Islamic State claims clashes with Shabaab in Somalia

After issuing a direct threat to al Qaeda’s branch in Somalia last month, the Islamic State followed through on its warning. Earlier today, the Islamic State claimed its men clashed with Shabaab, killing 14 of its members, in northern Somalia. 

“Yesterday, soldiers of the caliphate leaped on a grouping of members of the al Qaeda organization in Somalia near B’ir Mirali southwest of Qandala, where they had been preparing to attack the Islamic State’s position,” the statement from Amaq News Agency reads. Amaq adds that “14 among them were killed and others were wounded and their weapons and equipment were captured.” 

The purported clash has not yet been reported by Somali or other independent media. Previous clashes between the jihadist rivals have made the local press. For instance, in Dec. 2015, independent outlets reported that the two sides fought in Puntland.

There have been several clashes between Shabaab and earlier Islamic State-loyal cells in Somalia, and Shabaab has also executed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s followers.

The fighting follows a warning in the Islamic State’s Al Naba newsletter last month. “As we record these crimes, we do not do so as a complaint or out of weakness, but to teach people,” the so-called caliphate warned, “especially our people in Somalia, what the al Qaeda branch in Somalia has done, because the response from the Islamic State is coming.”

The Islamic State and al Qaeda have fought each other on multiple occasions since 2014, mainly in Syria and Yemen. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s organization has also battled the Taliban in Afghanistan. Earlier this year, the Islamic State claimed several rounds of battles with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen. The two sides have waged a propaganda war in the Gulf country, too. 

Despite its reported battle with Shabaab, the Islamic State in Somalia is unlikely to defeat the al Qaeda group. The Islamic State in Somalia does not operate a full-scale insurgency like Shabaab and its forces are far outnumbered by the al Qaeda branch’s men.

However, continued fighting might assist in the Islamic State’s recruitment efforts in East Africa. In addition, the latest purported clash is a propaganda victory, as the group appears to have followed through on its earlier threat to Shabaab.

Caleb Weiss is an editor of FDD's Long War Journal and a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation, where he focuses on the spread of the Islamic State in Central Africa.

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