al Qaeda, Islamic Courts gather the new Somali Jihad
Zawahiri, Islamist Courts lay the groundwork for the insurgency
While the Islamic Courts repeatedly denied any connection to al Qaeda, the evidence to the contrary is overwhelming. Hassan Dahir Aweys, the 'spiritual leader' (and in fact the operational leader) of the Islamic Courts is wanted by the U.S. government for his connections with al Qaeda. Sheikh Hassan Turki bragged about al Qaeda's involvement in Somalia, and Sheikh Yusuf Indohaadde was caught on tape with 'foreign fighters'. Adan Hashi Ayro trained with al Qaeda in Afghanistan. The three wanted al Qaeda operatives behind the 1998 Kenya and Tanzania US embassy bombings were sheltered by the Islamic Court. Osama bin Laden called the Islamic Courts "our kinfolk and brother mujahidin," and several other al Qaeda leaders, including Ayman al-Zawahiri have voiced their support for the Islamist group.
After the conventional defeat of the Islamic Courts by the Ethiopians, al Qaeda, the Islamic Courts and other jihadist organizations are pushing for an insurgency in Somalia and the wider Horn of Africa. The most influencial words of support came from Ayman al-Zawahiri, in an audiotape called "Rise up and Support Your Brothers in Somalia." The audiotape was released by As Sahab, al Qaeda's media production company. Zawahiri attempts to rally the defeated jihadis and invokes the Afghan and Iraqi conflicts to hearten the faithful.
Do not be affected by the first shock [the conventional loss to the Ethiopians], it is just worthless propaganda, arrogance, and haughtiness. The real battle will begin by launching your campaigns against the Ethiopian forces with God's help and might. The faithful groups-- in their pursuit of death for the sake of God-- will devour the Crusader invading Ethiopian Army...
Zawahiri also calls on al Qaeda's international network to provide fighters and support for the Somali jihad.
I also appeal to my Muslim brethren everywhere to respond to the call for jihad in Somalia. I appeal to the lions of Islam in Yemen, the state of faith and wisdom, I appeal to my brothers the lions of Islam in the Arab Peninsula, the cradle of conquests, and I also appeal to my brothers the lions of Islam in Egypt, Sudan, the Arab Maghreb [the West, and also North Africa], and everywhere in the Muslim world to rise up to aid their Muslim brethren in Somalia through offering sacrifices, money, opinion, and expertise so as to defeat the slaves of America that it sends to death on its behalf.
The Islamic Courts are conducting their own information and influence campaign. Qaadisiya, [www.qaadisiya.com] a Somali language website run by the Islamic Courts, has begun posting statements in support of an insurgency. On January 3, Qaadisiya announced the creation of the National Resistance Front for the Liberation of Somalia, and reported that leaflets were distributed that announced the "formation of the new front, as well as contained many other points, among which were that bomb attacks would soon be started in the country and warning people to stay away from Tigrean troops [Ethiopians], and that, no matter who they were, people who worked with infidel Tigreans would suffer the same fate as them."
On January 2, Qaadisiya reposted a statement released last November that announced the creation of "'the Mujahidin of the Land of the Two Hegiras (Ethiopia)'," which "aligned themselves with Bin Ladin and Al-Qa'ida Organization and agreed to fight for the jihad until Islamic law is enforced throughout the Land of the Two Hegiras." About 75 Muslims are said to have joined the jihadi group.
Prior to the fall of Kismayo, Aweys and Sharif gave interviews to Italian dailies. Il Manifesto interviewed Sheihl Sharif Ahmed on December 31. Sharif claimed Ethiopian "air supremacy was inflicting too many losses on us and we thought of retreating and reexamining our fighting tactics. It takes time to respond to this deployment of forces. So we decided to back down, to reorganize, and to use different tactics: to organize guerrilla actions." Sharif also claimed to "control both the Higher Jubba and the Lower Jubba territory." Kismayo and the surrounding regions fell the next day, and the Ethiopian Army is pursuing the remnants of the Islamic Courts forces on the Kenyan border.
Rome L'Espresso interviewed Hasan Dahir Aweys just prior to the fall of Kismayo. Aweys attempted to rally the Islamists. "Do not lose heart, the war is not over yet," said Aweys. "I call on you to fight with every means at your disposal, even with a stick, even with propaganda. And above all, fight the TFG forces. Do not think of them as Somalis: They are traitors who have sold Somalia down the river." Aweys also implored Muslims worldwide to "come to Somalia to fight Ethiopia." This call has already been heeded. "'Dozens of foreign passports,' including several American passports," have been found "on the bodies of al Qaeda fighters" killed in Somalia. "Most of the foreign passports were Sudanese, Pakistani and Yemeni, but several American, British and Australian passports were also recovered," reports Alexis Debat.
Voice of America reports the Islamic Courts may form insurgent cells under the banner of Shaabab, a youth group that provided fighters to the Islamist militias. Shaabab was founded by Adan Hashi Ayro, and is believed to have been made up of 1,000 Somalis. VOA interviewed 'Hassan,' a Shaabab member, who said "he would do all of the other things he was trained to do, such as constructing and planting roadside bombs and launching hit-and-run attacks. He says he and other members of the Shaabab would not stop until all Ethiopians left Somalia." The Associated Press quoted other Islamic Courts fighters who indicated they would continue the fight and follow al Qaeda's direction.
The Islamic Courts and al Qaeda are pressing hard in the information sphere to lay the groundwork for and insurgency. It is vital the Somali government quickly restore order while subsequently eliminating the leadership of the Islamic Courts. The International Contact Group on Somalia is working to secure funding and peace keepers for the Somali government, and the United States is donating $40 million for troops and reconstruction. Uganda has upped its commitment of peace keepers to 2,000 troops. The semi-autonomous Somali state of Puntland is sending up to 1,000 troops to restore order in Mogadishu and disarm the militias. AFP reported the U.S. is providing intelligence to Ethiopian troops hunting the Islamic Courts on the Kenyan border. The helicopter incident inside the Kenya border was directed at "three off-road vehicles [the Kenyan government] strongly believed to be carrying the Islamist leaders,"
See The Rise & Fall of Somalia's Islamic Courts: An Online History for additional information on Somalia.