Shabaab celebrates Hamas-led invasion of Israel, calls people to jihad

Joining other al-Qaeda branches around the world, Shabaab, al-Qaeda’s branch for East Africa, expressed jubilation for the Hamas-led invasion of Israel in a new statement. Shabaab thus joins al-Qaeda’s men in Yemen, the Indian Subcontinent, and Syria in congratulating the Palestinian militants. 

Shabaab now joins al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, and Hurras al-Din in Syria as al-Qaeda branches commenting on the Hamas-led invasion. And though not an official al-Qaeda branch, the key al-Qaeda ally of the Pakistani Taliban has also expressed support for the Hamas-led invasion. 

Prior to its official statement, it was releasing several updates a day on the conflict through its local radio stations in Somalia.

Signed by the group’s general command, Shabaab begins its communique by stating “the epic Al-Aqsa Flood [name used by the Palestinian militants to refer to their invasion of Israel] has reached us, which is filled with takbeers, congratulations, and blessings.” Shabaab then apologizes to the Palestinian people for not releasing a timely message on the matter. 

The Somali group then continues to say that “we salute all the brave heroes, the brave commandos, and all those stationed in the Holy Land, and we say to all of them: May God reward you with good on behalf of the Islamic Ummah [worldwide Islamic community], and may God reward you for your jihad and your noble deeds.” 

According to Shabaab, the Palestinian assault is a victory against all so-called ‘Crusaders.’ As the group notes “as we watch the global responses to the Al-Aqsa Flood attacks, we see how the Crusaders came together in America and Europe, and in every land where the cross is raised and idols are worshiped, to support the Jewish aggressors, criminalize heroism, and brand it as terrorism and extremism.” 

The Palestinians have thus demonstrated the “weakness and fragility” of Israel, which Shabaab refers to as a “bastard entity.” 

However, Shabaab, like other al-Qaeda branches, puts the current fighting in Israel and Palestine in the context of global jihad. 

For instance, Shabaab also states that “this battle with the criminal Jews is not just the battle of the Islamic factions in the land of Palestine in particular, but rather the battle of the entire Muslim Ummah.” As such, according to the Somali group, “Muslims must gather and offer everything they can to support the mujahideen against the Jews and their hypocritical infidel allies. The strength of this nation lies in the strength of its jihadist fronts.”

Offering condolences for not doing much else to support the Palestinian militants, Shabaab notes that “if we had found a way to you, we would not have delayed you, but you are struggling in the land of Palestine and we are fighting in the land of East Africa.” 

However, according to Shabaab’s leadership, “our enemy and your enemy are one. They have gathered against the nation of Islam and joined forces to commit sin and aggression against the Muslim peoples, east, west, south and north.” 

And as Shabaab assures the Palestinians, “our eyes are on Jerusalem.” Shabaab then asks God to accept all Palestinian martyrs and provide them with “an army from Heaven and Earth.”

Before ending its statement, Shabaab calls on Muslims around the world to enlist in jihad. “We remind Muslims that the path to their glory and elevation in this world and on this land is only through jihad for the sake of God.” 

Shabaab’s prior self-involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

This is not the first time that Shabaab has inserted itself into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For instance, during al-Qaeda’s “Jerusalem Will Never Be Judaized” campaign, announced in 2019 after then President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Shabaab conducted a series of high-profile raids in this name. 

The January 2019 attack on the Dusit D2 hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, the Sept. 2019 assault on a US airfield in Baledogle, Somalia, and the January 2020 attack on a US base in Manda Bay, Kenya, were all claimed as part of this campaign. 

Speaking after the Dusit D2 raid, Shabaab wrote that Trump’s decision was “an attempt to confer legitimacy upon the illegitimate Zionist regime.” And that Trump and  his “cohorts granted the Zionist Jews the approval to desecrate the sanctity of one of Islam’s holiest sites with their filth and vile policies of ethnic cleansing.” 

Following the Manda Bay raid, Shabaab’s official spokesman, Ali Mohamud Rage, stated that “the US has recognized the annexation of the Golan Heights by the Zionists, supported the illegal Jewish settlements in occupied Palestine, and remains committed to providing over $3 billion dollars in military assistance annually to the Zionist invaders so as to maintain the relentless oppression and bombardment of Muslims in Palestine.”

Rage also added that “the issue of Palestine is not merely an Arab or Palestinian issue but rather one that concerns every Muslim and is directly related to the faith of every believer.”

To note, al-Qaeda has little to do with hostilities inside Israel or Palestine (despite nominal affiliations with small Gaza-based units such as Jaysh al-Ummah). However, the group and its various branches and allies around the world, often seek to capitalize on the collective anger among the wider Muslim world over the conflict for its own benefit. 

Al-Qaeda has also targeted Israeli and Jewish targets globally in the past, including in East Africa, wherein it targeted Israeli commercial aircraft and a hotel in Mambasa, Kenya, in 2002. Those involved in those attacks would also go on to help found Shabaab.

The various statements from al-Qaeda global branches show that while al-Qaeda has taken a hardline approach against the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is the Palestinian representative, it nevertheless celebrates Hamas’ recent mass killings of Jews. 

And though al-Qaeda is supportive of the current hostilities, this likely only extends to the fighting of Israel itself, and thus not an implicit doctrinal approval of any of the factions involved in the ongoing war.

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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