Somali Islamist group formally declares allegiance to Shabaab, al Qaeda
A senior Islamist commander and weapons smuggler in northern Somalia who has long been tied to Shabaab has officially declared allegiance to the terror group and al Qaeda.
The merger was confirmed by Shabaab at its official Twitter account, HSM Press Office [Harakat Al Shabaab Al Mujahideen Press Office], as well as with a radio statement by a senior Islamist leader from the semi-autonomous region of Puntland in northern Somalia.
"Following the London Conference, the Mujahideen in Galgala area of Puntland have officially become part of Harakat Al-Shabaab Al Mujahideen," the first tweet from HSM Press Office declared.
"The Mujahideen in Northern #Somalia have now formally pledged allegiance to Sh. Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, Emir of Harakat Al-Shabaab Al Mujahideen," it continued.
"Apart from reigning over the Golis Mountain range, Mujahideen control several towns/villages surrounding Bosaaso, commercial hub of Puntland," HSM Press Office said.
"The Mujahideen of Somalia now dominate the vast stretch of mountainous terrains of the North as well as the fertile plains of the South," HSM Press Office boasted, while ignoring the fact that Shabaab fighters abandoned the strategic western city of Baidoa to advancing Ethiopian and Somali troops just this week.
HSM Press Office's announcement was paired with a statement from a spokesman for Sheikh Mohammed Said Atom, who leads a large group of Islamist fighters in Puntland. Yasin Khalid Osman 'Yasin Kilwe,' who leads a group of fighters under Atom and serves as his spokesman, said the group "joined" with Shabaab and welcomed the merger with al Qaeda, according to Somalia Report. Osman's statement was broadcast on Al-Andalus, Shabaab's official radio station.
"I swear allegiance and adherence to the Amir of Harakat Shabab al Mujahidin Sheikh Muktar Abu Zubayr," said Osman, who described himself as the "Emir of the mujahidin in Golis mountains." Osman
"I want to praise God for the unity of our Shabaab brothers with al Qaeda fighters," Osman continued, according to Somalia Report. "This is a great victory for the all mujahideen in the world, marking the unity of Muslim jihadists in the world for the first time in recent years. I want to declare today that we are joined with our al Shabaab brothers who are devoted to the Jihad in Somalia. On behalf of the mujahideen fighters in Galgala mountains, I want to confirm to you that we shall obey the orders of the leader of the Shabaab mujahideen, Sheikh Muktar Abu Zubayr who will also be our leader."
Osman also said that for the northern Somali jihadists, "this is the first step toward the start of proper solidarity with all Muslim jihadists in the world."
Atom's pledge of fealty takes place just two weeks after Shabaab announced its official merger with a Qaeda. The two terror groups have been intricately linked for years, and the announcement of the merger was merely the formal acknowledgment of the ties between the two groups. Several days later, the Muslim Youth Center in Kenya announced its merger with Shabaab and al Qaeda East Africa.
UN links Atom to Shabaab
Both Shabaab and Atom have previously denied the two were linked, even though Atom is known to have cooperated with the Somali terror group and has espoused its ideology.
But the United Nations has said that Atom and Shabaab have been linked for years. In early 2010, the United Nations identified Atom as "one of the principal suppliers of arms and ammunition for Al Shabaab operations in the Puntland region."
"Atom is aligned with Al Shabaab and may receive instructions from Al Shabaab leader Fu'aad Mohamed Khalaf," the UN report continued. The UN linked Atom to the Feb. 5, 2008, bombing in Bosaso that killed 20 Ethiopian migrant workers and wounded more than 100. Shabaab has declared war on Ethiopia and has attacked Ethiopian troops and interests throughout the country.
Shabaab has successfully carried out terror attacks in the relatively peaceful Somali north in the past. On Oct. 29, 2008, five Shabaab suicide bombers struck four compounds in Somaliland and Puntland, killing 28 and wounding scores. Three suicide car bombers struck the presidential palace, the UN Development Program compound, and the Ethiopian Consulate in the city of Hargeisa in Somaliland. And in Bosaso, two bombers targeted an intelligence facility.
Atom's forces have openly clashed with Puntland security forces in the past. In July and August 2010, Puntland troops claimed to have killed dozens of Atom's forces during heavy fighting in the Galgala Mountains region. Local Puntland officials said Atom's bases in the mountainous region in the province of Sanaag are "like Tora Bora in Afghanistan," the cave complexes and training camps in eastern Afghanistan used by Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda during fighting with US forces in 2002.
More recently, on Feb. 15, one of Atom's spokesmen claimed his forces killed 15 Puntland troops in Sugare north of Bosaso. Atom's brother, Ahmed Saeed Mohamed, was captured by Puntland security forces two days prior in the Golis Mountains.