THE RESILIENCE OF AL-SHABAAB

From West Point’s Combatting Terrorism Center

Abstract: In the face of major territorial, military, and economic setbacks, the Somali insurgent-jihadi group al-Shabaab has proven remarkably resilient thanks to pragmatic decision-making and skilled tactical maneuvering. With strong interpersonal ties and a capable internal security network, the group’s senior leadership continues to maintain overall unity and to ward off a strong challenge from Islamic State sympathizers. Despite its transnational rhetoric and affiliation with al-Qa`ida, al-Shabaab remains rooted in domestic Somali issues and clan politics. This domestic focus has contributed to a pragmatic battlefield strategy of classic guerilla warfare interspersed with high-profile, well-coordinated attacks on “soft targets,” such as hotels and restaurants, in the Somali capital of Mogadishu.

Since withdrawing from Mogadishu in August 2011 under intense military pressure from a combined offensive by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), the Somali Federal Government (SFG), and their allied local militias, al-Shabaab has suffered a series of military and territorial setbacks. This pressure has intensified over the past two years with the entrance of Kenyan military forces and the reentrance of Ethiopian troops into the fight, also supported by allied Somali militiamen. The result has been the slow but steady loss of insurgent-held territory across the country. In early October 2014 al-Shabaab lost control of its last major urban stronghold and access point to the Indian Ocean, the coastal town of Baraawe.[1][a]Despite having had to withdraw from lucrative urban centers such as Baidoa, Kismaayo, and Baraawe, al-Shabaab has proven remarkably resilient in the face of mounting local, regional, and international pressure, including from the United States, as well as rising jihadi competitors and rivals, chief among them the Islamic State.

This article examines the evolution of al-Shabaab’s tactical, recruitment, and media strategies and its continued attempt to exercise a form of insurgent governance over territory in the wake of battlefield setbacks, loss of territory including key economic centers, and growing challenges from jihadi rivals sympathetic to the call of the Islamic State. The article will explore the reasons for the Somali insurgent group’s continued resilience. These factors include the weakness of the SFG, continued fighting between competing clan militias as well as between nominally SFG-aligned militias and the national army, and the flexibility shown by al-Shabaab leaders and field commanders in shifting back to classic guerilla warfare.[2]

A Tactical Shift?
On February 2, an al-Shabaab suicide bomber detonated his explosives on the Somali-owned Daallo Airlines flight 159, headed from Mogadishu to Djibouti. Seventy of the 74 passengers, including the bomber, had been recently re-booked from a canceled Turkish Airlines flight. Two passengers were injured but only the bomber was killed.[3] According to SFG officials, who reviewed CCTV footage, a laptop rigged with explosives given to the bomber by two men who appear to have been airport workers was used in the attack.[4][b] A source close to the investigation told CNN that the laptop bomb was sophisticated and went undetected by an airport X-ray machine.[c]

In a statement released on February 13, al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for carrying out the bombing and declared that it had been targeting “Western intelligence officials” and the “Western and apostate [Somali] intelligence infrastructure.”[5] The attempt to down the flight was, the insurgents claimed, part of an ongoing series of military and counter-intelligence operations targeting both local and foreign intelligence agents and operatives in Somalia since May 2014.[6] On March 7, another laptop bomb wounded six people at an airport security screening area in the airport of Beledweyne in the Hiraan region bordering Ethiopia, and two other explosive devices, including one installed inside a printer, were defused.[7] Although it did not issue a claim of responsibility, al-Shabaab is the main suspect.

Some have posited that al-Shabaab’s decision to carry out spectacular and attention-grabbing terrorist attacks on major civilian targets such as Nairobi’s Westgate Mall and Garissa University College marked a “shift in focus” for the group from insurgency to terrorism against “soft targets.”[8][d] This risks over-simplifying matters. Al-Shabaab leaders, rather than “shifting” their focus completely toward terrorism and attacking largely civilian targets, continue to incorporate these types of attacks as an integral part of the group’s evolving military strategy that mixes both high-profile operations against largely civilian targets, guerilla warfare, and surprise mass attacks on vulnerable AMISOM and SFG positions. Large-scale attacks on soft targets such as hotels and restaurants have been a particularly important part of al-Shabaab’s military and political strategies since the beginning of renewed AMISOM-led offensives in 2011. Attacks on soft targets are usually justified through claims that SFG, African Union, or international officials frequent the attacked locations. In some cases, such as the Sahafi Hotel in central Mogadishu, the targeted location was known as a popular gathering place for SFG, AMISOM, and foreign government personnel and contractors.[9]

A Return to Guerilla Warfare 
The vast majority of al-Shabaab’s military operations and attacks are not on civilian soft targets. The group focuses instead on carrying out waves of hit-and-run, small-unit attacks on opposing forces as well as carrying out well-planned, coordinated assaults on AMISOM, SFG, and opposing militia bases and positions. This marks not so much an adoption of new tactics by al-Shabaab but rather a return to its 2007-2008 guerilla roots.[10] Rather than continuing to telegraph and then launch mass frontline attacks on AMISOM and SFG positions as al-Shabaab did during the failed and costly “Ramadan Offensive” in Mogadishu in 2010, insurgent leaders publicly announced in August 2011 that they would shift back to guerilla tactics once they withdrew from the capital city.[11] Outnumbered and outgunned by AMISOM and SFG forces aided by U.S. drone and Special Forces strikes, al-Shabaab commanders realized that the asymmetric realities of the conflict required a different approach if they were to prolong the viability of their insurgency and ambitions of governance. This pragmatic approach is explained by the fact that al-Shabaab, despite its transnational rhetoric and affiliation with al-Qa`ida, remains rooted in the Somali milieu and clan politics, despite its leaders’ criticisms of clannism. Put more simply, the group’s number-one ambition is restoring its power base in Somalia, and its strategy serves this aim.

