In November 2018, the Islamic State in Somalia (ISS) also known as Abnaa Ul Calipha waged war against al-Qaeda affiliated Al Shabaab in Somalia as a way of seeking dominance and expanding the caliphate to the south of Somalia. The intra-Jihadi war between ISS and Al Shabaab has taken center stage and analysts maintain that al Shabaab has been weakened and greatly affected by the war and attacks on its assets by ISS.
An al-Qaida Ideologue Bilal Khuraysat (known as Abu Khadija al -Urdini) has come out to motivate and encourage the rather weakened al Shabaab to keep fighting ISS and not to give up as their war is holy, justified and necessary. He has lauded the intra-jihadi war in Somalia despite favoring the ‘losing’ side al Shabaab as he viewed them as the shepherds to the true meaning of jihadi that ISIS has strayed from.
Khuraysat urges the underdog, al Shabaab, by quoting the Quran (Surat Al-Hujurat): “And if two factions among the believers should fight, then make peace between the two. But if one of them oppresses the other, then fight against the one that oppresses until it returns to the Command of Allah. Then, if it returns, then make reconciliation between them justly and be equitable…The believers are but brothers, so make reconciliation between your brothers, and fear Allah that you may receive mercy.” The quote advocates for the fight between the two groups with the al Shabaab maintaining the position of the true believers and ISS that of the transgressors.
ISS has inflicted losses and damages on most of al Shabaab infrastructures and networks in addition to defeating them on the kinetic warfare. ISS has established cells in the heart of al Shabaab’s territory in central and south Somalia that have been taxing businesses in Mogadishu which has gravely disrupted the financial network. By interfering with the taxation ISS curtails the financial capabilities of al Shabaab seeing as the group’s major donors have been frozen by government agencies both locally and internationally.
In December 2018, al Shabaab responded by deploying an elite squad of at least 200 soldiers to Qandala, Puntland the de facto headquarters of the Somali caliphate which led to the slaughter of over a dozen soldiers by ISS. The defeat was doubled by airstrikes against Al Shabaab by the US military that has left hundreds of militants which has further weakened the group’s capability to conduct attacks.
Additionally, in the recent weeks, al Shabaab has been viewed to take desperate measures that include embracing a more radical approach to jihadi by killing indiscriminately with the most recent attack killing several Muslims in an upmarket Kenyan hotel complex. Desperate and out-of-character moves emanating from the al Shabaab is a clear indication of a weakened group trying to reassert itself in a territory that is either retaken by the SNA and allied troops and ISS.
Ideologically, al Shabaab has nailed the final nail on its coffin as it lacks to motivate its fighters, members and sympathizers. As previously echoed, militants find the ISS ideology and beliefs more appealing especially because of the global crusade which has inspired a large exodus and defection from al Shabaab to ISS. Therefore, when Al Shabaab fighters to fight ISS, they are hesitant for religious and or personal reason as those are their former comrades. However, on the other hand, ISS has a large number of foreign fighters and ideologically motivated to hastily create a caliphate governed by Sharia that Al Shabaab has failed to do despite being active for over two decades.