For years the Islamist extremist group Al-Shabaab
was seen as the most cohesive, united and powerful
force in the failed state of Somalia.
But it is now disintegrating like a house of cards
because of internal divisions and power struggles
within its leadership, according to Abdiwahab Sheikh
Abdisamad, a history and political science professor
at Kenya’s Kenyatta University.
“They (the militants) are transforming into warring
mini-groups, hunting each other due to their
deteriorating ideological differences, and of course
[the group is] on the brink of civil war within itself,”
Abdisamad told IPS in Nairobi.
Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for September’s
four-day terror siege on Kenya’s Westgate Shopping
Mall that resulted in the death of more than 70
people, and for the October 13 bombing in Ethiopia’s
capital, Addis Abba, which killed two Somali
nationals who were believed to be suspects.
But the militant group, which formally linked with Al-
Qaeda in 2012, has been in a leadership and strategy
dispute that has divided it into two factions – global
jihadists and local nationalists.
Prof Abdisamad sees the militants’ internal divisions
as a golden opportunity for the Somali government
to bring less extremist and nationalist-minded
elements on board.
“Initially, Al-Shabaab came together by default, not
by design,” he said, adding that if the Somali
government did not capitalise on the rift and reach
out to the nationalist faction, the global jihadists
would win and become stronger.
“And then, the future of Somalia will be uncertain,
the stability of the region will be in question and no
doubt the stability of the whole world will be in
question too,” Prof Abdisamad said.
He explained that the moment that turned the
group’s internal war into an open and public battle
was when Al-Shabaab’s two co-founders and top
leaders, Ibrahim Haji and Moalim Burhan, were killed
by members of the group in June.
Jama, who was better known by his moniker “Al-
Afghani” due to his Al-Qaeda training in Afghanistan,
had a five million dollar US bounty on his head.
But Al-Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Abdiaziz Abu
Musab denied a split within the group and had said
that Jama and Burhan were intentionally killed in a
shoot-out when they rejected an arrest warrant from
a Sharia court.
Two foreign jihadists, the American-born Omar
Hammami known as Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki, who
was on the FBI’s most wanted list with a five million
dollar reward for his capture, and Osama al-Britani, a
British citizen of Pakistani descent, were also killed
by Al-Shabaab last month.
Al-Amriki was perhaps the most well-known Al-
Shabaab propagandist because of his English jihadi
rap videos. In 2012 he was the first member of the
group to reveal its split through a short online video
clip in which he said his life was in danger.
He was on the run and survived several assassination
attempts by the Amniyat unit, an intelligence
division of Al-Shabaab led by Ahmed Abdi Godane,
who is also known as Sheikh Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr,
and is the group’s supreme leader. Al-Amriki was
eventually killed in September.
Abdisamad explained that Godane is a supporter of
global jihad who believes that Somalia belongs to all
Muslims across the world. “(Godane’s) global jihadist
faction has an agenda beyond Somalia and wants to
spread Islam from China to Chile, from Cape Town to
Canada,” Prof Abdisamad said.
Another member of the group who was aligned to the
nationalist-minded faction to which Jama belonged,
Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, escaped from Al-
Shabaab’s largest remaining base in Barawe, which
is located some 180 km south of Mogadishu.
He surrendered to the Somali government following
the murder of Jama and Burhan. According to Prof
Abdisamad, Aweys and his faction are considered to
be less extremist as their intention is to establish an
Islamic state within Somalia borders and not bother
“The religious nationalism faction is against
globalising the conflict in Somalia, indiscriminate
assassinations and the killing of clerics, scholars and
everyone who seem to have not favoured the
militants. For years they campaigned to replace
Godane, which they failed (to do),” Prof Abdisamad
The group’s internal division is believed to have
contributed to their loss of strategic towns in
southern and central Somalia, including part of the
The Bakara market in the capital city was their main
source of funding as the group used to generate
millions of dollars from there through taxation and by
extortions from telecommunication companies and
the business community at large. Al-Shabaab was
ousted from Mogadishu in 2011 by Somali forces and
African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) troops.
Exactly a year later, the group lost its last remaining
and greatest revenue source – the stronghold of
Kismayo, a port city in southern Somalia.
According to a United Nations report, Al-Shabaab
used to generate between 35 to 50 million dollars
annually from the southern seaports of Kismayo and
Marko. Both ports are now under the control of
Somali forces and Amisom troops.
“Such a loss of economic sources and internal
divisions have led hundreds of Al-Shabaab fighters to
defect to the government,” Somali journalist,
Mohamed Abdi, told IPS. The group, he said, failed to
keep paying their fighters regularly “as they used to
do” before the financial constraints emerged.
Abdi said that the financial constraints and the open
rift within the group’s leadership have largely
demolished the morale, loyalty and capability of the
group’s foot soldiers. It has lead to hundreds of them
deserting to the government or fleeing the
organisation and going into hiding in Somalia or in
But Abdisamad Moalim Mohamud, Somalia’s former
minister for the interior and national security and a
current member of parliament, told IPS that the
group remains a threat not only to Somalia, but also
to regional and global security.
“They have lost more of their foot soldiers and can’t
counter Somali and Amisom forces directly any more.
But they are more capable of conducting effective
guerrilla-style warfare such as suicide attacks and
storming places like Westgate Mall in Nairobi and the
UN compound in Mogadishu,” Mohamud said by
phone from Mogadishu.
He said that regional intelligence sharing and
developing joint monitoring platforms and common
anti-terror strategies within regional governments
could be used to prevent such a threat. But he
disagreed that their internal division had something
to do with nationalism.
“Their rift has a lot to do with the leadership change
of Al-Qaeda than local politics and it is more about
pursuing hegemony over the command and control
of the group,” Mohamud said.
For years the Islamist extremist group Al-Shabaab