Since 2012 and 2013, al-Shabaab has focused primarily on carrying out lower-risk attacks, many involving IEDs, on selected targets such as AMISOM, SFG, and allied militia checkpoints, camps, and along roads and supply routes. The insurgents have also carried out cross-border attacks inside Kenya, particularly in the Somali-majority North Eastern Province and Lamu County along the Indian Ocean.[12] By carrying out deadly raids, ambushes, and other military and terrorist operations inside Kenya, including the high-profile and politically embarrassing sieges of Nairobi’s Westgate Mall in September 2013 and Garissa University College in April 2015, al-Shabaab leaders have tried to increase domestic pressure on the Kenyan government to withdraw its troops from Somalia by inflicting a high number of casualties and creating domestic instability.[13]

Al-Shabaab’s shift, since 2012, toward favoring lower-risk, guerilla-style operations is evidenced by its public communiqués and operational reports. Since 2012, the most popular types of attacks include IEDs; ambushes on convoys and patrols; hit-and-run attacks, including the throwing of grenades and targeted mortar fire on checkpoints; the use of snipers; and the assassination of individual officials or members of the SFG, AMISOM, or their allied militias. The insurgents have supplemented these mostly small-scale operations, meant to “bleed” and destabilize its enemies, with sophisticated, well-planned, multi-pronged strikes carried out by multiple attackers on high-profile targets such as hotels and restaurants. Al-Shabaab also reports on how it counterattacks attempted advances by AMISOM, SFG, and allied militia forces as well as details on its arrest, trial, and execution of suspected spies.[14] In carrying out this combination of attacks, al-Shabaab leaders hope to prevent AMISOM and the SFG from stabilizing the country, thus enabling the insurgents to continue to play spoiler and one day reclaim territorial control.

In mid-January, after an insurgent special operations unit, the Commander Saleh al-Nabhani Battalion,[e] overran a Kenyan AMISOM camp at El-Adde in Somalia’s Gedo region, killing or capturing as many as 100 Kenyan soldiers,[f] al-Shabaab’s sophisticated media department produced a slick propaganda film about the attack featuring Ahmad Iman Ali, the chief ideologue and leader of al-Shabaab’s Kenyan foreign fighters, aimed directly at a Kenyan audience.[15][g] He declared that the El-Adde attack was carried out to avenge persecuted Muslims in Kenya and in particular in Eastleigh, the large Somali district in Nairobi.[16] He alleged that Kenyan security forces have conducted kidnappings, rape, and extrajudicial killings and murders of residents, particularly women, and promised further attacks if the Kenyan government continued to ‘oppress’ its Muslim citizens.[17] Repeating a similar media strategy as they previously used with the Ugandan and Burundian publics, al-Shabaab leaders are once again trying to force governments providing troops to AMISOM to withdraw from Somalia by increasing domestic pressure on them.[18]

A Regional Media Strategy 
Al-Shabaab’s media department continues to maintain its focus on attracting regional foreign fighters to Somalia from around East Africa, particularly Swahili-speakers, as well as establishing ties with local militant groups in countries such as Kenya and Tanzania.[19] East African foreign fighters have been actively involved in al-Shabaab since it emerged as a fully independent insurgent organization in 2007 following the December 2006 Ethiopian invasion. They have also been featured prominently in the group’s propaganda films, including a 2010 recruitment film subtitled in Swahili, Arabic, and English.[20] The number of Swahili-speaking East Africans in its media operations campaign began to increase dramatically beginning in 2013.[21] This recruitment effort includes media operations messaging that highlights discrimination and claims that Kenyan Muslims are being persecuted by their own government, such as extrajudicial killings allegedly carried out by Kenya’s anti-terrorism police.[22] Al-Shabaab, despite its claim that it places its “Islamic” identity over any other form of identity, has even made appeals in some of its media releases to Somali nationalism and pride, for example by highlighting the persecution of ethnic Somalis inside Kenya and the inclusion by the British colonial rulers of large, historically Somali regions inside the new Kenyan nation-state.[23]

A Push Again for Territory
Despite being pushed out of major urban centers, al-Shabaab continues to control and govern territory. Previously, the group’s regional and local administrations, which included offices and committees for education, missionary propagation (dawa), taxation and revenue collection, the judiciary, and the collection and distribution of religious charity and taxes (zakat and sadaqat), ran a multi-layered form of insurgent governance of the type that its rival, the Islamic State, has expanded upon in Iraq, Syria, and Libya.[24] Al-Shabaab continues to administer and govern territory, including through the continued operation of sharia courts, zakat and taxation collection and distribution, clan outreach, and the running of schools, sharia institutes, and programs providing agricultural, medical, and food aid, though on a notably diminished scale due to its territorial losses since the spring of 2011.[25]

Al-Shabaab’s leadership is keenly interested in seizing back territory, seeking to take advantage of AMISOM and SFG re-deployments and failures by publicly retaking, even if temporarily, villages, towns, and other areas that their enemies’ claim have been fully “liberated.” In early February, for example, al-Shabaab units temporarily reentered parts of the important port city of Merca and issued statements and photographs of the event in a bid to broadcast an image of rejuvenation and strength.[26] Though insurgent forces only captured parts of the city and were forced to withdraw soon after reentering, they achieved a media, if not a tactical, victory through their presence and the raising of their flags in parts of the urban, economic hub. Al-Shabaab also recently temporarily recaptured areas in Afgooye to the south of Mogadishu after launching a surprise offensive.[27]

Abu Ubayda Ahmad Omar, al-Shabaab’s emir and successor to Ahmed “Mukhtar Abu al-Zubayr” Godane, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike on September 1, 2014, has publicly announced the group’s continuing desire to expand its territorial control through military and intelligence operations.[28] He also stated that the group continues to carry out of social services, religious and ideological education, and judicial affairs through affiliated sharia courts.[29] Al-Shabaab officials and affiliated as well as pro-insurgent media outlets also continue to publicize the insurgent group’s exercise of governing authority and its attempt to monopolize violence as a means of both social control and revenue extraction. This media operations effort includes the dissemination of messages and interviews with al-Shabaab officials, local clan elders, and residents, the announcement of the recapture of territory, reports on insurgent social services, and the work of its various offices, in particular the judiciary.[30]

Competition from the Islamic State 
Al-Shabaab’s newest domestic challenge is from disgruntled members attracted to the clarion call of the Islamic State for jihadi groups to affiliate with its “caliphate.”[h] Al-Shabaab experienced a period of significant internal discord between 2012 and 2013 when a number of prominent leaders and foreign fighters from within its ranks began criticizing Godane and his allies publicly.[i] Despite the public nature and embarrassment caused, Godane triumphed, and most of the organization’s regional governors, officials, and commanders remained loyal. However, the rapid rise of the Islamic State coupled with the death of Godane has presented al-Shabaab’s current leadership with major, new challenges to its continued unity and strength.

