Shabaab denies top leader granted interview

Shabaab has denied that one of its top leaders granted an interview with Somalia Report, a news website that focuses on events in Somalia. The denial takes place just two days after Somalia Report retracted a fictitious interview with Somalia’s prime minister, and months after the website published false reports of US drone strikes in the country.

Al Qaeda’s affiliate in East Africa said that a purported interview with Sheikh Abu Mansur Robow that was published two days ago by Somalia Report is “entirely fictitious.” In statements made today on its Twitter account, HSM Press Office (or Harakat Al-Shabaab Al Mujahideen), Shabaab denied the authenticity of the purported interview. The Long War Journal had inquired with HSM Press Office about the validity of the interview on March 27.

“Renowned for fabricating news, SomaliaReport now alleges to have ‘obtained a rare, exclusive telephone interview’ with Sh. Robow 2 days ago,” Shabaab said in its first tweet about the interview.

“Neither has Sheikh Abu Mansur Robow nor anyone from HSM, at any point in time, given an interview or spoken to anyone from SomaliaReport,” Shabaab continued. “All interviews allegedly conducted with Sh. Robow are entirely fictitious & do not in any way represent the views and opinions of the Sheikh,” Shabaab concluded.

The suspect interview with Robow claimed to cover a variety of areas, including Shabaab’s recent withdrawal from several cities, the controversy over a statement by American Shabaab commander Omar Hammami and his alleged arrest, negotiations with the government, and Robow’s disagreements with Shabaab’s emir, Sheikh Muktar Abu Zubayr Godane.

Several Somali officials contacted by The Long War Journal had expressed skepticism over the validity of the interview.

“I strongly believe that this is yet another bogus interview claimed usually by foreign media outlets to have conducted with top Shabaab leaders including their Amir Sheikh Muqtar Abu Zubayr,” one Somali intelligence official told The Long War Journal the day the interview was published.

Mr. Abdulkadir Wa’ays, the former Somali researcher for the United Nations Security Council and a leading authority on Shabaab, told The Long War Journal that many media outlets are often manipulated by factions inside Somalia.

“I believe that the founder of Somalia Report, Canadian journalist Robert Young Pelton, created it in good faith but I think his project may have fallen victim to the graveyard of all the good intentions in Somalia,” Wa’ays said.

“Over the past years there has been a misleading campaign of bogus reports alleging that Shabaab has been teetering on the brink of a major split because of a rift between its top two leaders into two camps of hard-line Islamists from Somalia’s North led by Leader Sheikh Mukhtar Abu Zubayr and nationalist Islamists from Somalia’s South led by the group’s deputy, Sheikh Mukhtar Robow,” he continued. “This campaign is being waged by groups with vested interests who want to use this fabricated classification of Shabaab as a means to protect their criminal clansmen in Shabaab from being held responsible for their crimes. I believe that Somalia Report’s alleged interviews with Shabaab’s leaders, including Sheikh Robow, are just part of that campaign.”

Somalia Report was forced to retract a “fabricated” interview with Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Ali the very same day it published the interview with Robow.

“On March 23, Somalia Report published an interview by Shukria Abdi purportedly with Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali of the Somali Transitional Federal Government, entitled ‘PM Abdiweli Mohamed Ali Speaks,'” Jaay Bahadur, the managing editor, admitted in a statement released on its website. “It has since been revealed that Ms. Abdi had never contacted Prime Minister Ali, and her interview was entirely fabricated.”

Also, last year, Somalia Report published dozens of false reports of purported US drone strikes against Shabaab in Somalia. These reports were also published by PressTV, an Iranian news outlet.

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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  • mike merlo says:

    does this mean that al-Qaeda & its affiliates are now using crank calls as part of their PR efforts?

  • RYP says:

    We have talked to Robow many times. We know his number, and know his background discussions with other elements and have confidence in our journalist. He is easily accessible and regularly speaks to not only Somalia Report, but all media outlets.
    Furthermore wouldn’t it be in al-Shabaab’s interest to try to defuse the hundreds of demoralizing stories on their brutality, fractionalization and retreat. Don’t rely on an anonymous twit like @HSMPress and to guide your judgement. Better yet please publish his phone number, location, background and proof that you vetted him as a source. Silence? Yup.
    Be careful. The tough talking but anonymous HSM Press is not the official media outlet of al-Shabaab. Neither is MYC, another twitter pretender in Kenya. Even al Kataib “the official media outlet” is a homespun propagandist.
    We talk to the leaders of al-Shabaab directly and they hold frequent press conferences. I think we were honest and quick about identifying the exact events that led up to any error we made as a result. This is all part of the package when working inside Somalia with our 140 locals for over.
    Nice try on the drone strike smear. We actually refuted the Iran Press story about false drone strikes and make no claims to being definitive on the platform of any aerial attack. If you sense competition is bad for business we are happy to match your denials with our ground reporting.
    If you readers take the time to read the stories you googled, you will see that our reporting from the ground on any air strike is very careful to communicate what is known and not known.
    If and when you come over to our part of the world, give me a call and I will show you around. You would be impressed with the enthusiasm and access our team has. But for now if you are relying on an anonymous faux terrorist tweet for your fact checking, you are guilty of the very thing you falsely accuse of us. At least we talk to Robow and have been for over a year.
    We welcome all ground reporting in the region.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    RYP, I suspected you’d be here shortly. This has nothing to do with competition. In fact, I welcome local news sources. But bad reporting should be called out.
    I’m sure you’re going to publish the phone numbers and other confidential information on your sources, right? Nice try.
    On the drone strikes, you published those bad reports, and lots of them, you must live with the results. My apologies if that hurts your feelings.
    And nice interview with Prime Minister Ali, BTW.

  • RYP says:

    I smell something other than interest in facts here so I will get back to more productive activities.
    If we make a mistake we are the first to correct or retract. Probably a first for regional news here.
    You are entitled to your opinion. Its your personal blog. Carry on.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    You should have your sense of smell checked out.
    You can hurl accusations of nefarious motives all you like, but you are dead wrong. I think if you look at the history of the Long War Journal (which is not my “personal blog” as you wrongly claim), you’ll see the site is not used to enforce grudges and such.
    I repeat: I rather like seeing local news sources succeed and providing a level of coverage larger organizations cannot or will not provide. I wish Somalia Report the best of luck in your future endeavors. Somalia Report isn’t a competitor to The Long War Journal, our scope is much larger than one country. LWJ couldn’t possibly devote resources to cover Somalia in detail as organizations such as yours can. This is why we hope for organizations such as yours succeed, and why we are disappointed when bad reports are published.
    I get that you don’t like the fact Somalia Report being called to the carpet on this issue. But the reality is your track record is spotty over the last year. The fake interview with Prime Minister Ali, and the numerous reports of fake drone strikes that you published, speaks for themselves. I commend you for retracting the Ali interview.
    Now, I’ll get back to more productive activities.

  • mike merlo says:

    re:B Roggio
    thank you for going that ‘xtra mile’ to post your exchanges with another ‘poster.’ Besides ‘crank calling’ it appears some other monkey business is afoot with some of the reporting from abroad.


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