A few days after publicly supporting the Hamas-led invasion of Israel, Shabaab, al-Qaeda’s branch for East Africa, hosted massive pro-Palestine protests in its strongholds in southern Somalia’s Middle Juba region.
The demonstrations, hosted in Kunya Barrow and Jilib, both long-time Shabaab bastions in the south, saw hundreds protest against Israel. The protests were organized under the “Jerusalem Will Not Be Judaized” campaign, a campaign first organized by al-Qaeda’s now deceased leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in 2019.
Shabaab’s 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.
Photos released by Shabaab from the protests show hundreds of people, including large numbers of women and children, holding signs that say such slogans as “Our hearts are in Palestine, our bodies are in Somalia” and “We say to the whole world: the Palestinian issue is our issue.”
Other photos depict children wearing headbands saying the slogan “We are coming, ‘O Jerusalem,” a phrase commonly shown at the end of videos from various al-Qaeda branches, including Shabaab.
Banners can also be seen saying “Jerusalem Will Not Be Judaized,” “In support and encouragement of our people in Palestine,” and “Blood, Blood, Destruction, Destruction.”
A backdrop for a stage in which several Shabaab-affiliated clan officials spoke can also be seen with the phrase “We are One Ummah [worldwide Islamic community].”
Another banner can be seen goading Israel about the Battle of Khaybar, in which the army of the Prophet Muhammad defeated Jewish tribes in Arabia, telling the Jewish state that the “Army of Muhammad will return.”
And in Jilib, men can be seen burning American and Israeli flags.
Much like with its written statement, the Shabaab-organized protests in Somalia sought to tie the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into the global jihad. By noting that “We are One Ummah” or “That what is happening in Gaza is a war against Islam and its People,” and that “We are fighting in Somalia, [but] our eyes are on Jerusalem,” Shabaab is attempting to put its jihad in the same fight as the current war against Israel.
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.
Select photos from Shabaab’s protest in Kunya Barrow:
Select photos from Shabaab’s protest in Jilib: