The newly formed Somali government is in danger of being ousted from its remaining strongholds in Mogadishu and central Somalia as Shabaab and Hizbul Islam took control of a key city.
Shabaab and Hizbul Islam seized the central town of Jowhar in Hiran province after several days of fighting with the pro-government Islamic Courts. Dozens civilians and fighters from both sides were killed as the rival Islamist groups battled for control of the region.
Shabaab, or the Somali Youth Movement, is an al Qaeda-backed Islamic terror group that has lobbied to join the international terrorist organization. Hizbul Islam was created in January of this year. The group was created by the merger of four separate Islamic groups: Hassan Aweys’ Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia-Eritrea, Jabhatul Islamiya (the Islamic Front), Mu’askar Ras Kamboni (the Ras Kamboni Brigade), and Anole. Hizbul Islam was led by Sheik Omar Iman Abu Bakar but was ousted by Aweys for being too moderate.
Shabaab is also battling the pro-government Ahlu Sunna Waljama Islamist militia in the towns of Wabho and Mahas in the central province of Galgadud. Wabho is described as a “military town” by local villagers. More than two dozen people are reported to have been wounded during the heavy fighting.
In Mogadishu, the Islamic Courts and the government security forces have been under attack by Shabaab and Hizbul Islam fighters. More than 150 civilians and fighters from all sides have been reported killed during heavy battles.
More anti-government Islamist forces are being sent to Mogadishu and thrown into the battle, according to Garowe Online. Sheikh Hassan Turki, the commander of the Ras Kamboni Brigade, is reported to have led an “armed convoy” of his fighters into the capital.
Turki was a senior leader in the Islamic Courts prior to its defeat at the hands of the Ethiopians in late 2006, as well as its predecessor, al Itihaad al Islamiyah. Turki operates military and terrorist training camps in southern Somalia and was likely the target of a US airstrike in March 2008.
Somali Government suffers setbacks despite reconciliation
The Somali government has suffered major setbacks since the Djibouti wing of the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia, an offshoot of the Islamic Courts led by Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, reconciled with the defeated Transitional Federal Government in late January 2009. Sharif joined the government following the withdrawal of Ethiopian forces after a two-year occupation.
Ahmed was named president of Somalia and has since attempted to reconcile with the Asmara wing of the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia, led by Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, an al Qaeda ally and a designated terrorist, and Hizbul Islam. Ahmed also lobbied for sharia, or Islamic Law, to be imposed. The Somali parliament passed the sharia bill into law this month.
But Shabaab and Hizbul Islam rejected offers to join the government and branded Ahmed and other Islamic Courts leaders as apostates and tools of the West. On May 14, the normally reclusive Shabaab leader Sheikh Muktar Abdirahman released an 11-minute audiotape railing against the government.
“The so-called government cannot be described as an Islamic government, because it was created to destroy Islamists in Somalia,” Sheikh Muktar said, according to Garowe Online. “The so-called President flew to Addis Ababa [capital of Ethiopia] immediately after he was elected to ask for advice and troops to fight against what he calls ‘extremists’ in Somalia.”
Shabaab and Hizbul Islam have continued to attack government forces and allied groups such as the Islamic Courts and the Ahlu Sunna Waljama throughout central Somalia and in Mogadishu.
Shabaab and Hizbul Islam currently control all of the southern and many of the central provinces of Lower Jubba, Middle Jubba, Lower Shabelle, Gedo, Bay, and Bakool, as well as much of Mogadishu, where the government controls only “very little territory in Mogadishu,” Garowe Online reported. Shabelle said the Somalia government “controls a few blocks in Mogadishu.”
The central districts of Middle Shabelle, Hiran and Galgadud are considered contested, with the government and allied Islamist groups in nominal control of some areas.
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