Hizbul Islam faction in southern Somalia defects to Shabaab


Image of a Shabaab fighter from the terror group’s website.

An important Hizbul Islam faction in southern Somalia has broken away from the group and joined forces with al Qaeda-linked Shabaab.

The leader of Hizbul Islam forces in the town of Beledweyne, the provincial capital of Hiran, declared his allegiance to Shabaab during a “landmark ceremony,” Garowe reported.

“We are hereby declaring our resolve to unite with our fellow jihadists (holy warriors) in this strategic Hiran region,” Sheikh Abdulkadir Haji Ahmed told a crowd in Beledweyne. “Unity is certain to arouse strength. I am an elder and the sheikh of Hizbul Islam in this territory and I am leading you to unite with your fellow jihadists.”

The town of Beledweyne is currently under Islamist control, although it has changed hands multiple times with Eithiopian and Somali forces. Before the merger, Shabaab and Hizbul Islam had previously split the city in half and fought together against the weak, UN and African Union-backed Transitional Federal Government. Beledweyne sits at a major crossroads that connects southern Somalia with the northern autonomous regions of Puntland and Somaliland.

The defection of the Beledweyne faction from Hizbul Islam is the latest blow to the Islamist group, and another major victory for its rival, Shabaab. In February 2010, the Ras Kamboni Brigade, one of four major groups that make up Hizbul Islam, split off and pledged allegiance to Shabaab and al Qaeda. Hassan Turki, the leader of the Ras Kamboni Brigade, confirmed the merger with Shabaab and said he made the decision to aid in “the unification of all Mujahidins and Muslims.”

The split angered some in Hizbul Islam. Just days after Turki’s announcement, Bare Ali Bare, a deputy commander of the Ras Kamboni Brigade, denied reports that his group had joined Shabaab.

Shabaab quickly silenced Bare by executing him in early March at the Bakara market in central Mogadishu. No person has since stepped forward to deny that the Ras Kamboni Brigade has joined Shabaab.

Shortly thereafter, Hizbul Islam responded by assassinating Sheik Da’ud Ali Hassan, the leader of the Ras Kamboni Brigade in the southern town of Dhobley. Hizbul Islam may also have been behind an assassination attempt on May 1 against Sheik Fuad Mohammed Khalaf, a top military commander of al Qaeda-linked Shabaab in Mogadishu, in which dual blasts killed 40 people at a mosque in the Bakara market in Mogadishu.

Hizbul Islam is a radical Islamist group that is led by Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who is wanted by the US for his ties to al Qaeda. Aweys co-led the Islamic Courts in 2006 until the group was ousted from power during the Ethiopian invasion in December 2006. Last September, Aweys advocated for more suicide attacks in the country, just days after suicide bombers struck an African Union base in Mogadishu.

Hizbul Islam was created in January 2009 with the merger of four separate Islamic groups: Aweys’ Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia-Eritrea; the Ras Kamboni Brigade; Jabhatul Islamiya (the Islamic Front); and Anole.

Hizbul Islam has competed for the attention of top al Qaeda leaders. In April, a top Hizbul Islam leader and spokesman welcomed Osama bin Laden and other foreign fighters to Somalia and asked them to fight against African Union and Somali forces.

Although Shabaab and Hizbul Islam sought to merge forces during the summer of 2009, the alliance was frayed by local disputes between factions of the two organizations. Relations between Shabaab and Hizbul Islam worsened after the groups began to battle in the southern city of Kismayo over control of the port.

Clashes between Shabaab and Hizbul Islam have persisted in southern Somalia, but Shabaab has had the upper hand. Despite the intra-Islamist fighting, the weak Transitional Federal Government, backed by thousands of African Union peacekeepers, controls only small enclaves within the capital of Mogadishu, and little else. A pro-government Sufi Islamist militia called Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama’a controls some regions in central Somalia and often clashes with Shabaab and Hizbul Islam.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • crusader says:

    they seem very much like the T and AQ. they are africans fighting a sordid war in the name of religion.
    if AQ is hiding here would the us military invade somalia like it did in afghanistan to find those responsible for lets say future civilaian attacks on american soil?
    i heard some special operation took place in somalia and of course outside its coastline. the pirates do not seem to be part of islamic insurgents or are they?
    will the us military engage on somalian soil anytime soon?

  • Odessa says:

    Crusader you sound worried?

  • crusader says:

    yeah for the us to do a major military operation against insurgents would be a real waste.
    i just think that yemen and somalia will be the new havens for jihadist to spawn from…

  • KaneKaizer says:

    At this rate Somalia is going to be an AQ state a year from now unless Ethiopia goes back in. At least in Afghanistan we still have a shot at turning things around however small, but Somalia is pretty much doomed.

  • ArneFufkin says:

    Unfortunately, we’ve long ceded the Somalia debacle to the spectacularly impotent and corrupt African Union. That continent is an absolute total mess and the AU is Exhibit A.
    One wonders why we ever constituted an African Command. Located in Germany.

  • Rhyno327 says:

    I think Somalia is a place where its Jihad Central, and that means free fire zone. This is WHY there is an AFRICOM, plus the billions in rescources. No way will there be an Iraq like op here, its target, kill, capture. A place where a Spectre gunship can really unload. A place for Spec Ops, not any “invasion”

  • crusader says:

    somalia is definitely a jihadist central, no question about it. AQ is an organization that have their headquarters in any country in disarray. if they don’t know about any they quickly reconnoiter for one suitable and set up shop there.
    what will happen when all the jihadist decide to take a pirate sloap evac to the new jihadist haven and start to organize things there? somalia might be like afghanistan was for AQ before the invasion.
    from what i understand its a civil war that where the radical islamist insurgents control most of the country and its just a question of time before they impose an islamic state just like in afghanistan.
    the insurgents are not an irritating fly they are soon the masters of somalia, a tactically important area close to the arabian peninsula.

  • Zeissa says:

    One faction to rule them all, and in the darkness bind them.


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