Khattab al Masri as eulogized in yesterday’s Shabaab video
Shabaab eulogized a military commander who was closely linked to Omar Hammami, the American al Qaeda commander who was murdered by the Somali branch five years ago after a lengthy and very public dispute on social media. Khattab al Masri, the military commander, reconciled with Shabaab after Hammami’s death and was killed while fighting Ethiopian forces.
Shabaab mentioned Masri while also eulogizing Mohamed Mohamud Ali, another of its slain leaders. Ali, who was also known as Dulyadin, was reportedly the mastermind behind the 2015 massacre at a university in Garissa, Kenya.
Al Masri, an Egyptian foreign fighter within Shabaab, was reported to have been killed in an attack on an Ethiopian base near Halgan, Somalia in 2016. Jihadists targeted the Ethiopian base with a suicide car bombing before assaulting the base, Reuters reported at the time. While Shabaab was able to overrun the outpost, at least 16 of its fighters were also killed.
According to some reports, Khattab acted in a commander role during the attack, but Shabaab did not denote him as a commander in his eulogy. Khattab’s reported death was also not confirmed until Shabaab released the video on Feb 28.
Al Masri was previously a close friend and associate of Hammami, who also went by Abu Mansour al Amriki. During Hammami’s very public spat with Shabaab’s leadership, Masri sided with the American and joined his dissident faction. When Shabaab’s internal security force, the Amniyat, eventually tracked down and killed Hammami and another foreign fighter known as Osama al Britani, Masri survived the purge.
It was reported at the time that Masri turned himself into the Amniyat. It is clear that Masri made amends with Shabaab’s leadership and rejoined the fold. His redress with the al Qaeda branch was enough to publicly eulogize him among other killed commanders and leaders.
Hammami feud with Shabaab
Masri’s reintegration into Shabaab’s organization also cuts against the original reason for Hammami’s feud with Shabaab’s then-emir Mukhtar Abu Zubayr.
Before Shabaab murdered Hammami in Sept. 2013, he occupied a prominent place in Shabaab’s propaganda arm. He also served as a recruiter, financier, and military commander. He was even seen with Shabaab’s top leaders at a public eulogy for slain al Qaeda emir and founder Osama bin Laden in May 2011. The US added him to the list of specially designated global terrorists for his ties to al Qaeda in July 2011 and offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture in March 2013.
In March 2012, more than a year before his death at the hands of Shabaab’s intelligence service, Hammami released a video claiming that his life was in danger and that foreign fighters are at odds with Shabaab’s leaders. Hammami repeatedly maintained that Shabaab discriminated against all foreign fighters and accused the group’s leadership of hoarding power and violating Islamic law. Shabaab disputed Hammami’s claims, and countered that Hammami is a narcissistic self-promoter who has taken advantage of his high-profile media presence to sow dissent between the Somali group and foreign fighters.
Hammami and a small group of foreign fighters then broke with Shabaab and went into hiding. Eighteen months after he began his public feud with Shabaab, the Amniyat hunted him down and executed him.
Masri’s survival and reintegration into the group’s rank and file indicates that Shabaab’s dispute was mainly with Hammami, and not all foreign fighters as Hammami had claimed. Foreign fighters such as Abu Abdullah al Muhajir continued to serve as key Shabaab leaders and fighters after Hammami’s dispute was resolved.
Shabaab and its Amniyat has been ruthless about disloyalty and defections. Its campaign against defectors to the rival Islamic State has been swift and brutal. Jihadists such as Masri would not have survived a Shabaab purge of foreign fighters if the group did not want to keep them in the ranks.