carry out attacks of this kind".

Al-Shabab, who are fighting to overthrow a fragile Western-backed transitional government in the war-torn Horn of Africa country, first proclaimed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden in a video distributed in 2009.

While counter-terrorism experts say al-Shabab has received advice and training from some members of al Qaeda, it has tended to see itself more as an ally or affiliate than a direct outpost of the core organisation.

Al-Shabab are facing increasing pressure from government forces and regional armies.

Armies from neighbouring countries are converging on them - Kenyan forces in the south, Ethiopian soldiers in the west, and an African Union force in Mogadishu made up of 10,000 troops from Uganda, Burundi and Djibouti.

A one-day conference in London to tackle the instability in Somalia and piracy off its shores is due to be held in two weeks time.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencie

pictures: Al-Shabab controls much of southern and central Somalia but neighbouring armies are converging its bases [EPA]

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