Since 2007, the Al-Qaeda affiliate, Al-Shabaab has been the sole jihadi in Somalia, and indeed, the Horn of Africa. Its supremacy and longevity came into question in October 2015 when Abdiqadir Mumin, a former Al-Shabaab ideologue who was part of a Puntland-based faction of the group, defected from the avowed Al-Qaeda branch and switched allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State.
Since this split, over time, an intra-jihadi battle of sorts has arisen in Somalia. The Islamic State in Somalia (short: ISS) or Abnaa ul-Calipha has been courting and converting Al-Shabaab foot soldiers and members.
In response, Al-Shabaab has been waging attacks against follower-ship and members of the Islamic State. Al-Shabaab has as well targeted and even killed its own members sympathetic to the Islamic State cause inside Somalia.
Despite a number of targeted attacks against its members by Al-Shabaab Islamic State in Somalia continue to challenge Al-Shabaab in a bid stamp its legitimacy and influence. Islamic State Somalia continues to expand and to cement itself in a number of regions in Somalia.
Maintaining small, loyal cells, besides Puntland, the group presence has been recorded in Mogadishu, Afgoye, Beledweyne, Saacow, Buale, Jilib and Gedo region of Somalia where the group has claimed a number of attacks.
The two jihadi group’s rivalry continue to escalate and to deepen, more so after the December 2018, when the Al-Qaeda branch in Somalia published an 18-page document calling its fighters to wage battle against Islamic State members in Somalia, terming them as ‘apostate’ and illegitimate.
According to Al-Shabaab spokesman, Sheikh Mohamud Ali Rage, also known as Ali Dheere, they instructed their fighters to fight ISIS elements within Somalia. Rage termed ISS as a ‘cancer’ and said the Middle-East-based group that is determined to create division within Al-Shabaab and its activities have no basis in Islam. The group’s announcement came days after ISS claimed to have killed 14 Al-Shabaab fighters in a clash in northeastern Somalia in retaliatory.
For more than three years now, Al-Shabaab has been targeting Islamic State members in Somalia but these targeted attacks have not prevented the latter from spreading and establishing foothold even in Al-Shabaab perceived regions.
Despite the small number of Mumin’s fighters compared to the number of Al-Shabab fighters, the former has succeeded in attracting to its ranks several foreign fighters from Al-Shabaab. The group that started with about 20 members has grown with recent figures showing the group has nearly 500 fighters.
Intelligence assets recorded nearly 100 claimed attacks by the Islamic State inside Somalia between April 2016 and 2018. In the first quarter of 2019, the Islamic State faction in Somalia has claimed over 40 attacks. There is also various evidence that the Islamic State inside Somalia maintains contact with the broad network of the Islamic State for recruitment, financing and strategy.
Al-Shabaab has killed its own fighters and sympathizers claiming they are spying for the Islamic State. For example, violent internal clashes took place within Al-Shabab in November 2018 when the organization’s fighters killed one of its foreign fighters, claiming that he had left Al-Shabab and defected to the Islamic State. A similar incident took place in southern Somalia in the beginning of 2017.
Despite the continuous killings and intimidation of Islamic State fighters in Somalia by the Al-Qaeda linked Al-Shabaab, it seems the al-Baghdadi’s faction in Somalia is not ready to relent and leave Somalia for Al-Shabaab. Indeed, terror threat is compounding, barring any significant changes and unfolding scenarios, Al-Shabaab is expected to face some serious challenges from the Islamic State in Somalia in the foreseeable future