The multi-tiered media apparatus of the Islamic State, in a bid to encourage defections from al-Shabaab and attract new Somali recruits to its own ranks, has produced a number of propaganda films aimed primarily at Somali audiences. The first was released in late May 2015 and featured four Somali foreign fighters and one Ethiopian foreign fighter in Iraq who urge Somalis to join the “caliphate upon the Prophet [Muhammad’s] methodology,” referring to the Islamic State, which they claim was the only organization “truly” avenging their humiliation and oppression at the hands of the “Ethiopian Christians.”[31] This initial propaganda shot at al-Shabaab has been followed by a slate of releases between early October 2015 and January 2016 featuring Islamic State fighters, both Somali and non-Somali, who are stationed in different locations, including Syria, Libya, and Yemen. In these films, the fighters call on Somalis generally and al-Shabaab members specifically to join the Islamic State, the banners of the “caliphate,” and the only “true defenders of Islam.”[32] This official Islamic State media output has been aided by similar calls from pro-Islamic State jihadi media outlets in the form of essays and films produced in Somali, Arabic, and English.[33][j]

The Islamic State and pro-Islamic State recruitment pitches have thus far met with limited success on the ground in Somalia and have elicited strong responses from al-Shabaab’s leadership. The most high-profile defection, however, from the latter to the former was that of Abd al-Qadir Mu’min, a prominent al-Shabaab preacher and religious authority previously based in the Golis Mountains in northern Somalia, along with an unknown number of rank-and-file fighters in late October 2015.[34] A frequent speaker at al-Shabaab’s public events, including its official celebration in the Lower Shabelle region in February 2012 to mark its formal affiliation with al-Qa`ida Central, Mu’min is symbolically important to the group and has significant scholarly credentials, for example giving a lengthy series of oral exegesis of the Qur’an.[35] Small groups of other disgruntled fighters and commanders have also defected since the autumn of 2015, but most have either reportedly had to flee the country for Islamic State strongholds such as Libya or been arrested, killed, or otherwise suppressed by al-Shabaab’s internal security network.[36][k] Al-Shabaab’s official spokesman, Ali Rage (Ali Dheere), issued a lengthy and stern warning at a press conference in early November 2015 that attempts to “divide the Muslims and the mujahidin” in Somalia will not be tolerated.[37][l] Al-Shabaab’s emir, Abu Ubayda, who previously served as a key aide to Godane and as al-Shabaab’s governor of the Bay and Bakool region, was reportedly involved in overseeing the crackdown on internal dissidents by al-Shabaab’s intelligence and security unit, Amniyat, and he has maintained close ties to other senior al-Shabaab leaders, which has likely strengthened his hand against pro-Islamic State elements.[38] The insurgents’ regional affiliates and allies, including the Kenyan Al-Muhajiroun group, which seems to be connected to al-Shabaab through an affiliation with Ahmad Iman Ali (the leader of al-Shabaab in Kenya), have also remained loyal, calling for unity and condemning defections such as Mu’min’s.[39]

Pro-Islamic State defectors from al-Shabaab seem to be particularly strong in the northern Somali autonomous region of Puntland, where Mu’min was previously based, and clashes have erupted there between al-Shabaab forces and defectors.[40] However, there have also reportedly been defections and arrests of defectors, both local Somalis and foreign fighters, by al-Shabaab’s Amniyat network in southern Somalia, including in the Lower and Middle Juba and Lower Shabelle regions.[41] The Islamic State has also attracted Somali-American youth from Minnesota to fight in Syria and Iraq, youth who otherwise may have been drawn to al-Shabaab.[42] The battle between al-Shabaab and the Islamic State is being fought not only on the ground inside Somalia but also online as supporters of both groups engage in fierce debates and mutual exchanges of insults and allegations.[m]

On April 15, the Islamic State upped the ante by releasing a video showing a dozen or so masked fighters performing military maneuvers in a barren, rural area of Somalia as part of the “Military Camp of Shaykh Abu Nu’man,” probably named after the former al-Shabaab commander Abu Nu’man al-Yentari, who was killed by the Amniyat shortly after pledging allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi with a small group of his fighters in the autumn of 2015.[43] Some of the fighters, speaking in Somali, urge their audience to join the Islamic State. At the end of the nearly 17-minute video, the small group of fighters is addressed by an individual who appears to be ‘Abd al-Qadir Mu’min, the prominent al-Shabaab preacher who pledged allegiance to al-Baghdadi in October 2015. Mu’min had not been seen or heard from since a poor-quality audio recording of his bay`a was released last fall.

Though the Islamic State’s ideology, or aspects of it, are attractive to some members of al-Shabaab, the emergence of such a competitor also provides those disgruntled members a way to challenge the status quo on the ground in Somalia within the anti-SFG insurgency in a challenge to al-Shabaab’s dominance. However, the Islamic State faces an uphill battle if it wants to establish a strong foothold in Somalia. Domestically, the country has historically proven to be a difficult operating space for non-Somali militants, who are often bewildered by the complexities of local clan politics and find that many of its Somali allies are unreliable at best, extorting or otherwise siphoning money away from foreign groups while providing little in the way of local support. This was the case in the 1990s when al-Qa`ida was seeking to enter the country. Ultimately the group’s leadership decided that other regions in the Horn of Africa, particularly areas suffering from weak governance such as the Swahili Coast of Kenya, were more conducive arenas for its operations.[44] Al-Shabaab’s leadership is primarily concerned with establishing an insurgent state inside Somalia, a goal that requires support from local Somali actors and segments of society, the same supporters who are likely to be suspicious and hostile to the largely foreign Islamic State. If the Somali insurgent group was to pledge allegiance to the latter, it would likely lose the already diminishing domestic support that it still possesses and could much more easily be branded by its enemies as a foreign tool. This, in addition to maintaining its own monopoly on anti-government violence and insurgent rule and loyalty to Ayman al-Zawahiri, is likely one of factors at play in al-Shabaab leaders’ decision to resist so far calls from the Islamic State to join its ranks.[n]

Conclusion
Al-Shabaab, in the face of significant territorial losses and military and economic pressure, has proven to be remarkably resilient. The Somali insurgent group has survived leadership decapitation at multiple levels, including the killing of its emir, Godane, in September 2014 and numerous other senior leaders and field commanders since 2007, thanks to robust and capable senior and regional leadership networks.

