The leader of an Islamist terror group widely considered to be a nationalist insurgent organization has invited al Qaeda’s top leader to Somalia.
During a press conference held in Mogadishu today, Moallim Hashi Mohamed Farah, the top leader for Hizbul Islam in Banadir province, welcomed Osama bin Laden and other foreign fighters to visit Somalia, Mareeg reported. While inviting bin Laden and jihadists from around the globe to fight alongside his forces against the UN-backed Transitional Federal Government, Farah also said the media was wrong to refer to jihadists as foreign fighters, and that the term should be used instead for African Union forces fighting alongside the Somali government.
Hizbul Islam and Shabaab are considered the two top Islamist insurgent groups in Somalia. While Shabaab is widely recognized as having close ties to al Qaeda, many counterterrorism analysts and African experts consider Hizbul Islam a domestic, nationalist insurgency with no links to foreign terror groups.
But Hizbul Islam is a radical Islamist group whose top leader has ties to al Qaeda. The group is led by Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who is wanted by the US for his links to al Qaeda. He is also on the United Nations terrorist sanctions list, again 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. The Ras Kamboni Brigade defected from Hizbul Islam earlier this year and joined Shabaab, further strengthening the latter in southern Somalia.
Although Shabaab and Hizbul Islam sought to merge forces during the summer of 2009, 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.
On multiple occasions this year, the Somali government has claimed it is preparing to retake Mogadishu, but it has yet to launch an offensive. Meanwhile, a top Shabaab leader said that his group is ready to take control of the capital to preempt an expected surge of Somali troops who have been trained in Kenya.
The latest round of fighting in Mogadishu between Islamist fighters and government forces killed 20 people, the majority of whom were civilians.