Shabaab leader admits links to al Qaeda


Sheik Hassan Yacquub Ali, Shabaab's spokesman in Kismayo.

A senior leader of the radical Islamist group Shabaab in the southern city of Kismayo has welcomed Osama bin Laden's call to overthrow the government of President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, and also said Shabaab would maintain its contacts with al Qaeda.

Sheik Hassan Yacquub Ali, the Information Minister for the Shabaab-controlled administration in Kismayo, said bin Laden's latest message was proof that al Qaeda and other Islamist groups continue to support the Islamist groups in Somalia, Shabelle reported. Yacquub made the statements during a press conference in southern Somalia.

Bin Laden released an audiotape late last week where he urged Shabaab and other Islamist groups in Somalia to overthrow President Ahmed, who was described as an "infidel." Bin Laden called Ahmed and other Muslim leaders cooperating with the West "the surrogates of our enemies" a who "must be removed by armed force."

Yacquub also chastised Sheihk Hassan Dahir Aweys for rejecting bin Laden's latest tape and said it was not helpful to oppose bin Laden's message.

"Somalia knows [its] future and who can involve, but it is not something for Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda either," Aweys reportedly told an Arabic television station last week. Aweys is the leader of the anti-government Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia-Eritrea and has direct links to al Qaeda.

Al Qaeda has devoted considerable propaganda resources to Somalia over the past two months. Bin Laden's tape is the third message from al Qaeda's senior leadership since Feb. 13.

Abu Yahya al Libi, a senior al Qaeda spokesman and religious and ideological leader, called for Somalis to fight the Ahmed government, in a video released on Feb. 13.

Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda's second in command, praised Shabaab for the capture of Baidoa, the former seat of the Transitional Federal Government parliament, during a videotape released at the end of February.

Shabaab's longtime links to al Qaeda

The senior leaders of Shabaab have had close ties to al Qaeda for years, and Shabaab and its predecessor have been al Qaeda affiliates in all but name.

Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, Aden Hashi Ayro, and Hassan Turki have trained in al Qaeda camps during the 1990s.

Ayro was the leader of Shabaab before he was killed in a US airstrike on May 1, 2008. Turki continues to serve as a military commander and senior trainer for the terror group. Turki currently commands the Shabaab-linked Ras Kamboni Brigade, one of four groups in the Hizbul Islam alliance. Aweys, the former leader of the Islamic Courts, was identified by the US Department of State as a Specially Designated Global Terrorists in November 2001. Aweys participated in the infamous "Black Hawk Down" incident in Mogadishu in 1993.

Shabaab spokesman and military commander Sheikh Mukhtar Robow admitted that many Shabaab leader have trained with and take instruction from al Qaeda. "Most of our leaders were trained in Al Qaeda camps," Robow told The Los Angeles Times last August. "We get our tactics and guidelines from them," he continued. "Many have spent time with Osama bin Laden."

Robow admitted Shabaab formally seeks to merge with al Qaeda. "We are negotiating how we can unite into one," Robow said, told The Los Angeles Times. "We will take our orders from Sheik Osama bin Laden because we are his students. Al Qaeda is the mother of the holy war in Somalia."

Robow, Turki, Sheikh Yusuf Indha'adde, have appeared on al Qaeda propaganda tapes training and fighting with foreign fighters. Both Turki and Indha'adde admitted to foreign al Qaeda involvement in Somalia in the summer of 2006. Indha'adde served as the defense minister for the Islamic Courts prior to its fall in 2007 and is currently a Shabaab commander in Mogadishu.

Shabaab and the Islamic Courts have been sheltering of three senior al Qaeda operatives behind the 1998 attack on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, and Abu Taha al Sudani have sought shelter with both Shabaab and the Islamic Courts.

Fazul served as the intelligence chief for the Islamic Courts and is believed to hold the same portfolio for Shabaab. The US has targeted Fazul, Sudani, and Nabhan in multiple strikes in late 2007 and 2008. Sudani was killed during fighting in early 2007.

Recently, the US Treasury Department applied financial and travel sanctions on three top leaders of Shabaab. The sanctions target Shabaab founder and emir Ahmed Abdi Aw Mohamed, recruiter Issa Osman Issa, and Robow.

Al Qaeda has helped produced propaganda for the Islamic Courts and Shabaab and has even praised the group in its own propaganda tapes years ago. Osama bin Laden endorsed the Islamic Courts during a speech back in 2006. "We will continue, God willing, to fight you and your allies everywhere, in Iraq and Afghanistan and in Somalia and Sudan until we waste all your money and kill your men and you will return to your country in defeat as we defeated you before in Somalia," bin Laden said.