Al-Shabaab is also able to absorb significant military losses and setbacks, such as a series of deadly airstrikes by the U.S. military on March 6 on the “Raso” insurgent training camp where insurgent fighters were allegedly amassing in preparation for a major attack.[o] The Pentagon claims it killed 150 insurgents and a local Somali government official has claimed it killed at least 200.[45] Al-Shabab’s military spokesman, Abd al-Aziz Abu Mus’ab, denied the Pentagon’s claims, saying that the insurgent group does not gather in such large numbers as a security precaution against precisely such a catastrophic airstrike.[46][p] Although the details of the attack planning at the Raso camp are unclear, it is possible that the insurgents had grown overly bold following the success of their attack on AMISOM’s El-Adde base. This would represent a rare departure from the cautious battlefield strategy that has allowed the group to survive and rebound.

Al-Shabaab’s media capabilities, though impacted by the group’s on-the-ground setbacks, remain strong and multi-faceted. In addition to its video, audio, and written releases, the insurgent group also maintains local media capabilities within Somalia, including domestic radio broadcasts. It is also capable of responding quickly, within a matter of days, to counter claims by the SFG, AMISOM, or the U.S. government, as it did regarding the Raso airstrikes.

Finally, al-Shabaab leadership has successfully navigated, thus far, dangerous periods of internal discord and bitter infighting. It has survived and ultimately quashed internal challenges from disgruntled foreign fighters such as Omar Hammami as well as dissident founding leaders such as Mukhtar Robow, Ibrahim al-Afghani, and Mu’allim Burhan. Despite the public criticisms of Godane from senior figures such as these, the majority of al-Shabaab’s regional governors and officials remained loyal to him. The current challenge posed by the Islamic State and its Somali sympathizers has also been limited thanks to the control capability of the Amniyat and the strength of the ties between the group’s emir and its administrative and regional leaders.

Though the threat of further defections to pro-Islamic State groups remains high, al-Shabaab will likely continue to be able to prevent mass defections thanks to its resilience in Somalia and East Africa and the steady decline of the Islamic State’s fortunes, and thus its appeal to jihadis both inside and outside of Somalia. U.S. military strikes on al-Shabaab, such as the recent reported killing of Hassan Ali Dhoore, a member of the Amniyat and key operational planner involved in organizing several major insurgent attacks on soft targets inside Mogadishu in 2014 and 2015, will continue to weaken the organization but are unlikely to deal it a fatal blow.[47] Despite suffering casualties and in spite of the targeted killings of individual commanders, al-Shabaab will continue to benefit from the weakness of the SFG, which still relies on thousands of AMISOM troops as a bulwark against the insurgents, forces supplied by regional powers with often divergent interests inside Somalia.

Christopher Anzalone is a Ph.D. candidate (ABD) in the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University where his research focuses on political Islam; militancy and political violence, particularly in Somalia, Iraq, and Syria; Islamic visual cultures; and contemporary Shi`ism. Follow @ibnsiqilli

Substantive Notes
[a] In addition to being a trade hub, Baraawe also served as one of the insurgent group’s main hubs for major social and political events and rallies, including communal prayers, sermons, and celebrations for the Muslim religious holidays of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. It was thus a major symbolic as well as material loss.

[b] The suspected bomber has been identified as Abdullahi Abdisalam Borleh, an Islamic school teacher from Hargeisa in the autonomous Somali region of Somaliland who was aged between 50 and 55 and in a wheelchair. Though he had been on government officials’ radar, Borleh was not considered to be an extremist in his religiosity or political views. Abdi Guled, “Somali plane bomber was known as religious but not extremist,” Associated Press, February 16, 2016.

[c] At least 45 people have been arrested under suspicion of aiding the attack. See Robyn Kriel and Paul Cruickshank, “Source: ‘Sophisticated’ laptop bomb on Somali plane got through X-ray machine,” CNN, February 12, 2016. Evidence points to either a convincing forgery by al-Shabaab of a letter purporting to be from the Somali embassy in Turkey and designed to facilitate the issuing of a Turkish work visa for Borleh or possible help from individuals within the SFG’s foreign ministry. See Guled. It is likely that extreme failures of airport security systems or inside help from individuals working in the airport played a major role in smuggling the bomb onto the flight. This is particularly concerning for government officials because the airport has three levels of security screening run by AMISOM troops, SFG security agents, and a Turkish company contracted to run airport operations. See Harun Maruf, “Somali Officials: Man Killed in Plane Bombing Given Laptop Before Flight,” Voice of America, February 7, 2016; “Somalia’s Beledweyne Airport Hit by Laptop Bomb,” BBC News, March 7, 2016.

[d] This type of attack on soft targets includes, for example, coordinated assaults on the Makka al-Mukkarama Hotel in Mogadishu in March 2015, the Beach View Hotel and Restaurant on Liido Beach in Mogadishu in January, and the Sahafi Hotel in central Mogadishu in November 2015. Al-Shabaab often describes these soft targets as being intimately connected to its broader insurgency, for example labeling the Makka al-Mukkarama Hotel as “one of the retreats of the apostates in Mogadishu.” See “Al-Shabab Storms Beachside Restaurant in Somali Capital,” Al-Jazeera English, January 22, 2016; “Al-Shabab Assault Targets Senior Somali Officials,” Al-Jazeera English, November 1, 2015; and al-Shabaab communiqué, “HSM Press Release: Mogadishu Attack,” March 28, 2015.

[e] The name of the unit that carried out the attack is taken from the late al-Qa`ida operative Saleh al-Nabhani, who also served as an al-Shabaab military commander and trainer before being killed by U.S. Special Operations Forces on September 14, 2009. See “Profile: Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan,” BBC News, September 15, 2009, and al-Shabaab communiqué, “Blood [Sacrifice for] the Islamic Ummah, Tidings of the Martyrdom of the Shaykh-Commander Abu Yusuf al-Nabhani,” September 15, 2009.

