In a statement released online yesterday, al Qaeda’s general command levied heavy praise on Shabaab, its branch in East Africa. The statement speaks to Shabaab’s recent attacks on foreign troops inside Somalia.
An additional audio statement commending Shabaab by Ibrahim al Qosi, a senior leader within al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and former Guantanamo detainee, was also published yesterday.
The two statements were released as a coordinated messaging campaign, as evident by the synchronization of the publication of each respective statement. It should be noted that some senior AQAP leaders are also believed to serve within AQ’s general command.
Al Qaeda’s praise of Shabaab
“Western Crusader occupying forces have for long sought to conceal their sinister role in Somalia. However, the valiant men of Shabaab have demonstrated that they are even more keen to expose this hidden role by inflicting humiliating blows on Western interests,” the statement penned by al Qaeda’s general command begins.
In making a comparison to the infamous “Black Hawk Down” incident in 1993, al Qaeda’s general command alleges that the “recent attack in the Shebelle state of southern Somalia represents the biggest blow in the history of the contemporary Crusader occupation of Somalia.”
The leadership promotes Shabaab as “making no distinctions black and yellow Crusader blood; rather they have continued, and shall continue, dispatching Americans in coffins from the defiant land of Somalia.”
Al Qaeda then claims that last month’s attack on the US base in Baledogle “killed or wounded dozens of American and Israeli military personnel,” repeating Shabaab’s version of events in which it purports to have killed over 100 US soldiers.
The US, however, has stated that the assault, which involved a suicide bombing, was repulsed and that only one soldier was treated for a concussion.
Al Qaeda’s statement then turns to commending Shabaab for targeting Italian troops in Mogadishu on the same day as the assault on the American base. “We congratulate our brothers in Shabaab and fully support their leadership in their noble endeavors,” it reads.
Al Qaeda’s message to global branches
The statement also delivers a short message to al Qaeda’s branches elsewhere in the world.
“We would remind our brothers to uphold the flag once more. Let us continue the journey by targeting every single vital interest of the Zionist-Crusader forces.”
Speaking to recent news of US troop deployments to Saudi Arabia, the general command warns that “if you [the US] do not desist, you shall be made to forget the nightmare of 9/11 and everything that followed. Your coming war with the sons of the Arabian Peninsula shall be fiercer and way too painful for you to bear.”
Then statement then turns to AQAP specifically, telling al Qaeda’s men in Yemen to “hold on to patience, ribaat [defensive fortifications], and mutual exhortation. Build strong determination amongst yourselves to offer and sacrifice for the sake of this religion.”
Message from Ibrahim al Qosi
Showing the degree of coordination in messaging, AQAP also released an audio message from one of its senior leaders, Ibrahim al Qosi, which was also dedicated to Shabaab.
Qosi begins by congratulating Shabaab on the aforementioned Baledogle attack, praising the targeting of alleged Israeli troops at the base.
The jihadist leader continues by encouraging Shabaab in continuing its attacks on the “Crusaders” and “African apostates” inside Somalia.
He then states that the recent attacks came as a response to US drone strikes on Shabaab. “This is a message to the floundering Trump administration and to the American people that their aggressive policies against Muslims in Somalia and everywhere else will have dire consequences.”
Under the Trump administration, the US has escalated its air campaign against the al Qaeda branch. In the final year of the Obama Administration, the US launched 15 strikes against Shabaab. In 2017, under Trump, the US hit Shabaab 31 times. This tempo has continued and even increased in the years since.
Qosi is a senior leader within AQAP. He was originally detained at Guantanamo in 2002, but was transferred to his native Sudan in 2012. In 2014, he joined up with AQAP inside Yemen where he has been a staple in their productions since 2015.
While a message from AQAP to Shabaab is important, it is not surprising. In recent years, as AQAP faces setbacks inside Yemen, Shabaab has tried to boost AQAP’s morale in its own message to the group.
Threats to Israel
In both statements yesterday, the al Qaeda leaders continued the trope that their fight is a global campaign against Israel.
In the message released by the general command, the leadership states that “let us continue, with full faith and perseverance, the series of operations entitled “Jerusalem will never be Judaized” and “Expel the disbelievers from the Arabian Peninsula” until Palestine and every inch of Muslim lands is liberated from the Jews and Crusaders.”
This has been a recurring theme for al Qaeda and its branches. Shabaab has long portrayed its fight as against the Jewish state, among others, in defense of Palestine.
Under the moniker of “Jerusalem will never be Judaized” both Shabaab and al Qaeda’s group in Mali, the Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), have conducted terrorist attacks in the name of fighting Israel.
Shabaab itself also released a message yesterday, promising to continue attacks on foreign troops inside Somalia.
“Crusaders will never find a safe-haven in Somalia as long as they continue to occupy our land, wage war against our religion, spread immorality, plunder our resources, and prevent the establishment of Shari’a,” the statement reads.
While Shabaab’s recent attacks on US and Italian forces inside Somalia were largely ineffective, it is clear that they fit within al Qaeda’s propaganda portraying itself as defenders of Islam and Muslims around the world.
Yesterday’s messaging campaign is also further proof of Shabaab’s role and how it is viewed by al Qaeda’s global leadership.
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