December 22, 2012

Divisions Sapping al-Shabaab Of Remaining Strength

The job of Omar Hammami, al-Shabaab propagandist and rapper, naturally obscured his own life's story. Known as Abu Mansur Al-Amriki to the jihadist world and designated by his former country as a terrorist, Hammami quickly rose up al-Shabaab's ladder through a combination of battlefield courage and media savvy. Here, finally, a converted American was fighting against America's Christian allies for the Internet to witness, and their new weapon similarly unleashed his own online campaign. Many have panned his raps asking for death by a U.S. missile.

Hammami's media personality has thus endured a vortex of internal and external activity, complicating an accurate impression of his status and relations to al-Shabaab.

However propaganda has now slammed into reality. For at least six months Hammami has been running from nameless shadows, surfacing after one supposedly fatal meeting between al-Shabaab commanders to release a cry for help on YouTube. The insurgency's Twitter feed replied that Hammami had nothing to fear, but Hammami has lived in fear ever since. When not in hiding to the outside world, Hammami continued to release and delete his raps and jihadist videos amid the African Union's multi-front offensive on al-Shabaab. Death by beheading or drone seems to be a matter of time if he can't flee Somalia.

On Monday al-Shabaab announced via Twitter, "In the last few months the story of Abu Mansur Al-Amriki has been playing out in the media circles, not only feeding the narrative of the Western media that deep ideological differences were beginning to devour the Mujahideen in Somalia, but also leaving the Muslim Ummah extraordinarily confounded with a string of video releases that have stimulated a wide range of diverse reactions."

"In the light of these events and for the sake of clarification of the intricacies surrounding the Abu Mansur saga, Harakat Al-Shabaab Al-Mujahideen hereby declares that Abu Mansur Al-Amriki does not, in any way, shape or form, represent the views of the Muhajireen in Somalia. The opinions expressed by Abu Mansur, the alleged frictions and the video releases are merely the results of personal grievances that stem purely from a narcissistic pursuit of fame and are far removed from the reality on the ground."

Which side al-Amriki has chosen, al-Shabaab's nationalist core or foreign branch, isn't clear since both sides are rumored to have been provoked. One video reportedly criticized local jihadists while another blamed al-Qaeda's leadership for the insurgency's divide. Either way, the group is correct in its assessment of his propaganda: observers have taken his overall actions as a sign of al-Shabaab's disarray.

A greater message exists, though, in the form of al-Qaeda's local boss in Somalia. The source of real fissures within al-Shabaab's ranks, Moktar Ali Zubeyr issued his own audio message on December 11th in a last-ditch effort to rally his troops. Zubeyr, who operates under the alias Ahmed Ali Godane, proved so divisive that al-Qaeda actually removed him from al-Shabaab's leadership in December 2010. However Zubeyr continued to operate his cells parallel to al-Shabaab's nationalist head, Muhktar Robow, and left the cleavage untreated. Zubeyr is responsible for triggering renewed international focus by declaring his allegiance to Osama bin Laden, a main point of contention in the group.

A more effective counterattack against AU forces in the south and west could have been mounted with harmonious leadership and morale, whether ultimately successful or not.

"This year comes as the crusade against Islamic rule in Somalia has been mounting and the crusader enemy has intensified its military, security, political and media capabilities to dim the light of sharia and defeat Islamic rule," Zubeyr admitted before puffing out his chest again. "I would like to tell the Islamic nation and its elite mujahideen, particularly Mullah Omar and Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri that the military might of the mujahideen in Somalia is strong and that they are waging a holy jihad that relies on raids and ambushes to create a state of instability for the enemy in the areas they control."

Al-Shabaab seems finished in its current form. Many political and military analysts have already reached this conclusion. The Trench adopts a more cautious position, expecting disintegration but also transformation. At this moment Somalia's new government holds more promise than any of its predecessors in the last 20 years, and Mogadishu is gradually rebuilding itself for a new future. Al-Shabaab is low on popularity, funds and arms, reduced from semi-conventional warfare across half a state to ambushes on former strongholds. Unfortunately Somalia's slope is slippery, and stalling on government services is the quickest way down into the unknown. The political conflict over Somalia's southern Jubaland, which includes local warlords, Ethiopia and Kenya, is far from resolved. al-Shabaab's nationalists could potentially split from al-Qaeda and rebuild their brand, or else strike a deal with the government.

Insurgencies as old as al-Shabaab can die, but they usually survive longer than its current throes.

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