An American-born member of Shabaab, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia, has released a propaganda tape that is aimed at recruiting Westerners to wage war against their home countries and establish an Islamic caliphate in the Middle East.
The audiotape, titled “First Stop Addis,” features Abu Mansour al Amriki and other members of Shabaab. On the tape, Mansour and three unidentified “North American Brothers,” and a Somali, sing a nasheed, or a song without music, in English, extolling the virtues of global jihad. Images of Shabaab forces in combat appear throughout the tape.
Amriki, whose real name is Omar Hammami, is a US citizen who converted to Islam and traveled to Somalia in 2006. Once in Somalia, he quickly rose through the ranks, and now serves as a military commander. Amriki also began appearing in Shabaab propaganda tapes.
“Guerilla warfare from Mogadishu presents… First Stop Addis,” Amriki’s latest tape begins. Addis is a reference to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. After Ethiopa ousted the Islamic Courts from power in Somalia during an invasion in December 2006, Shabaab began threatening to target Ethiopa.
The tape stresses that Shabaab’s war is not confined to Somalia but is global in nature. “From Somalia and Shiishaan (Chechnya), from Iraq and Afghanistan, gonna meet up in the Holy Lands, establishing Allah’s Law on the land,” Amriki says in a chorus repeated throughout the song. Amriki and others identify their enemy as the “salib,” or crusaders.
The tape is clearly aimed at recruiting Westerners. It is produced in English and uploaded onto YouTube. There are no Somali or Arabic subtitles on the tape. Amriki and the others stress that it is their duty to die in battle.
“My number one goal… die a shaheed,” or martyr, is a refrain repeated by Amriki and others throughout the tape.
Shabaab has been successful in recruiting fighters in the US and in Europe. The US believes that scores of Muslims living in the US have been recruited and trained in camps in Somalia. And Britain believes that more than 200 Muslims have departed the UK to fight alongside Shabaab in Somalia.
Two Somali-Americans are known to have carried out suicide attacks in Somalia. In October 2008, 27-year-old Shirwa Ahmed killed 29 Somalis in a suicide bombing at a United Nations checkpoint in in Northern Somalia. In September 2009, another American suicide bomber killed the deputy military commander for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and 20 others. In addition, five other Americans have died while fighting for Shabaab in Somalia.
Shabaab has also tapped into Somali expat communities in Europe. A suicide attack in Mogadishu on Dec. 3, 2009, during a graduation ceremony for medical students was carried out by a Danish citizen. The attack killed three Somali ministers as well as a doctor and dozens of medical students.
Shabaab merged with al Qaeda in November 2008 after requesting to join the international terror group in September 2008. Top al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri, and Abu Yayha al Libi have praised Shabaab in propaganda tapes and encouraged the group to carry out attacks against the Somali government, neighboring countries, and the West. In late 2009, Osama bin Laden appointed Fazul Mohammed to serve as al Qaeda’s operations chief in East Africa; the announcement was made at a ceremony in Mogadishu that was attended by Ahmad Godane Zubayr, Shabaab’s spiritual leader.
Shabaab and the sometimes allied, sometimes rival Islamist group Hizbul Islam have been relentless in attacking African Union peacekeepers and Somali government forces stationed in the capital of Mogadishu. The government and AMISOM control only a few enclaves in the city.
Outside of Mogadishu, the central government wields little control. Shabaab and Hizbul Islam currently control almost all of the southern and many of the central provinces of Lower Jubba, Middle Jubba, Lower Shabelle, Gedo, Bay, and Bakool.
The central Somali districts of Middle Shabelle, Hiran, and Galgadud are considered contested, with the government and allied Islamist groups in nominal control of some areas.
Not only do Shabaab and Hizbul Islam reject the African Union presence in Somalia, the groups also reject President Sharif and his faction of the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia – Djibouti for reconciling with the Somali government. From 2006 until early 2007, Sharif was the co-leader of the now-defunct Islamic Courts Union with Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, the leader of Hizbul Islam. Aweys has close links to al Qaeda and has been listed by the US Treasury Department as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.