Al-Shabaab is a Vital Part of the Global Jihad. No, Really, It Is!

Detonation


Al-Shabaab spends 53 minutes trying to convince us of its pivotal role in the Global Jihad – and comes out looking like a local insurgency struggling to hold it all together


It is the start of Ramadan in Somalia and that means another gory video from al-Shabaab. (And a spike in assassinations and car bombings in Mogadishu and attacks against the Somali security forces and AMISOM out in the hinterland – although this year, after the President’s ‘declaration of war’ against al-Shabaab, this year might see a spike in a spike.) This year al-Shabaab, through its media outfit, al-Kataib, reminds us of the events in Kulbiyow in Lower Jubba in January of this year, when al-Shabaab fighters clashed with Kenyan Defence Forces serving under the AMISOM banner and al-Shabaab briefly overran the position, killing 67 Kenyan soldiers (al-Shabaab version) or the Kenyan Defence Forces bravely resisted a strong attack (Kenyan government version).

Islam under attack in Palestine and elsewhere

The video follows the standard format of attack products. It sprawls over 53 minutes, of which only 10 minutes is focussed on the attack itself. The remainder is message-laden: a succession of horrific images of atrocities against Muslims (especially Muslim children) in Palestine, Iraq, Libya, Burma, Chechnya, Kashmir, West Africa and Turkmenistan; imagery of US forces (some lifted from ‘Blackhawk Down’, also I suspect al-Shabaab don’t worry much about copyright) and then, right back at you, al-Qa’ida attacks on the US; accusations of atrocities committed by black African Christian troops against Somali Muslims (many Somalis don’t consider themselves to be either black or African in spirit) with special focus on the sexual abuse of Somali women, dutifully supported with words and pictures from Human Rights Watch (made all the more easy by provocative, racially and religiously charged emphasis on lines like ‘he ripped off my hijab and then he attacked me’); and all punctuated by the musings of a diverse group of jihadist thinkers like Sheikh Ahmed Abdirahman, Usama Bin Ladin, Sheikh Qassim al-Rimi, Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Shabaab’s spokesman, Ali Dheere, Abu Yaya Al Libi and Aboud Rogo amongst many others. Many, many others.

Dulydeyn

Dulyadeyn with his trademark brew mug

A lengthy section focuses on Dulyadeyn, the architect of the Garissa University attack (oddly there is no mention of that), and in whose honour the attack on Kulbiyow was named. (No coincidence that Dulyadeyn was a Somali-Kenyan, either.) He tours the troops, boosting their morale with his mere presence, and lectures them at length with a tea mug attached to his combat jacket (brew theft appears to be an issue in al-Shabaab, even for a notoriously blood-thirsty senior commander).

IMG_0467

Conspirators in the war on Islam: Asaad, Putin, Netanyahu, Trump and Kenyatta

Finally, after 27 minutes shaping our perceptions (we now hate the West and the African Union and realise that Muslims are under attack pretty much everywhere – if only there were more people like Dulyadeyn fighting back against Trump, Netanyahu, Putin, Assad, Kenyatta et al, who appear and grinningly shake each others’ hands on what is clearly a deal to kill Muslims), the attack begins.

Campbed

The camp beds of the heretics must die too

The product lacks the excitement of Janaale or El Adde (even I had twinges of excitement with them – but maybe I’ve been out in the sun too long). But there is gore. Dead bodies are made deader by being shot again and again in the head. The beds in the accommodation tents are shot again and again, which is a pity, since camp beds and sleeping bags are useful things. The camp church is smashed up. Finally, with everyone involved having fired a few rounds into something (even if it was a camp bed), weapons, ammunition and vehicles are commandeered and the fighters depart. (They were probably edgily watching the sky the longer they hung around, although that is obviously omitted.)

So, too, are any casualties, barring a select few. Six ‘martyrs’ are honoured and they are, of course, suitably diverse in terms of clan (even the much-put upon Galgale minor clan are represented – because al-Shabaab is above clan, remember?). One is a Kenyan with a typically non-descript moniker in place of his real name – Abu Naseeba, the father of ‘Lucky’ (although her father apparently wasn’t so lucky). Another is a cameraman – maybe that is why the footage is so limited. Maybe it was the briefness of al-Shabaab’s apparent occupation of the camp before the Kenyans counter-attacked.

A few minutes are filled with Kenyan denials that anything ever happened anywhere and then a lot more time is filled with a further reminder that this is part of the Global Jihad. More stock footage: training, an IED going off in Mogadishu (in 2014). The End.

