INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM MONITOR—PAPER NO.584
Al Qaeda looks upon its continuing jihad against the so-called Crusaders --- thereby meaning essentially the US, Israel and their supporters--- as a global intifada waged on many fronts and through many means. In this global jihad, Afghanistan, Somalia and Algeria are seen as battle fronts, which will determine the ultimate outcome. Afghanistan is seen as the core of the battle, Somalia as its southern front and Algeria as the Western front.
2. In a message disseminated on December 20,2006, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the No.2 to Osama bin Laden in Al Qaeda, said: “Brothers in Islam and Jihad in Somalia: know that you are on the southern garrison of Islam, so don’t allow Islam to be attacked from your flank, and know that we are with you, and that the entire Muslim Ummah is with you. So don’t lose heart, or fall into despair, for you must dominate if you are true in faith. And know that you are fending off the same Crusade which is fighting your brothers in Islam in Chechnya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon. So be resolute, be patient and be optimistic, for by Allah beside whom there is no other God, even if your enemies possess thousands of tons of iron and explosives, in their chests lie the hearts of mice. So be severe against them like Muhammad was. "
3. To keep the jihad going in Somalia is one of its important objectives. For this purpose, it uses not only recruits from the impoverished local population, but also from the Somali diaspora in the West----including the US--- as well as jihad-hardened cadres sent from the battle fronts in the Af-Pak region. The Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) of Pakistan has had a long history of contacts with the Muslim population in Somalia and East African countries just as it has with the Muslim population of Chechnya and Dagestan. Though the TJ itself does not indulge in acts of terrorism, it plays an important role in facilitating the ideological motivation of the population on behalf of Al Qaeda.
4. In September 2009, Al Shabaab, meaning “The Lads”, an organization of Somali youths, was reported to have disseminated through Islamic web sites usually identified with Al Qaeda a 48-minute video documentary in which it proclaimed its allegiance to Osama bin Laden. It derives its name “The Lads” from the fact that it used to be the youth wing of a fundamentalist organization called the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), which had established control over some parts of Somalia and was ultimately crushed by invading Ethiopian troops in 2006. While the elders of the UIC disappeared after being defeated by the better trained and better armed Ethiopian troops allegedly inspired and aided by the US, the Al Shabaab replaced the UIC as a born-again jihadi organization, which was determined to continue the jihad against the troops of the African Union, which had replaced the Ethiopian troops, and of the UN-backed local Government, which it viewed as apostate.
5. Though Somalis had participated in acts of suicide terrorism on behalf of Al Qaeda in other countries, suicide terrorism was unknown in Somalia itself till Al Shabaab made its appearance in 2006. Even though it proclaimed its loyalty to bin Laden only in September,2009, it had carried out a number of acts of suicide terrorism against local Government targets as well as the peace-keeping troops of the African Union ever since the AU troops took over their peace-keeping responsibility in Somalia. Al Shabaab has been waging a two-front jihad---- against the AU troops and the local Government being protected by the AU troops. The first act of suicide terrorism took place on September 18,2006. Since then, there have been 13 suicide attacks--- two in 2006, four in 2007, two in 2008 and five this year.
6. The Al Shabaab cadres, many of whom had allegedly served with the Afghan Mujahideen, the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the Af-Pak region, look upon their jihad as similar to the jihad waged by the Afghan Mujahideen against the Soviet troops and those of the Government of the then President Najibullah in the 1980s and the early 1990s.
7. In a serious attack of suicide terrorism, a male suicide bomber dressed as a woman managed to find his way into a graduation ceremony of medical students in a Mogadishu hotel on December 3,2009, and blew himself up killing 19 persons, including three Ministers of the Cabinet of Prime Minister Omar Sharmarke of the UN-backed Government. Even though no organization has so far claimed responsibility for the attack, Al Shabaab is strongly suspected by the local authorities.
8. Though there is so far no evidence of any nexus between Al Shabaab and the Somali pirates, the dangers of money earned from piracy going to the coffers of Al Qaeda and the availability in Somalia of sea-faring people who could be used by Al Qaeda for future acts of maritime terrorism cannot be ignored.
9. A Reuters report carried on December 4,2009, by the “Daily Times” of Lahore has quoted Bethuel Kiplagat, who used to be Kenya’s special envoy to the Somalia peace process from 2003 to 2005, as saying as follows: “Suicide bombings are a worrying trend not only for Somalia but also the region. There has been a rise in fundamentalism in Somalia coming from the Middle East and Pakistan. There’s a worry Al Qaeda may be looking at Somalia as a new sanctuary.”
10. On March 16,2009, Mohamed Mohamed of the BBC’s Somali section, reported as follows: “As well as alleged links to al-Qaeda it is said to have Arabs, Asians, other Africans and - America's FBI believes - Westerners among its ranks. These foreigners are said to be involved in training Al Sabaab recruits in various aspects of guerrilla warfare, including suicide bombings and booby traps.”
11. On February 29, 2008, the then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice designated Al Shabaab as a Foreign Terrorist Organization under Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act . (4-12-09)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com)