[f] Al-Shabaab’s military affairs spokesman Abd al-Aziz Abu Mus’ab initially told BBC News that 63 Kenyan soldiers had been killed in the attack but later increased the estimated number to 100. See Aislinn Laing, “Bodies of Kenyan Soldiers Dragged Through Somali Streets after al-Shabaab Attack on Base,” Telegraph, January 15, 2016; “New Details of El Adde Attack: Somali General Claims KDF Received Pre-attack Intelligence,” Standard Digital News (Kenya), January 20, 2016; Abdi Sheikh and Feisal Omar, “Dozens of Kenyan Soldiers Reportedly Killed in Al-Shabab Attack in Somalia,” Globe and Mail, January 15, 2016; and al-Shabaab communiqué, “100 Kenyan Invaders Massacred, Others Captured Alive,” January 17, 2016.

[g] Ali, the founder of an organization for Kenyan Muslim youth called the Muslim Youth Centre/Al-Hijra in Nairobi, had emerged in January 2012 as a main featured ideologue in al-Shabaab audio and audiovisual propaganda. See Christopher Anzalone, “Kenya’s Muslim Youth Center and Al-Shabab’s East African Recruitment,” CTC Sentinel 5:10 (2012): p. 11 and Fredrick Nzes, “Al-Hijra: Al-Shabab’s Affiliate in Kenya,”CTC Sentinel 7:5 (2014): pp. 24-26.

[h] The Islamic State’s leadership is keen to win over local and regional jihadi groups to its side as affiliates and branches. By continuously expanding, or appearing to expand, its list of local and regional supporters, the Islamic State promotes an image of strength and steadfastness, as claimed in its popular slogan “al-Dawlat al-Islamiyya baqiyya wa tatamaddad” (remaining and expanding). This projection of power helps mask the steady battlefield and economic setbacks faced by the organization in Iraq and Syria, its main bases of operation, and is the centerpiece of its leaders’ claim to govern a new “caliphate.”

[i] These dissidents included founding leaders Ibrahim al-Afghani, Mukhtar Robow, and preacher Mu’allim Burhan as well as the American foreign fighter and al-Shabaab media personality Omar “Abu Mansur al-Amriki” Hammami as well as other non-Somali foreign fighters. Infighting eventually led to the departure of Hasan Dahir Aweys and Robow from al-Shabaab. The former surrendered to SFG authorities in a negotiated deal, and Robow reportedly went into hiding in his home region of Bay and Bakool among his clan. It has been rumored that Robow has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, but concrete evidence for this is spotty at best. Other reports say that Robow, who rejected Godane’s successor as emir, remains in his home region with his own fighters. See “Somali: Senior Radical Sheikh Mukhtar Robow Left Al Shabab,” Midnimo, April 3, 2015; “Somalia: Intelligence Agencies Confirmed Al-Shabaab’s New Leader,” Geeska Afrika Online, September 6, 2014; Abdulkadir Khalif, “Al-Shabaab’s Loyalty Split between Al-Qaeda and ISIS,” Africa Review, November 14, 2015; and Jeremy Scahill, “The Purge: How Somalia’s Al Shabaab Turned against Its Own Foreign Fighters,” Intercept, May 19, 2015. Al-Afghani and Burhan were arrested in late June 2013 by al-Shabaab’s intelligence and security wing, Amniyat, and shot to death soon thereafter. Their families claim both were executed, but al-Shabaab denied this and said the two were killed while trying to escape. Hammami, after a year on the run during which he had engaged in a war of words with al-Shabaab and its supporters online and on the ground, was finally tracked down and killed by the Amniyat in September 2013. See Christopher Anzalone, “The Rise and Decline of Al-Shabab in Somalia,” Turkish Review, July 2, 2014, pp. 391-392, and Christopher Anzalone, “The Evolution of an American Jihadi: The Case of Omar Hammami,” CTC Sentinel 5:6 (2012): p. 11.

[j] These sympathetic jihadi media groups include the Habashah Media Foundation, whose presence on Twitter through Somali, Arabic, and English accounts was short-lived in October 2015.

[k] At least one prominent al-Shabaab defector to the Islamic State has been killed by al-Shabaab, Shaykh Hussein Abdi Gedi, and four other defectors were killed in the Middle Juba region after being tracked down by the Amniyat. Gedi had previously served as al-Shabaab’s deputy governor of the Juba region before defecting and becoming a recruiter of pro-Islamic State Somali fighters. See Voice of America, “Suspected Leader of Pro-IS Al-Shabab Faction Reported Killed” and Harun Maruf, “Al-Shabab Official Threatens Pro-Islamic State Fighters,” Voice of America, November 24, 2015.

[l] Al-Shabaab officials have thus far taken a relatively low-key approach in addressing Islamic State attempts to recruit from within its ranks and sow internal discord. This follows a pattern set in 2012 and 2013 during the infighting between Godane and his supporters and their internal critics such as Aweys, Robow, al-Afghani, Burhan, and Hammami. Rather than release a spate of media releases, al-Shabaab leaders have preferred to rely on the competence of their internal security forces in stomping out dissent as quickly and relatively quietly as possible.

[m] In one major exchange in early November 2015, online al-Shabaab supporters accused the Islamic State and its Somali supporters (accurately) of plagiarizing footage from an al-Shabaab propaganda film, removing the logo of the group’s Al-Kataib Media Foundation, and presenting it as “new” footage of pro-Islamic State defectors from al-Shabaab inside the country. They tweeted anti-Islamic State messages pointing out this theft using the Arabic hashtag “Baghdadi’s organization is stealing from the media releases of Al-Kataib.” Other al-Shabaab supporters tweeted a play-on-words of the Islamic State’s slogan to be “the Caliphate upon the Prophet’s methodology,” dubbing the organization instead a “caliphate upon the methodology of theft.” The accounts have since been shut down, but screen captures of some of the tweets are available athttps://occidentblog.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/references-for-ctc-sentinel-article-the-resilience-of-al-shabab-april-2016/.

