Shabaab celebrates its assassinations in Mogadishu, jihadist attacks in the West

Screenshot taken from Shabaab’s video showing handheld footage from one of the group’s assassins in Mogadishu.

In a newly released video, Shabaab, al Qaeda’s branch in East Africa, highlighted operations conducted by its Muhammad bin Maslamah Battalion inside Mogadishu. The same video also extolled jihadist attacks in the West and in Israel. 

The Muhammad bin Maslamah Battalion is Shabaab’s unit tasked with targeted assassinations inside Mogadishu and other areas controlled by Somalia’s federal government. This unit has been showcased in just two other videos since it was first announced in early 2018. 

The video documents gunmen belonging to the battalion killing at close range reported members of local governance, Somali military personnel, Somali intelligence officers, so-called ‘spies’ against the group, and off-duty Somali policemen. 

All of the assassinations shown in the recent video took place across Mogadishu’s various districts, however, the exact dates for the killings are harder to narrow down. Shabaab routinely claims responsibility for targeted assassinations inside the Somali capital. 

For instance, Shabaab said a member of its Amniyat, or its feared security and intelligence wing, just recently killed a Somali soldier in Mogadishu on April 30. 

Audio snippets from speeches from various al Qaeda leaders are interspersed throughout the video. For example, the group uses a clip from a speech by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s now deceased main ideologue, Ibrahim al Rubaish, to justify its targeted assassinations. 

Shabaab, in its message to the Somali government conveyed through Rubaish’s audio, offers a stark warning:

“The mujahideen have taken a covenant upon themselves to fight the crusaders, and those who stand on their side, and they [the mujahideen] do not differentiate between the white and the red, nor between the Arab and the non-Arab. Everyone is under the rule of God, whoever stops and stands between us and them, we will fight them until we kill them or we die.”

This point is further articulated by Abu Ramla Muhammad Ahmad Roble, a killed Somali jihadist and former senior leader in Shabaab, in another audio clip used in the video. Roble states succinctly that “whoever embodies the kuffar [infidels] in any variety, be it verbal, financial, or any heartfelt demonstration, you are among the kuffar.” 

Also included in the video is a short montage of Shabaab’s improvised explosive device (IED) attacks against both Somali and African Union troops. All of the clips are undated with no indication of where the blasts took place, making it difficult to confirm which incidents were shown in the video. 

Part of this montage, however, takes place inside northeastern Kenya, in which three separate IED attacks are shown. Like the IEDs in Somalia, the clips are undated without specific locations indicated. 

One blast, though, is likely the May 2021 explosion in Kenya’s Lamu County. That IED left at least 8 Kenyan troops dead after their unarmored Land Cruiser was hit by one of Shabaab’s explosive devices. The reporting of that incident greatly matches the events shown in the video. 

Another incident is likely the Dec. 2019 blast in Wajir County, which left two Kenyan special forces troops killed. The vehicle shown in both the video and aftermath photos match, as well as the background landscape. 

The last explosion remains unclear, though five Kenyan troops were killed by another IED in Lamu County in August 2018.

Shabaab has steadily increased both its IEDs and standard assaults across northeastern Kenya over the last few years. By the governor of Kenya’s northern Mandera County’s own admission, the al Qaeda branch was controlling or contesting at least 60% of his own county in early 2021. 

Celebrates jihadist attacks in the West and Israel

Shabaab ends its video by extolling various jihadist attacks in the West and inside Israel. Some of these operations were either performed by Islamic State supporters or claimed by the Islamic State itself as being undertaken by its loyal men. 

At first glance, it would appear strange that Shabaab, an organization that remains staunchly vocal about its lasting loyalty to and membership within al Qaeda, would publicly support attacks undertaken by Islamic State-loyal men. 

However, Shabaab utilizes attacks performed by individuals loyal to both al Qaeda and the Islamic State to stress the importance of performing jihad in the West. This is underscored by how Shabaab begins this montage with a caption that reads “the individual jihad is the optimal [choice].” 

Attacks celebrated by Shabaab include the April 7, 2022, shooting in Tel Aviv, Israel; the March 22, 2022, attack in Be’er Sheva, Israel; the Oct. 2021 murder of British MP David Amess in eastern England; the Oct. 2020 beheading in a Paris suburb; the Dec. 2016 assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey; the July 2016 truck attack in Nice, France; the June 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida; the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris; the May 2013 beheading of Lee Rigby in London; and the April 2013 bombing of the Boston Marathon. 

The video ends by showing clips from an Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula video that feature the meeting of Anwar al Awlaqi and Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called ‘underwear bomber,’ news reels of the September 11 attacks, and a roll of photos of various individuals who have committed attacks in the West, including the Ft. Hood shooter Nidal Hasan

As such the video demonstrates Shabaab’s ‘glocal’ approach to its operations. While the vast majority of its resources are dedicated to fighting the so-called ‘near enemy,’ or the local governments of Somalia and Kenya, it puts this fight in the context of the wider global jihad. 

To Shabaab – and indeed al Qaeda’s various global branches – the local enemies it assassinates in Mogadishu are one and the same as the “crusaders” and “kuffar” around the world. 

Caleb Weiss is a research analyst at 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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