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.