[n] Godane’s decision in 2012 to affiliate formally with al-Qa`ida was also controversial domestically and even among al-Shabaab’s leadership. However, the group has largely remained free to pursue its own interests in Somalia and the surrounding region, arguably in large part because of the diminished capabilities of al-Qa`ida Central under Ayman al-Zawahiri. In contrast, the Islamic State has demonstrated a much stronger interest in exerting more centralized control on at least some aspects of the activities pursued by its own regional affiliates, particularly in the centralization of media production and releases but also in the realm of ideology and insurgent rule.

[o] Details of this alleged coming attack are unclear and were not specified by U.S. government officials.

[p] Several days later, al-Shabaab officials also denied reports that its governor of the Hiraan region, Muhammad Mire, and another senior official and the region’s former insurgent governor, Yusuf Ali Ugaas, were killed in these airstrikes. Mire attended a public execution by the insurgent group of a captured SFG soldier in the town of Buqa Qabe in the Hiraan region on March 10, four days after the U.S. airstrikes, and claimed that Ugaas is also still alive. Hamza Mohamed, “Al-Shabab Denies Top Leaders Killed in US Air Strikes,” Al-Jazeera English, March 10, 2016.

Citations
[1] African Union press release, “Somalia National Army and AMISOM Liberate Coastal City of Baraawe,” October 5, 2014; “Somali Town is Reclaimed from Shabab Militants,” Reuters, October 5, 2014; “AU Forces Take Al-Shabab-held Town,” Al-Jazeera English, October 6, 2014.

[2] Afyare Abdi Elmi and Abukar Arman, “US policies do more harm than good in Somalia,” Al-Jazeera English, February 22, 2016; “Army, Pro-gov’t Militia Clashes Leave 16 Dead, 14 Wounded in Somalia,” Al-Akhbar English, February 10, 2015; “Somali: Govt Troops and Militia Clash in Deadly Battle,” Garowe Online, November 17, 2013; Hussein Farah, “Somalia: Seven dead in clashes between Puntland & Galmudug forces in Galkayo City,” Horseed Media, November 29, 2015; and Zakaria Yusuf and Abdul Khalif, “Galkayo and Somalia’s Dangerous Faultlines,” International Crisis Group Blog, December 10, 2015.

[3] Drazen Jorgic, “Somalia plane bomber was meant to board Turkish flight: Airline Executive,” Reuters, February 8, 2016; Hamza Mohamed, “Somali Jet Suspect ‘Checked in on Turkish Airlines,’” Al-Jazeera English, February 7, 2016.

[4] “‘Somalia plane bomber given bomb in laptop’ on CCTV,” BBC News, February 8, 2016; Abdi Guled and Dusan Stojanovic, “Somalia spokesman: Video shows laptop handed to bomb suspect,” Associated Press, February 7, 2016.

[5] Al-Shabaab communiqué, “Targeting Senior Western Intelligence Officials,” February 13, 2016.

[6] Ibid.

[7] “Somalia’s Beledweyne Airport Hit by Laptop Bomb,” BBC News, March 7, 2016.

[8] Tom Gjelten, “Al-Shabab Shifts Focus from Territory to Terrorism,” NPR, September 28, 2013.

[9] “Al-Shabab Assault Targets Senior Somali Officials,” al-Shabaab communiqués, “As-Sahafi Hotel: No Safe Haven for Apostates in Somalia,” November 1, 2015; “News Report for the Month of Muharram 1437,” January 14, 2016; “Xarakada Al Shabaab oo Sheegatay Mas’uuliyadda Weeraro Ka Dhacay Xeebta Liido,” SomaliMeMo, January 21, 2016; “Sheekh Cali Max’med Xuseen [Ali Muhammad Husayn] oo Faah Faahiyay Weerarkii Xeebta Liido,” SomaliMeMo, January 26, 2016.

[10] Christopher Anzalone, “Al-Shabab’s Tactical and Media Strategies in the Wake of its Battlefield Setbacks,”CTC Sentinel 6:3 (2013): p. 13.

[11] “Al-Shabab Vows to Use Guerilla Tactics in Somalia,” Voice of America blog, August 12, 2011; “Somalia’s al-Shabab Rebels Leave Mogadishu,” BBC News, August 6, 2011.

[12] “Several Killed in al-Shabab Raid on Kenya’s Lamu County,” Al-Jazeera English, January 31, 2016; Jeffrey Gettleman, “Gruesome Attacks in Kenyan Villages Heighten Fears of a Nation on Edge,” New York Times, July 6, 2014; Manase Otsialo and Abdimalik Hajir, “At Least 28 Killed in Shabaab Attack on Nairobi-bound Bus in Mandera,” Daily Nation (Kenya), November 22, 2014.

[13] Christopher Anzalone, “The Nairobi Attack and Al-Shabab’s Media Strategy,” CTC Sentinel 6:10 (2013): pp. 1-6; Jeffrey Gettleman, Isma’il Kushkush, and Rukmini Callimachi, “Somali Militants Kill 147 at Kenyan University,” New York Times, April 2, 2015.

[14] Anzalone, “Al-Shabab’s Tactical and Media Strategies in the Wake of its Battlefield Setbacks,” p. 13. In addition to the data collected and analyzed in this earlier article, the author collected and analyzed nine operational reports issued by al-Shabaab between the Islamic lunar months and years of Rabi’a al-Awwal 1436 Hijri (approximately late December 2014) and Rabi’a al-Thani 1437 Hijri (approximately early February 2016). Reports for five of the 14 months were unavailable. The information contained in these nine reports, which were composed primarily of brief insurgent claims about their military and security operations, gels with the earlier re-shift toward guerilla warfare and lower-risk operations noted in the author’s earlier article.

[15] Al-Shabaab, “Evil Will Be the Morning for Those Warned,” Al-Kataib Media Foundation, released on February 22, 2016.

[16] Al-Shabaab, “Evil Will Be the Morning for Those Warned.”

[17] Ibid.

[18] Christopher Anzalone, “The Rapid Evolution of Al-Shabab’s Media and Insurgent ‘Journalism,’ openDemocracy, November 16, 2011.

