Shabaab official justifies attacks on civilians while preaching the sanctity of Muslim blood

Abu ‘Abdurahman Mahad Warsame, as pictured by Shabaab.

Abu ‘Abdurahman Mahad Warsame, a senior Shabaab official, addresses the issue of jihadist violence directed at Muslims in a newly released audio message. Shabaab’s propaganda arm, Al Kata’ib Media, produced the recording, which is accompanied by English subtitles. Warsame alternates between Arabic and Somali throughout his lecture, which is peppered with references to Islamic texts.

Al Qaeda and its regional branches, including Shabaab, have long sought to draw a fine line between what they see as legitimate violence and operations that violate Islamic doctrine prohibiting the shedding of Muslim blood. It is a thorny issue that al Qaeda has addressed multiple times. And Warsame returns to the matter in his audio address, which is titled, “The Sanctity of Muslim Blood.”

Warsame begins by setting forth what he sees as the religious justifications for Shabaab’s jihad in Somalia and East Africa. He says the “commandments of Allah” deem it necessary to “fight the disbelievers who are hostile towards our religion, our land and our people and who are misguiding our youth, massacring our weak, plundering our resources and propagating disbelief and debauchery in the Muslim society.” Thus, the “call of Jihad that we constantly reiterate is a holy struggle aimed at achieving the pleasure of Allah and His reward.” 

The jihadists’ goal is to build a “righteous Muslim society that adheres to the laws of the Quran and Sunnah, upholds the teachings of Al-Wala’ Wal-Bara’ [meaning loyalty and disavowal] and disassociates itself from all forms of disbelief.”

Warsame claims that “victory” is within reach despite the fact that the “mujahideen” face “an enemy greater in number and more technologically advanced.”

He then discusses two Shabaab operations. The first is a raid on a hotel complex in Nairobi, Kenya that was carried out in January. Shabaab said at the time that this operation was conducted as part of “Operation Jerusalem will never be Judaized,” a campaign authorized by al Qaeda’s global leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri.  

Shabaab’s decision to attack a civilian hotel ran the risk of causing indiscriminate Muslim casualties – a fact that the group and Warsame have to recognize. However, Warsame defends the terrorist operation, arguing that this “blessed attack” killed “a number of crusaders and Jews.” The “blessed attack” was orchestrated “in defense of the Islamic sanctities (Al-Quds),” which is “considered one of the great modern-day battles of Islam” and “will be recorded in the pages of history.” The assault in Nairobi was also “part of a series of operations aimed at defending our religion, [the] honor of our beloved Prophet Muhammad and protecting the sanctities of Islam,” Warsame argues.

The second attack referenced by Warsame occurred last November, when Shabaab’s men killed Sheikh Abdiweli Ali Elmi Yare and more than one dozen other civilians in the city of Galkayo. Shabaab’s jihadis indisputably killed Muslim civilians, but Warsame attempts to justify the massacre anyway.

Warsame describes Abdiweli, a Sufi leader whose method of worship contradicted Shabaab’s puritanical creed, as the “great liar of Somalia.” Shabaab even accused Abdiweli of being a “false prophet” — a charge repeated by Warsame.

The Shabaab ideologue argues this “blessed operation” was necessary to defend “the honor of our beloved Prophet,” because Abdiweli has supposedly violated Islam’s teachings. Warsame claims, somewhat implausibly, that “Muslims all over the world rejoiced and celebrated upon hearing the news of this blessed operation.” There is no real evidence to support this claim, as Abdiweli’s death was a minor news story at the time.

Warsame ties Abdiweli’s supposed apostasy to the Somali government and the US, claiming that the “apostate Somali regime…served as the guardian and protector of this false prophet” and it was “their American-backed apostate militia who immediately rushed to his defense.” In addition, Warsame says, other Somali “apostate leaders…condemned the attack and criticized those who were defending the honor of our beloved Prophet.”

Despite defending the terrorist assault in Nairobi and Abdiweli’s assassination, Warsame is keenly aware that Shabaab’s violence can easily transgress even the group’s own bounds. Therefore, he tries to set some limits.

Warsame claims the “apostate regime and the invading crusaders have barricaded themselves in hotels and set up their headquarters and ministries in populated neighborhoods in the midst of the civilian population in an attempt to protect themselves from the attacks of the Mujahideen.”

Although “fighting the hostile disbelievers who have invaded our lands is an individual obligation,” Warsame offers some brief, non-specific “guidelines” for jihad. Considering that “the Jihad we are waging today against the enemies is concentrated in or around residential areas where Muslims live,” the “mujahideen…must take extreme caution and beware of unjustly shedding the blood of Muslims.” Citing Islamic texts, he warns that “it is forbidden to take the issue of Muslim blood lightly” and the jihadists “must understand the severe consequences of killing a Muslim unlawfully.”

The jihadists should continue to attack their enemies’ “bases and ambush them wherever they are,” but “extremely cautious with regards to the blood and sanctity of your Muslim brothers, for illegally killing a Muslim will lead you to Hellfire.” Warsame adds that “it is obligatory upon us to safeguard our Jihad from all traits of Ghulu’ [extremism] and Irja’ [negligence].”

Even so, the jihadists should “[s]trive hard in carrying out martyrdom operations and constantly remind one another of its virtues, for there is nothing more detrimental and harmful to the disbelievers than martyrdom operations and landmines.”

Toward the end of his discussion, Warsame warns Somalis to stay away from enemy targets. The people should “know that the target of our operations are the Christian invaders and the apostate regime, foremost among them being the apostate leaders, soldiers, army officials, members of parliament, ministers, members of the judicial system, apostate spies and all those who work in the different sectors of the apostate regime.”

Of course, the targets Warsame identifies as being in the “Mujahideen’s theater of operations” encompass much of Somali society — and some of them serve in a civilian, non-combat capacity. But that is no accident.

Warsame says that President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (also known as “Farmajo”) and “his cohorts are enemies of Allah and disbelieving apostates.” They have supposedly “sold the land’s resources to Ethiopia and Eritrea and handed over the seaports to them.”

“In no regard are they considered your leaders, nor are they competent enough to assume such positions,” Warsame says. “Therefore, it is obligatory upon you to wage Jihad against the apostate government and topple their regime.”

This regime-toppling effort requires Shabaab to kill Muslim civilians — and Warsame will undoubtedly continue to justify such acts.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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