Less than one week after Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane was killed in an American airstrike in Somalia, the group has named a new emir and reaffirmed its allegiance to al Qaeda.
Shabaab has selected Sheikh Ahmad Umar, also known as Abu Ubaidah, to serve as Godane’s successor, according to a statement issued by the group.
“The leadership also renews its pledge of allegiance to al Qaeda and its leader, Sheikh Ayman al Zawahiri, may Allah protect him,” the statement reads, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group.
As expected, Shabaab heaps praise on Godane. The group, which is a formal branch of al Qaeda, sends its condolences to the Muslim community, as well as Taliban leader Mullah Omar and Zawahiri “regarding the martyrdom of their son, the noble knight, the scholar, the military general, the leader and founder of” Shabaab.
According to SITE’s translation, Shabaab refers to Mullah Omar as the “commander of the faithful,” a title usually used to reference the leader of an Islamic caliphate, or caliph. Other al Qaeda leaders, including Zawahiri, address Omar in the same manner. The title is also rendered as the “emir of the believers.”
Al Qaeda announced the creation of a new branch, al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), this week. Al Qaeda referred to Mullah Omar as the “emir of the believers” in that announcement and also said that AQIS serves the Taliban leader and his Islamic emirate, or nation. And, in July, al Qaeda’s senior leadership renewed their allegiance to Mullah Omar, “confirming that al Qaeda and its branches everywhere are soldiers among his soldiers.”
The Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot, declared in late June that it now rules over a caliphate stretching across parts of Iraq and Syria. The group’s emir, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, is now called “Caliph Ibrahim” and his supporters use the same title for him that al Qaeda uses to describe Mullah Omar. Indeed, al Qaeda’s decision to renew its oath to Mullah Omar as the “emir of the believers” was likely part of its response to the Islamic State’s claims.
Shabaab portrays Godane as being one in a long list of jihadist “martyrs” and vows that the group’s fight will continue. Among the other deceased jihadists listed in Shabaab’s statement are Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al Zarqawi (the first leader of al Qaeda in Iraq), Abu Umar al Baghdadi (the first named emir of the Islamic State of Iraq), Mullah Dadullah (a Taliban commander who worked closely with al Qaeda), Baitullah Mehsud (the Pakistani Taliban commander), Doku Umarov (who led the Islamic Caucasus Emirate), and Said al Shihri (the deputy commander of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula).
Shabaab says that just as the deaths of these leaders did not end their organizations, neither will Godane’s death end Shabaab’s jihad. By listing these fallen jihadists, Shabaab is clearly portraying itself as part of the global jihad. Indeed, according to SITE’s translation, the group says that the supposedly “ruthless and oppressive onslaughts” waged by the “Crusaders, Zionists,” and Shiites “in our lands and the lands of Palestine, Iraq, Sham [the Levant], Afghanistan, the Arabian Peninsula, the Islamic Maghreb, Chechnya and elsewhere has only further inflamed the passion for jihad in the hearts of the Muslim youth across the globe.”
Al Qaeda’s senior leadership and Shabaab long tried to hide their relationship. One of the documents captured in the raid on bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan showed that the al Qaeda master told Godane to hide the ties between their two groups. The document confirmed earlier reporting by The Long War Journal, which revealed the order in August 2010.
After hiding the extent of their relationship for years, Shabaab formally merged with al Qaeda in February 2012. And now the group has reaffirmed its loyalty to Zawahiri and al Qaeda’s senior leadership in the wake of Godane’s death.