[19] Anzalone, “Kenya’s Muslim Youth Center and Al-Shabab’s East African Recruitment;” Nzes; United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, “Report of the Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea pursuant to Security Council resolution 2002 (2011),” 2012 report, pp. 175-193.

[20] Al-Shabaab, “Message to the Ummah: And Inspire the Believers,” Al-Kataib Media Foundation, November 22, 2010.

[21] Anzalone, “Kenya’s Muslim Youth Center and Al-Shabab’s East African Recruitment.”

[22] Al-Shabaab, “O’ Believers, Depart for Hijra,” Al-Kataib Media Foundation, released on August 7, 2015. On extrajudicial killings in Kenya, see “Inside Kenya’s Death Squads,” Al-Jazeera English, 2014; “Kenya Police Admit ‘Extrajudicial Killings,’” Al-Jazeera English, December 8, 2014; “Killing Kenya,” Al-Jazeera English, September 23, 2015; Amnesty International, “Op-ed, “Kenya Cannot be Allowed to Gloss Over Serious Human Rights Failures,” November 12, 2015; and Human Rights Watch, “Kenya: Killings, Disappearances by Anti-Terror Police,” August 18, 2014.

[23] Al-Shabaab, “The Westgate Siege: Retributive Justice,” Al-Kataib Media Foundation, released on February 19, 2015.

[24] For background on al-Shabaab’s establishment of governing administrations and territorial ambitions, see Stig Jarle Hansen, Al-Shabaab in Somalia: The History and Ideology of a Militant Islamist Group, 2005-2012Chapter Six (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013); Anzalone, “Al-Shabab’s Tactical and Media Strategies in the Wake of its Battlefield Setbacks,” p. 15; and Christopher Anzalone, “Al-Shabab’s Setbacks in Somalia,”CTC Sentinel 4:10 (2011): pp. 23-24.

[25] “Sheekh Mustafa: ‘Meel Wanaagsan Ayuu Marayaa Ol’olaha Gurmadka Bulshada Gedo,” SomaliMeMo, February 1, 2016; “Maxkamadda Islaamiga ah Bay iyo Bakool oo Xukun 100 Jaydal ku Fulisay Ruux,” SomaliMeMo, February 9, 2016; “Sheekh Fu’aad oo Farriin adag u diray Maamulka ‘Somaliland’ Kadib Markii uu Mamnuucay Kitaabka Al-walaa Walbaraa,” SomaliMeMo, December 19, 2015; “Sawirro: Hey’adda Al-Ixsaan oo War Biyood Ka Qoday Bay,” Radio Al-Furqan, March 6, 2016; “Wilaayada Sh/hoose Oo u Gurmatay Bulshada Gedo Ee Ay Kenyaatigu Dhibaateeyeen,” Radio Al-Furqan, February 24, 2016.

[26] “Al-Shabab ‘Retakes’ Key Somalia Port City of Merca,” BBC News, February 5, 2016.

[27] “Somalia: Over a Dozen Killed as Al Shabaab Attacks Afgooye,” Garowe Online, February 16, 2016; “Somalia: Al Shabaab Threatens More Attacks,” Garowe Online, February 17, 2016; Global Islamic Media Front (which distributes al-Shabaab media online) communiqué about al-Shabaab’s Afgooye offensive, February 16, 2016.

[28] Al-Shabaab communiqué, “And the Honorable Journey Continues: Message Congratulating the IslamicUmmah on the Occasion of the Blessed Eid al-Fitr of the Year 1437 Hijri from the Mujahid Shaykh Abu Ubayda Ahmad Omar,” July 16, 2015.

[29] Ibid.

[30] “Sh. Abu Cabdalla Oo Ka War Bixiyay Weerarkii Naf Hurnimo ah ee Ka Dhacay Jannaale iyo Xaaladda Degmada Kurtunwaarey,” SomaliMeMo, September 5, 2015; Sidee Maanta Looga Ciiday Wilaayada Islaamiga Baay & Bakool,” Radio Al-Andalus, September 24, 2015; “Ganacsatada Jubooyinka oo Ka Hadlay Horumarka Ka Jira Goobaha Ay kataliso Alshabaab,” Radio Al-Furqan, March 2, 2016; “Kooxo Jawaasiis ah oo Dilal iyo Gowrac Lagu Fuliyay Degmada Saakow ee Jubbada Hoose,” SomaliMeMo, December 31, 2015; Hay’adda Al-Ixsaan oo Dad iyo Xoolo Ku Dawaysay Shabeelaha Hoose,” February 7, 2016.

[31] Islamic State, “A Message to the Muslims in Somalia,” Media Office of Wilayat al-Furat, released on May 21, 2015.

[32] Islamic State, “O’ Mujahid in Somalia, Unity Be Upon You,” Media Office of Wilayat Hadramawt, released on October 2, 2015; Islamic State, “A Message to the Mujahidin in the Land of Somalia,” Media Office of Wilayat Homs, released on October 1, 2015; Islamic State, “A Message to Our Brothers in Somalia,” Media Office of Wilayat Tripoli, released on January 12, 2016; Islamic State, “A Message from the Mujahidin in West Africa to the Mujahidin of Somalia,” Media Office of Wilayat West Africa, released on October 14, 2015; Islamic State, “Join the Caravan,” Media Office of Wilayat Raqqa, released on October 2, 2015; Islamic State, “From the Land of Syria to the Mujahidin in Somalia,” Media Office of Wilayat Dayr al-Zur, released on October 3, 2015; and Islamic State, “From Sinai to Somalia,” Media Office of Wilayat Sinai, released on October 1, 2015.

[33] Abu Maysara al-Shami, “Hooy-Yaay Tan Waa Shirqoolki Madaxda AlShabaab,” East Africa [Media] Foundation, January 8, 2016; “Al-Qa’ida’s Soldiers in Somalia, to Where?” Eye on the Land of the Caliphate, September 27, 2015; Umm Safiyya al-Muhajir, “Al-Shabab’s Mujahidin between Movement and Stillness,” October 1, 2015; Abu Qatada al-Hadrami, “If Not Now, When?,” September 29, 2015; Sarim al-Fajr al-Utaybi, “The Profit of Bay’a,” October 2, 2015, Al-Sawirti Media, “A Message to the Mujahidin in Somalia,” released on October 2, 2015; Gharib al-Suriyya, “Somalia: The Realization of Hopes, concerning the Bay’a of the Mujahidin,” October 3, 2015; Abdullah al-Najdi, “O’ Harakat al-Shabab, This is the Consequence of Fighting the Caliphate,” December 11, 2015; and Abu al-Bara bin Malik, “The Islamic State in Somalia, a Story from the Heart,” October 3, 2015.