Yes, the video gets its message across about the Kenyan government claiming there was ‘nothing to see’ in Kulbiyow when there clearly was something to see (and the footage has been verified as being Kulbiyow by the ever-efficient Bellingcat).

Retreating2

Near enough to film but apparently not near enough to shoot

But this is a strangely unsatisfactory product. We see shadowy figures moving maybe a hundred metres away but no-one shoots at them – why not? Why do dead bodies have to be made deader? What threat do camp-beds pose? And a lot of the images in the cascade towards the magic, claimed 67 dead look very similar to ones in other video products, despite maybe being flipped and re-filtered on Photoshop.

That is because this is an edited version of an event: this is propaganda. Or it might be a bit of the event, mixed with other events (the ground we see the troops advancing through changes dramatically on a number of occasions). It might not even be the event.

But the overall effect is that this is too much talking and not enough doing, too many foreign jihadis chipping in their ten shillings/rials/dirhams worth, too much emphasis that this is not about Somalia, this is about Islam under attack and the Global Jihad.

FullSizeRender 2

Abu Naseeba, a not-so-lucky Kenyan Foreign Fighter

Which is a giveaway. The reality is that, inside al-Shabaab, foreigners have never really been welcome. Even members of the Somali Diaspora are viewed as ‘foreign’ (which is why they tend to head to Iraq and Syria these days). These days the ‘Foreign Fighters’ tend to come from the disaffected Muslim community in Kenya. So it is no coincidence that a Kenyan is one of the six selected martyrs.

But this conceals a fracture within al-Shabaab, between Kenyans (and, increasingly, younger Somalis), who genuinely do want to wage Holy War, and a majority whose focus is much closer to home, within the bounds of the fabled ‘Greater Somalia’, and much more akin to a nationalist insurgency driven by the desperate need to control resource than the genuine Global Jihad it claims to part of  – for a painfully dull 53 minutes.

 


 

Killing People is Wrong

Al-Shabaab press officer, Hassan Hanafi, is executed by firing squad in Mogadishu

Execution is justice in a place where law is for sale

HASSAN Hanafi gulps in the hot, dusty air as he is tied to one of the four execution posts, near the beach in Mogadishu. Overweight and injured, it looks like he might cheat the firing squad by expiring from respiratory failure. (Hanafi had foolishly sought medical treatment in Kenya – as a former journalist turned press officer for Somalia’s al-Qai’da franchise, al-Shabaab, he was well known to the Kenyan authorities, even without his distinctive boss eye and dent-scarred forehead.)

It is an unusual execution – he is to be executed alone, whereas normally executions are conduct in small groups. His betrayal of both his profession and the five Somali journalists that he lured to their deaths on the promise of safe passage to exclusive interviews with al-Shabaab leaders earn him that distinction.

Normally those to be executed go to their deaths with stoicism. Perhaps that is what 25 years of chaos, of famine, disease and endemic clan violence engenders. Or maybe the Somalis are just naturally stoic in the face of death. (‘Allah has dug the grave, we just walk towards it,’ a Somali colleague said to me on the death of my grandfather, soon after I first went to Mogadishu – a different approach from the ‘sorry for your trouble’ and ‘he’s gone to a better place’ I got back home.)

Executions in Mogadishu are conducted against a backdrop of sand dunes, near the sprawling city burial ground and opposite the Police Academy (which is now producing policemen again – and policewomen). When there isn’t an imminent execution (they are infrequent) the posts become the goal for football playing teenagers hoping to follow Ismail Feruz to the Scottish and English Premierships. But you know an execution is coming when the quickly accumulated garbage is cleared away.

I occasionally get requests from millennial journalists who want to ‘experience’ an execution. ‘Bad juju,’ say my security staff, ‘and way too risky for a mzungu.’ (Swahili: white man – Somalis are linguistically eclectic.) You’re not the new Orwell, say I.

The executions aren’t pretty. The firing squad shoot on automatic, often from the hip – not that long ago the only rounds that hit the condemned man knee-capped him and he was garrotted by the ropes that held him to the post. Maybe Hanafi had heard about that.

But the executions aren’t characterised by jeering, blood-thirsty mobs either. The families of the victims often attend, but they too are stoic, not vengeful. In a world where justice can be bought, the people of Mogadishu overwhelmingly support executions because it is the only tangible form of justice on offer. Prison is something you can buy your way out of, but death is not. The statistics tell a story, too: a third of those executed are security forces gone rogue. 

