SOMALIA – Al Shabaab coup d’etat: senior leaders killed, fled, and in custody

Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys

Government soldiers in Adado lead Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys onto a plane bound for Mogadishu. REUTERS

A man once considered a spiritual leader for Somali Islamist group Al Shabaab, and considered by the US to be one of the most dangerous terrorists alive, is now in the custody of the newly constituted Somali central government.

“Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys is in good health and is currently in the custody of the Somali Federal Government,” Interior and National Security Minister Abdikarim Hussein Guled announced on July 3rd. After protests in the capital city over fears he might be extradited to the US, Gulded assured the public, “Sheikh Aweys will not be transferred over to any foreign government and we call upon the Mogadishu public to calm down”.

The Minister also apologized for the circumstances in which Aweys was taken into custody on June 29th. The Sheikh had flown into Mogadishu from Adado with a group of parliamentarians, elders, and warlords. Upon his arrival, Aweys and his entourage were allegedly ‘beaten up and arrested’. All but Aweys were later released. Aweys had originally traveled to Mogadishu on a promise of amnesty from the government.

Aweys’ capture comes after the violent purging of senior Al Shabaab leadership by the Islamists’ emir, Ahmed Abdi Godane, aka Abu Zubeir. In the past few weeks Godane has stepped up attacks against his rivals within Al Shabaab as well as government forces in the capital, Mogadishu.

Many among the Islamists’ upper echelon have been critical of Godane’s command, particularly with regard to his distrust of foreign Jihandists. In May, foreign Jihadist Ibrahim Al-Afghani wrote an open letter to Al-Quaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri accussing Godane of imprisoning and murdering foreign fighters who’s views were not aligned with his own. In the weeks following that letter many Al-Qaeda linked websites have been critical of the state of Jihad in Somali.  Godane’s loyalists replied via Twitter, calling those disloyal and critical of his leadership to be ‘cowards’.

Around June 19th forces loyal to Godane retaliated on dis-affectionate Al Shabaab forces in Barawe, a costal town in southern Somalia controlled by the Islamists. Civilians continue to report heavy fighting in that area. Godane’s forces also reportedly assassinated senior Al Shabaab members including Ibrahim Afghani, co-founder of Al Shabaab, and Moallim Burhan. Perhaps the most outspoken opponent of Godane, American-born Jihadist Omar Hammami (now known as Abu Mansour al-Amriki) is rumored to have been killed after a previous attempt to assassinate him in April failed. Mukhtar Robow, the Islamists’ former spokesman, is believed to have fled to his the Rahanweyn clan homeland in the Bay and Bakol region. Analysts say Robow’s withdraw poses serious implications as the majority of Al Shabaab’s regular forces are members of the Rahanweyn clan, and harbor loyalties to Robow.

Aweys and his faction joined Al Shabaab in 2009, and although he has been considered a terrorist by the United States since shortly after the September 11th attacks in New York and Washigton DC, he is considered to be much lower on the Al Shabaab totem pole than such figures as Mukhtar Robow, and the late Ibrahim Afghani.

With reporting from Hassan M. Abukar of the SomaliLand Sun, BBC, AllAfrica, and Doctor Mohammed Gilao of Dejinta Beesha.

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Sheik Muktar Robow is shown, center, flanked by aids and gunmen in Mogadishu, December 14th, 2008. al-Shabab has since lost control of the city.

Sheik Muktar Robow is shown, center, flanked by aids and gunmen in Mogadishu, December 14th, 2008. al-Shabab has since lost control of the city. PHOTO: REUTERS/Feisal Omar (SOMALIA)

Fierce infighting is reported among rival factions within Somalia’s Al-Shabab militants. The BBC reported six Somali militants and two foreign jihadists were among those killed near the militant stronghold of Brava. The fighting is likely linked to a power struggle between forces loyal to the group’s leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, and ex-spokesman Muktar Ali Robow. Robow is said to be more moderate and could be pushing to open talks with the government as international attention focuses on rebuilding the country. The country’s parliamentary election of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud in September of 2012, who’s government was officially recognized by the IMF after 22 years in April, and an international conference in London on the subject of ending the conflict in Somalia, are all likely to be boiling points for the extremists.

Earlier this week the al-Qaeda linked organization killed fifteen people in an attack against of the UN offices in Mogadishu.

According to Somali news sources, fighting resumed earlier this month around the southern port city of Kismayo, which was liberated from the control of the Islamists in heavy fighting by African Union soldiers and the local Ras Kamboni militia last December. However, fighting there is said to be linked to rival militias, some loyal to the central government in Mogadishu, the others supporting former Somali Defence Minister Ras Kamboni who has declared himself ‘president’ of ‘Jubbaland’. The UN Security Council called on the factions to refrain from armed conflict with each other, and to instead focus on defeating the Al-Shabab militants who fled the region only after fierce fighting.

Al-Shabab splintered from the Supreme Council of Islamic Courts in 2006 after that organization lost a series of battles against Somali transitional government forces, backed by Ethiopian troops. Al-Shabab and other Islamist factions are fighting to hold the country side surrounding Mogadishu as Government forces backed by 18,000 African Union soldiers, Ethiopian troops, and pro-government militia struggle to retake their country from the extremists.

Somalia Divided

Al-Shabab and other Islamist militants have been losing territory to African Union troops and local militias loyal to the central government in Mogadishu since they formed after the dissolution of the Supreme Council of Islamic Courts (Islamic Courts Union). MAP: BBC

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