[34] Abd al-Qadir Mu’min, “Bay’a of Shaykh Abd al-Qadir Mu’min and a Group of Mujahidin in Somalia to the Caliph of the Muslims, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, may God protect him,” no media outlet specified, October 22, 2015; Robyn Kriel and Briana Duggan, “Al-Shabaab Faction Pledges Allegiance to ISIS,” CNN, October 23, 2015; and Abdi Sheikh, “Small Group of Somali al Shabaab Swear Allegiance to Islamic State,” Reuters, October 23, 2015.

[35] Christopher Anzalone, “From Al-Shabab to the Islamic State: The Bay‘a of ‘Abd al-Qadir Mu’min and Its Implications,” Jihadology, October 29, 2015.

[36] Harun Maruf, “Al-Qaida or Islamic State? Issue Simmers within Al-Shabab,” Voice of America, September 30, 2015; “Suspected Leader of Pro-IS Al-Shabab Faction Reported Killed,” Voice of America, November 22, 2015; and “Tensions Rise as Al-Shabaab Foreign Fighters Consider Supporting ISIS,” Associated Press, December 8, 2015.

[37] “Dhagheyso Dhuuxa Wareysiyada Oo Lagu Soo Qaatay Kalimad Dheer Oo Uu Jeediyay Sh/Cali Dheere,” Radio Al-Furqan, November 3, 2015.

[38] “Security Council 751 and 1907 Committee on Somalia and Eritrea Adds Ahmed Diriye to 1844 Sanctions List,” United Nations Press Release, September 24, 2014; Stefan Smith, “Shebab’s New Leader a Devout, Ruthless Hardliner,” Agence France-Presse, September 7, 2014; Herve Bar, “Somalia’s Shebab Put the Squeeze on Foreign NGOs,” Agence France-Presse, December 23, 2009; Conor Gaffey, “Al-Shabab’s Most Wanted: Abu Ubaidah, the Leader with a $6 Million Bounty on His Head,” Newsweek, November 12, 2015; Ludovinca Iaccino, “Who is Sheikh Ahmed Umar, Al-Shabaab’s Ruthless New Leader?” International Business Times, September 8, 2014; and “The State of Jihadism in Somalia: Al-Shabab & IS,” Jihadology Podcast, November 2, 2015.

[39] Al-Muhajiroun, “Hold Fast, Altogether,” October 24, 2015. For background on Al-Muhajiroun, see Caroline Hellyer, “ISIL Courts Al-Shabab as Al-Qaeda Ties Fade Away,” Al-Jazeera English, March 23, 2015, and Fred Oluoch, “Security Agents Pursue New Terrorist Group in the East African Region,” East African, April 25, 2015.

[40] “Al Shabaab and ISIS Affiliates Clash in Northern Somalia,” Horseed Media, December 24, 2015; Sheikh, “Small Group of Somali al Shabaab Swear Allegiance to Islamic State;” and “Puntland ‘concerned’ about ISIS Emergence in Somalia,” Horseed Media, February 27, 2016.

[41] Maruf, “Al-Qaida or Islamic State?;” “Al-Shabab Oo Xirtay 30 Anjaaniib & Soomaali ah,” Voice of America, October 14, 2015; “Tensions Rise as Al-Shabaab Foreign Fighters Consider Supporting ISIS,” Associated Press, December 8, 2015; “Al-Shabaab Detains 5 of Its Foreign Members for Alleged Links with ISIS,” Wacaal Media, October 2015.

[42] Scott Shane, “6 Minnesotans Held in Plot to Join ISIS,” New York Times, April 20, 2015; Laura Yuen and Mukhtar Ibrahim, “Fears Grow That More MN Somali Youth Have Gone to ISIS,” Minnesota Public Radio, August 21, 2015; “Why is ISIS Recruiting Young People in Minnesota?,” Fusion, September 2, 2015; Mike Durkin, “Minnesota Responsible for 15 of 58 American ISIS Recruits,” Fox 9 News, September 29, 2015; Andrea Noble, “Minnesota Somalis Suspicious of U.S. Efforts to Stymie Islamic State Recruitment,”Washington Times, December 30, 2015; and “Minnesota Man Who Wanted to Join ISIS Once Worked as Baggage Handler at Airport,” Associated Press, December 22, 2015.

[43] Video featuring “Military Camp of Shaykh Abu Nu’man,” Furat Media, posted on YouTube and other social media, April 15, 2016.

[44] Clint Watts, Jacob Shapiro, and Vahid Brown, Al-Qa’ida’s (Mis)Adventures in the Horn of Africa, Combating Terrorism Center Harmony Project report, July 2, 2007, and Anne Stenersen, “Arab and Non-Arab Jihadis,” inFault Lines in Global Jihad: Organizational, Strategic, and Ideological Fissures, eds. Assaf Moghadam and Brian Fishman (New York: Routledge, 2011), pp.118-122.

[45] U.S. Department of Defense, “U.S. Conducts Airstrike against Terrorist Camp in Somalia,” March 7, 2016, and “Statement from Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook on Airstrike in Somalia,” Press Release NR-076-16, March 7, 2016; Phil Stewart, “U.S. Strikes al Shabaab Training Camp in Somalia, more than 150 Killed,” Reuters, March 8, 2016; and David Smith and Spencer Ackerman, “Somali Cattle Herder Describes US Airstrike on Al-Shabaab Training Camp,” Guardian, March 8, 2016.

[46] “Al-Shabab Denies US Strike in Somalia Killed 150 Fighters,” BBC News, March 8, 2016.

[47] U.S. Department of Defense, “Statement from Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook on Airstrike in Somalia,” Press Release No. NR-117-16, April 1, 2016; “US Air Strike Targets Senior al-Shabab Leader,” Al-Jazeera English, April 1, 2016.

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