In September of 2008, Shabaab formally reached out to al Qaeda's senior leadership in an effort to better integrate with the network and its strategic nodes across Africa and the Middle East. The effort came in the form of a 24-minute video that featured Nabhan.

In the tape, Nabhan declared an oath of bayat (loyalty) on behalf of Shabaab to bin Laden and al Qaeda and encouraged fighters to train in Shabaab-run camps and participate in the fight against the transitional federal government, Ethiopian forces, and African Union peacekeepers.

The response to Shabaab's declaration came on Nov. 19 when al Qaeda operations chief Ayman al-Zawahiri acknowledged the group in a propaganda video by calling them "my brothers, the lions of Islam in Somalia."

"(R)ejoice in victory and conquest," Zawahiri said in an official transcript acquired by The Long War Journal, "and hold tightly to the truth for which you have given your lives, and don't put down your weapons before the Mujahid state of Islam and Tawheed (oneness with god) has been set up in Somalia."

For background on the Islamic Courts and their time in power, see The Rise & Fall of Somalia's Islamic Courts: An Online History.


READER COMMENTS: "Shabaab leader admits links to al Qaeda"

Posted by Neo at March 22, 2009 8:48 PM ET:

Whisperer - I sure wish the local Mujahadeen were "busy driving Al Qaeda out." So far only the Iraqi Awakening movement and the long Tajik resistance to the Taliban match your description. Now if we could only get some of the rest to stop pledging allegiance to Al Qaeda.

Posted by Somali at March 22, 2009 9:24 PM ET:

The only reason we are hearing of this link between Al qaeda and Shabaab is because the latter are getting more and more desperate. The only reason some Somalis might have supported them in the past is because of the Ethiopian occupation, but now since their only claim of legitimacy is gone, the Somalis will begin to tire of their foreign ideology and harshness. Already the new administration has stated that they will adhere to Islamic law in their establishment of a legal code, so Shabaab has no real reason to continue fighting. Eventually, Shabaab will be defeated because no one can rule the Somalis, not even the Somalis themselves have managed that. The only thing that might complicate this situation is if foreign troops are re-deployed to Somalia, thus giving Shabaab a new excuse to continue its attacks.

Posted by Neo at March 22, 2009 10:22 PM ET:

The word here is "continuity". Islamists in Somalia have had an ongoing continuous relationship with Al Qaeda since 1993. This relationship that started in the early 90's was very much in evidence during the summer of 2006 when militants associated with Islamic courts were poised to strike at the Somali-Ethiopian border. The strength of this relationship through the years directly reflects the amount of attention and support Al Qaeda has given to local militant groups. During the spring and summer of 2006 Al Qaeda was giving renewed attention to its efforts in Somalia, causing the UN backed government to flee toward the Ethiopian boarder, a situation much like now.

Critics contend that it was the US that instigated the current round of Islamist backlash by encouraging an Ethiopian invasion in the summer of 2006. Oddly, this criticism has cause and effect precisely backwards. It was Al Qaeda's aggressive increase in activity and support through the Islamic courts that alarmed Ethiopia and the US. Aggressive advances toward the Ethiopian boarder and aggressive advances elsewhere on the Horn of Africa could no longer be ignored and prompted the US aided Ethiopian invasion.

Whatever the initial success the Ethiopian invasion, it was doomed by the fact that there were never anywhere near the number of troops nor the quality of troops needed to pacify southern Somalia. In 2006 the US had neither the political will, nor the troops to directly influence Somalia either. We played the Ethiopian proxy and bought ourselves and the Ethiopians a few years time. It was not ideal, but still a definite setback for Al Qaeda.

I fully expect policy critics will still point to aggressive US policy as the underlying cause for all problems, Somalia and elsewhere. Unfortunately having a debate with leftist policy critics on these issues is a bit like arguing with a duck. The invariable response will be some variation of "quack".

By the way, that last comment is not directed at others here. It is directed at members of the policy and journalism profession that have been singing the same song about US policy since the Korean War whether it applies or not. Frankly, we do create many of our own problems but that is not the only story and neither is it the overriding story. Our own ambitions can sometimes be our worst enemy, but getting in the way of the often outrageous ambitions of others has also earned us endless enemies. Al Qaeda has BIG ambitions.

Posted by trac at March 22, 2009 11:31 PM ET:

Neo, I like your analysis of talking(arguing) foreign policy with a liberal. Very aptly put!

Posted by David M at March 23, 2009 10:54 AM ET:

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 03/23/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.