There is a looming clash between the Islamic State Somalia (ISS) and the Al-Qaeda linked Al-Shabaab in Somalia.
The compounding Islamic State network in Somalia is threatening Al-Shabaab that has been the sole jihadist group in the country for over a decade.
In a recent issue translated from the Islamic State’s weekly news letter ‘Al Naba’ the jihadist group that is quickly establishing foothold in Somalia’s northern region directly issues fresh threats to Al-Shabaab, Al-Qaeda’s official branch in East Africa.
The author of the newsletter warns Al-Shabaab of an imminent clash saying, the Al-Qaeda arm is fronting its campaign to rout the Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s group from Somalia. Islamic State Somalia is warning Al-Shabaab it’ll destroy the Al-Qaeda affiliate and already has marked 8 Top Commanders for assassination.
According to the newsletter, the Islamic State in Somalia (ISS) has continued to record these crimes orchestrated by Al-Shabaab against its followers without retaliating, but now the Al-Qaeda branch in Somalia warns that the response from the Islamic State is coming, the article continues.
Islamic State faction operating in Somalia broke from Al-Shabaab and is led by Abdulqadir Mumin, a former Al-Shabaab regional commander who before the defection had appeared in many Al-Shabaab’s propaganda videos.
The Mumin-led faction started with about 20 fighters in October 2015 has grown and now it is estimated to have between 300-400 fighters. ISS that has been operating especially in the northern Somalia has extended its foothold and now it maintains small-loyal cells in central and southern Somalia further threatening to outshine Al-Shabaab in the future of jihad in Somalia.
Islamic State in Somalia has claimed over 60 attacks from across Somalia with its small foot soldiers as compared to Al-Shabaab that has an estimated 7000-9000 fighters according to 2017 statistics. Due to the group’s proactiveness, in Aug. 2016, the US State Department added Mumin to its list of global terrorists and it also targeted Mumin’s men in airstrikes, starting last November.
Lead Security Expert at Strategic Intelligence (SI) warns that in coming years, Al-Shabaab won’t be a threat as compared to the Islamic State faction in Somalia. The expert cites the ability of ISS to plan and perpetuate terror as ‘lone wolves’ unlike Al-Shabaab who only conduct attacks as a cell. It is not easy to track a lone wolf (fighter) activated through a cell phone as compared to a group of fighters.
It remains to be seen how the Islamic State in Somalia will respond to Al-Shabaab’s crackdown. The Baghdadi loyalists do not operate a full-scale insurgency unlike Al-Shabaab’s fighters, but they do retain a terrorist capability.
Since ISS-faction split from Al-Shabaab the latter has been intensifying crackdown on the defectors with an aim of instilling fear to its fighters not to defect to the rival faction
Under Ahmad Umar’s leadership, Al-Shabaab has steadily hunted down jihadists who join Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s faction with a purpose.
The Islamic State’s loyalists say Al-Shabaab is being threatened by ISS proactiveness citing the period it has been in existence and thus it fears for new defections which resulted in the creation of Wilayat al Somal” [the Somalia Province].
In the newsletter, the ISS author prides in the steps Wilayat al Somal has taken and even listing some of Al-Shabaab defectors who have become early ISS leaders. These fighters include: Bashir Abu Numan, Hussein Abdi Gedi, Muhammad Makkawi, and Abdul Wadud.
Threatened Al-Shabaab continues to execute foreign fighters in southern Somalia especially fighters from Kenya on claims that they are spies. This uptick execution of Al-Shabaab’s own fighters continues to advertise ISS as a better faction ready to welcome defectors from Al-Shabaab, as it desires to establish a larger presence in Somalia.
Moreover, it is paramount to note that fundamentally, ISIS is more appealing ideologically and attracts more defections than Al-Shabaab. The global, terror ensemble of ISIS where it gives equal precedence to all fighters is what makes it stronger than Al-Shabaab which has actively looked down upon foreign fighters who have proved very useful in the jihadi agenda for ISS.