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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.