Sheikh Mukhtar Abu Zubayr, the leader of Shabaab, al Qaeda’s branch in Somalia and East Africa, says Ayman al Zawahiri is “our Sheikh and Emir” in a recent statement that focuses primarily on the “invading enemy Crusaders” in Africa. Additionally, Abu Zubayr says he “fully” supports al Qaeda’s goals of supporting Muslim revolutions, liberating Muslim countries, and applying sharia, or Islamic law. These goals were outlined by Zawahiri in December 2013.
Shabaab released the statement by Abu Zubayr, who is also known as Ahmed Abdi Godane, in a video distributed on jihadist forums on May 14. The video was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
Although Abu Zubayr does not address al Qaeda’s dispute with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS), which was disowned by al Qaeda’s general command in February, he does refer to Zawahiri as his emir, says he backs al Qaeda’s goals, and echoes Zawahiri’s call for reconciliation in Syria. The ISIS is battling the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, as well as other jihadist groups.
Some ISIS supporters have tried to claim that Abu Zubayr’s message is pro-ISIS, even though he does not mention the group. Earlier this month, the spokesman for the ISIS, Abu Muhammad al Adnani, called for “an official statement from all the branches of al Qaeda in all the regions stating their clear stances” concerning ISIS, its ideology, and its approach to waging jihad. Abu Zubayr’s message is not such a statement. And while some individual jihadist ideologues have weighed in on behalf of ISIS since Adnani’s message, no branch of al Qaeda has thus far complied with the ISIS spokesman’s request.
Abu Zubayr begins his speech by complementing the head of the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda’s emir.
“I want to give glad tidings to the Muslim Ummah [Muslim community] in general and in particular, the Mujahideen among them – foremost among them being the Leader of the Believers, Al Mullah Muhammad Omar and our Sheikh and Emir, Sheikh Ayman al Zawahiri,” Abu Zubayr says, according to the translation provided by SITE.
Later in his speech, Abu Zubayr notes that Shabaab backs al Qaeda’s goals, which were outlined by Zawahiri in a statement called “The Pact for Supporting Islam.” The statement was issued in November 2013.
“We fully endorse the contents of the message ‘The Pact for Supporting Islam’ by the Emir Sheikh Ayman al Zawahiri’s- may Allah protect him and keep him firm upon the truth,” he said.
Zawahiri’s “pact” outlined the “goals for which Muslims must strive, including the implementation of Sharia-based governance, the ‘liberation’ Muslim lands, and supporting Muslims’ revolutions,” according to SITE.
Al Qaeda’s support for Muslims who are not part of the jihadist movement is a major point of contention between al Qaeda and the ISIS. While al Qaeda has adopted a more pragmatic and revolutionary stance in the wake of the so-called Arab Spring, the ISIS has advocated the hardline approach of branding all of those who do not follow its strict interpretation of sharia as apostates.
Finally, Abu Zubayr echoed Zawahiri’s recent call for an end to fighting between various jihadist groups. While not explicitly stated, he appears to be referring to the feud between the Al Nusrah Front and allied jihadist groups on one side, and the ISIS on the other.
“Pray to Allah that He unites the ranks of the Mujahideen, reconciles between them, directs them and guides them to that which He loves and is pleased with,” Abu Zubayr concluded after a long discussion that was titled “Message to the Mujahideen in Sham [Syria].”
He also called on jihadists in Syria to “respect the leaders of Jihad and its scholars, have good opinion of them and appreciate their rights upon us, for we are all but merely a fruit from the fruits of their Jihad and steadfastness.” While Abu Zubayr did not explicitly name the “leaders of Jihad,” he is clearly referring to Zawahiri and Mullah Omar, both of whom he praises at the outset of his message.