Shabaab absorbs southern Islamist group, splits Hizbul Islam
A radical Islamist terror group operating in southern Somalia has severed its ties to Hizbul Islam, joined Shabaab, and pledged loyalty to al Qaeda.
The Ras Kamboni Brigade released a statement last Friday announcing that it has merged with al Qaeda's affiliate in Somalia and joined "the international jihad of al Qaeda." The statement was signed by Sheikh Hassan Turki, the founder and leader of the Ras Kamboni Brigade, and Ahmed Abdi Godane, the spiritual leader of Shabaab.
"We have agreed to join the international jihad of al Qaeda," the two groups announced in the joint statement, a portion of which was published by Reuters. "We have also agreed to unite al Shabaab and Kamboni mujahideen to liberate the Eastern and Horn of Africa community who are under the feet of minority Christians."
"We have united to revive the military strength, economy and politics of our mujahideen to stop the war created by the colonizers, and to prevent the attacks of the Christians who invaded our country."
The Ras Kamboni Brigade was founded by Turki, a former senior leader in the Islamic Courts and its predecessor, al Itihaad al Islamiyah. The Ras Kamboni Brigade is estimated to have between 500 and 1,000 fighters in its ranks, US intelligence officials familiar with the security situation in Somalia told The Long War Journal.
Turki operates terrorist training camps in southern Somalia and was likely the target of a US airstrike in March 2008. He is known to train suicide bombers in camps that are dotted along the southern border with Kenya.
The Ras Kamboni Brigade's defection from the Hizbul Islam alliance is a blow to the latter group. Hizbul Islam is a radical Islamist group which is led by Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who is wanted by the US for his ties to al Qaeda. Aweys co-led the Islamic Courts in 2006 until the group was ousted from power during the Ethiopian invasion in December 2006. Last September, Aweys advocated for more suicide attacks in the country, just days after suicide bombers struck an African Union base in Mogadishu.
Hizbul Islam was created in January 2009 with the merger of four separate Islamic groups: Aweys' Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia-Eritrea; the Ras Kamboni Brigade; Jabhatul Islamiya (the Islamic Front); and Anole.
Although Shabaab and Hizbul Islam sought to merge forces last summer, the alliance was frayed by local disputes between factions of the two organizations. Relations between Shabaab and Hizbul Islam worsened after the groups began to battle in Kismayo over control of the southern port city.
Clashes between Shabaab and Hizbul Islam have persisted in southern Somalia, but Shabaab has had the upper hand. Despite the intra-Islamist fighting, the weak Transitional Federal Government, backed by thousands of African Union peacekeepers, controls only small enclaves within the capital of Mogadishu, and little else. A pro-government Sufi Islamist militia called Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama'a controls some regions in central Somalia and often clashes with Shabaab and Hizbul Islam.