Sheikh Hassan Hussein, one of the leaders of al Shabaab, has pledged an oath of allegiance to the Islamic State and also declared Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai –the real name of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – as the legitimate caliph of the entire Muslim Ummah. Sheikh Hassan Hussein is considered the undisputed spiritual leader of al Shabaab, and his fatwas have been instrumental in moulding the course of al Shabaab’s operations.
Sheikh Hassan has castigated his fellow al Qaeda clerics for misjudging the Islamic State and spreading false information regarding the Caliphate. Boko Haram has already sworn its baya’ah to ISIL recently, and regional intelligence agencies assess that dissident factions within al Shabaab will follow suit.
Al Qaeda considers ISIL as a threat to global jihad besides viewing it as a rival political organization. To pre-empt ISIL dominance in East Africa, al Qaeda established al Muhajiroun as a counterweight to ISIL infiltration of regional terrorist groups.
ISIL cooperation with al Shabaab risks plunging the entire Horn of Africa and the Gulf Arab region in a security quagmire. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates, had previously warned during a counter piracy conference that ISIL seeks to establish an alliance with al Shabaab.
Regional security forces have continuously degraded al Shabaab’s military potency, but the recent pledge by Sheikh Hassan creates another dynamic to the Somali conflict.