The Islamic State Releases a Confusing Video of its new al-Shabaab Members
I was speaking to a group of military men a few days ago, playing the age old soldierly game of wargaming: not with little metal soldiers, but sitting around, beer in hand, working through scenarios.
In this case, we considered the fate of al-Shabaab. The group’s leader, Diriye, is killed: IS takes over. Al-Qa’ida’s Zawahiri dies: IS takes over. Al-Shabaab descends into a civil war over allegiance to al-Qa’ida or IS: IS takes over. Everything ended in IS.
I disagree. Being an only child, I’ve always found being contradicted hard to take.
But my fellow wargamers proved hard to shift in their beliefs – understandable, when the presence of the Islamic State is fundamental to your existence (armies need enemies to fight, after all) and Islamic State presence means more budget for fighting that particular bogeyman.
This was still preying upon my mind last night (being an only child, I dwell on things), when the Islamic State, through its media house, ar-Raqqah, released a video product celebrating the shift of allegiance by a group of al-Shabaab members led by the ideologue, Mumin.
The video is short, running to just under seven minutes (compared with al-Shabaab products released through al-Kutaib, which run up to 90 minutes.)
Sexy M4 with fore grip and light unit – you don’t see many of them in Somalia
The first three speakers are all in Iraq/Syria (although this is never stated, allowing for the assumption to take hold that this is all set in Somalia). The talking heads switch between Somali and Arabic, quote from the Q’ran. They provide a religious argument for mutiny, explicitly asking aS fighters to leave ‘the battlefield’ if al-Shabaab’s leaders refuse to let them shift their allegiance. But they speak poor Somali – Diaspora, possibly never having set foot in Somalia itself. (This not the first time the Islamic State have commited a faux pas in their messaging to Somalia. See Do We Want al-Shabaab to Join the Islamic State?)
Sexy MP5 and a sprinkler in the background – don’t see many of either of those in Somalia
Their weapons are sophisticated (an MP5, an M4 with a foregrip and a sexy sight unit) – too sophisticated for Somalia. There is a sprinkler in the background of one shot – you don’t see many sprinklers in Somalia.
Fighters follow a man carrying an Islamic State flag through some bushes
The production quality shifts dramatically down and fighters with faces covered are shown wandering through the bush (well, some bushes), following a flag-bearer, swearing allegiance – they might be in Somalia. (It is also reasonable that they should cover their faces given the ongoing Amniyat purge of Islamic State supporters.) The terrain could be the Galgala mountains. Or it might not.
Mumin, who leads the al-Shabaab-Islamic State faction
Mumin himself appears, but this is a lift from his original video statement.
Group shot – 27 fighters, which matches the number of Mumin’s group
Then group shot: there are 27 fighters and, adding those recording, this could be the group of fighters who fled with Mumin. But where is Mumin, then? (Perhaps he was the one filming. I suspect not.) The video ends with a few fighters watching an Islamic State video on a laptop.
Watching an Islamic State video product on a laptop
The product feels wrong, as wrong as al-Shabaab feels within the context of the previously moderate, Suffist Somalia. Too often there is a ‘could be…’
But it is probably convincing enough for those who haven’t developed fingerspitzengefuhl for all things Somali. Or for those who have their conclusions pre-formed.
And that is dangerous. This is a period when the Islamic State might be changing form and becoming an international terrorist organization, rather than a territory-focussed entity. (Although that assumption is based on events over Sinai, and I might be the one with the prepared conclusions. But I’m not the only one.)
There is a battle going on right now in Somalia, but the battle is not the Islamic State trying to control Somalia. It is between factions within al-Shabaab, young and old, globalists and nationalists, foreign fighters and Somalis, Diaspora and homelanders, even. (And there is also a battle going on between the Somali government and their international partners against al-Shabaab.) Unless there is a widening of the strategic view of those in the military, in government, in the media, the elements of the international community who might actually have some influence over events, then this scenario might well end in IS after all.