Image of Osama bin Laden from his latest audio presentation on Somalia.
Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden praised the efforts of Somali jihadi groups battling the new government and called for the overthrow of the new president.
Bin Laden’s latest message, an audio recording with his image superimposed on a map of Somalia, is titled “Fight On, Champions of Somalia” and is exclusively devoted to the Somali jihad. The recording is the third al Qaeda message by senior leaders since Feb. 13 specifically addressing Somalia, indicating the importance of this theater to the terror group.
Bin Laden described the fight in Somalia as “a war between Islam and the international Crusade,” according to a translation from the NEFA Foundation. He claimed that the West “deputized Ethiopia” to fight against the Somali Islamists, a reference to the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in December 2006 to oust the al Qaeda-backed Islamic Courts Union, and the subsequent occupation which ended in February 2009.
He continued: “[T]hey and those who appointed them were exhausted by your blessed jihad” and “resorted to subterfuge and deception” by co-opting Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the former leader of the Islamic Courts. In actuality, Ahmed split with his co-leader and al Qaeda ally Hassan Dahir Aweys after the Somali insurgency intensified.
Ahmed sought to form a unity government with the UN- and Ethiopia-backed Transitional Federal Government, while Aweys wanted to expel the Ethiopians through force and install an Islamist regime. Ahmed and his faction of the Islamic Courts, known as the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia – Djibouti, joined the transitional government at the end of January of this year. Ahmed was named president by the new Somali parliament.
Bin Laden described Ahmed and other Muslim leaders cooperating with the West as “the surrogates of our enemies” who have no standing in the Islamic world, have abandoned their faith, and must be overthrown. “Their authority is null and void in the first place, and as [Sheikh Sharif Ahmed] is one of them, he must be dethroned and fought,” bin Laden said. He described Ahmed as an “infidel” who “must be removed by armed force” as he would not impose sharia, or Islamic law, in Somalia as promised as he was “installed to demolish” it.
Bin Laden then praised Shabaab and other Islamist groups, which he called “the honest sons of Somalia.” He described the Somali jihadists as “one of the important armies in the Mujahid Islamic battalion, and are the first line of defense for the Islamic world in its southwestern part.”
“Your patience and resolve supports your brothers in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Islamic Maghreb [Algeria and North Africa], Pakistan, and the rest of the fields of Jihad,” bin Laden said. He also implored the Muslim world to back the Somali jihad. “The victory of the Mujahideen in Somalia is a matter of extreme importance, and not backing them nor taking their hand is extremely dangerous,” he finished.
Somali jihad at forefront of al Qaeda’s propaganda campaign
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.
“Aim your arrows towards them…, direct your battles against them and intensify your campaign against them,” Libi, who escaped from Afghanistan’s Bagram prison in 2005, said according to a Reuters translation. “Prepare to fight against the campaign of conspiracies illustrated by the recent farcical presidential election …, which America — the world leader of infidels — was the first to welcome,” Libi said.
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.
Zawahiri described the capture of Baidoa and the takeover of much of southern and central Somalia as “a step on the path of the victory of Islam, the empowerment of Muslims, and the expulsion of the invaders of their land.”
“It is the expansion of the influence of the Mujahideen in Somalia, the spreading of the authority of sharia [Islamic law], and the expulsion of the invaders — the enemies of the Islam and their agents — from broad regions of Somalia, foremost among which are the city of Baidoa,” he continued. “This city used to host the headquarters of the American-affiliated transitional government.”
Zawahiri said the “mujahideen” will continue to fight President Sharif Ahmed’s government. “They — with God’s help — won’t lay down their weapons until the State of Islam comes to light; and that they will engage in Jihad against the American-made government in the same way they engaged in Jihad against the Ethiopians and the warlords before them,” Zawahiri said.
Al Qaeda has consistently backed the jihad front in Somalia through funding, personnel, and weapons. Several senior al Qaeda operatives are members of Shabaab. The group has conducted multiple suicide attacks in Somalia and has vowed to continue to strike at African Union peacekeepers.
In September of 2008 Shabaab formally reached out to al Qaeda 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 features Kenyan al Qaeda operative Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, who is wanted by the U.S. Government for his involvement in the 1998 African embassy attacks and 2002 Mombasa attacks. Shabaab is formally seeking to join al Qaeda.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.