It can be very easy, sitting on the balcony of a branch of the Bakehaus-style Artcaffe chain, somewhere on the affluent north side of sunny-but-at-altitude Nairobi, to say, ‘killing people is wrong.’ It’s not so easy, down at sea level, to go through 25 years of societal collapse, that thrusts people back to the basics, their family and clan – and the simple, tangible certainty of seeing killers get killed. 

First published on May 4th, 2017 in The Scotsman newspaper http://www.scotsman.com/news/opinion/execution-is-justice-in-a-place-where-law-is-for-sale-1-4436169

Off to Somalia? Here’s Some More Preparatory Reading


Further to ‘Off to Somalia? Here’s Some Preparatory Reading’, here are additional suggestions from Max’ed Cumar/@samadoon:

  • Mohamed Haji Mukhtar, ‘Historical Dictionary of Somalia’
  • Michael van Notten, ‘Law of the Somalis: A Stable Foundation for Economic Development in the Horn of Africa’ (no e-book available but the Amazon link is here
  • Ali Jimale Mohamed, ‘DAybreak is Near : Literature, Clans and the Nation-State in Somalia: Literature, Clans and the Nation-state of Somalia’ (Amazon link here)
  • I M Lewis, ‘A Pastoral Democracy: Study of Pastoralism and Politics Among the Northern Somali of the Horn of Africa’ (Amazon link here)
  • Lidwien Kaptjiens, ‘Women’s Voices in a Man’s World: Women and the Pastoral Tradition in Northern Somali Orature’ (Amazon link here)

Other suggestions most welcome.

Off to Somalia?: Here’s Some Preparatory Reading (and Listening)

CoversSO you’re off to Somalia? But beyond ‘Black Hawk Down’ and ‘Eye in the Sky’ you’re feeling a bit thin in the prep department… No probs, here’s a suggested selection of fiction and non-fiction to make sure you know your Darood from your Digil-Mirifle. Wherever possible there is a link to the Amazon Kindle edition or a PDF if it’s an article.

General:

    

Ferguson, James: ‘The World’s Most Dangerous Place: Inside the Outlaw State of Somalia’ (Despite a gash, Clarkson-esque title, this is a very good overview of south-central. And I get a mention too.)

Hanley, Gerald: ‘Warriors: Life and Death Among the Somalis’ (Although published nearly 50 years ago about events that took place 25 years before that, Hanley’s insight into the Somalis are still relevant.)

Hansen, Stigg Jarle:  ‘Al-Shabaab in Somalia: The History and Ideology of a Militant Islamist Group’ (The best and, in fact, only, study of al-Shabaab.)

Harper, Mary: ‘Getting Somalia Wrong?: Faith and War in a Shattered State’  (A recent study of Somalia by the BBC’s correspondent on the Horn.)

Lewis, I. M.: ‘Understanding Somalia and Somaliland: Culture, History, Society’ (The seminal, part-anthropological, part-historical study of Somalia.)

Fiction:


Farah, Nuruddin: ‘From a Crooked Rib’ & ‘Crossbones’ (Two of the finest works of Somalia’s greatest living novelist, now domiciled in South Africa.)

Mohamed, Nadifa: ‘Black Mamba Boy’ & ‘The Orchard of Lost Souls’ (Terrific novels from Somali-Brit, Nadifa Mohamed: the first is based on her father’s early life around the time of the Second World War while the second follows three women during the 1970s and 80s as the country descends into chaos)

Shire, Warsan: ‘The Seven Stages of Being Lonely’ (Another Somali-Brit whose poetry is much admired by the likes of Beyonce, Warsan Shire’s first collection isn’t available as an e-book but can be ordered here and is well worth the wait for the postman. In the meantime, a sample of Warsan Shire’s work can be found here)

Al-Shabaab:

Anzalone, Chris: ‘Continuity and Change: The Evolution and Resilience of Al-Shabab’s Media Insurgency, 2006-2016’  (US academic Chris Anzalone’s study of how al-Shabaab communicates its word picture)

Bryden, Matt: ‘The Decline and Fall of Al-Shabaab? Think Again’  (A convincing case is made that reports of al-Shabaab’s demise were grossly over-exaggerated by the former head of the UN Somalia & Eritrea Monitoring Group and founder of the think-tank, Sahan)

Jones et al, ‘Counterterrorism and Counterinsurgency in Somalia’ (A good study by US ‘think-tank for hire’, RAND, although who funded the paper is very clear from the conclusions it presents)

Our Man on the Horn blog: (yes, a plug for my own blog)

Sounds:

Finally, some tunes to get you in the mood from the heyday of Somali disco, the 70s and 80s:


Or you could just watch ‘Black Hawk Down’ and ‘Eye in the Sky’…