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Al Qaeda veterans now run Al Shabaab militia

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By MURITHI MUTIGA

Posted  Monday, July 26   2010 at  00:00
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Foreign jihadists have overrun the Somali nationals previously in charge of Al Shabaab, a development blamed for the movement’s new posture as an exporter of terrorism and a threat to stability in East Africa and beyond.

The Islamists, mostly veterans of the Al Qaeda training camps of Afghanistan, now control the movement’s policy making organs and were directly responsible for ordering the Kampala bombings which announced the Al Shabaab’s arrival as an actor with a reach that extends beyond Somali territory.

Intelligence reports made available to The EastAfrican indicate the bombings were aimed at achieving two intertwined objectives: They sought to draw regional powers into a war in Somalia, a development they hope will win the Al Shabaab public support by galvanising the people against a common enemy to help the group restore its severely diminished credibility.

According to a report compiled for the African Union Mission for Somalia (AMISOM), the key figure in the Al Shabaab is Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, a familiar name in East Africa for his role in a number of past atrocities including the twin US embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es salaam.

The other players serving in the Al Shabaab governing council are more obscure Jihadists who began arriving in the country from early 2009.

They are named in the report as: Sheikh Mohamed Abu Faid (Saudi-born, financier and “manager” of Al-Shabaab), Abu Suleiman Al-Banadiri (Somaliof Yemeni descent and an adviser to the movement’s nominal leader, Ali Godane), Abu Musa Mombasa (Pakistani, who arrived to replace Saleh Ali Nabhan, who was killed in a US military operation and is in charge of security and training) and Abu Mansur Al-Amriki (US-born, in charge of financing for foreign fighters).

Others are Mohamoud Mujajir (from Sudan, in charge of recruitment of suicide bombers) and Abdifatah Aweys Abu Hamsa (a Somali national trained in Afghanistan, who is commander of the Mujahidin of Al-Quds).   

These foreign fighters are blamed for turning Al Shabaab into a more radical group, whose aims have shifted from only seizing control of Somalia to more regional and international objectives.

“The hardline wing of extremists that have taken over the Al Shabaab aspire to the creation of an ill-defined Islamic caliphate,” says International Crisis Group Horn of Africa director Ernst Jan Hogendoorn. “The attacks in Kampala increased threat perceptions in the region. But it is important that the response to the attacks do not exacerbate the problem.”

One theory about the motives of the Kampala attacks paints the bombings as part of a desperate effort by the Al Shabaab to win legitimacy, by bringing in external actors into the country’s conflict.

This is born of the fact that public support for the movement has collapsed as it has progressively moved to impose its harsh interpretation of Islamic law on the public.

Most Somalis identify with the moderate Sufi strain of Islam.

Before the arrival of more radical elements in the country, women were allowed to engage in business and covered their hair with colourful lesos (traditional rectangular cloth from East Africa) rather than the full body gown imposed by the Al Shabaab.

The extremists have imported suicide bombings, amputations and bans on football as aeel as movie dens into the country, moves that have been hugely unpopular.

But the Al Shabaab’s biggest blunder was the suicide bombing aimed at a graduation ceremony in February which killed 19 Somalis including four ministers.

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