Posts by WSP

US Offers up to $33 Million for Shabaab Leaders

Sheikh Robow and Sheikh Dhere
Sheikh Robow and Sheikh Dhere

Increasing its mission on countering terrorism around the world by hunting down some of the remaining top Al-Qaeda members, the United States this week officially announced $33 million dollars has been earmarked for those who aid in the hunt of several top Somali al-Shabaab officials. What is more interesting, however, is who is not included on the list.

The men listed are the top leveled individuals in Al-Qaeda’s Somalia wing - al-Shabaab aligned with Al-Qaeda in February of this year - which opposes the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the presence of African Union peacekeepers of (AMISOM) in the country.

These wanted men on the Rewards for Justice list include Mukhtaar Abuu Zubeyr formerly known as Ahmed Godane (aka) Ahmed Abdi Aw-Mohamed, the leader of al-Shabaab, Mukhtaar Robow Ali Abuu Mansoor, Fuad Mohamed Khalaf Shongole, Ibrahim Haji Jama, Ahmed Abdi Aw-Mohamed, Bashir Mohamed Mahamoud, Zakariya Ismail Ahmed Hersi, and Abdullahi Yare. Other senior members, however, are not named in the US list, such as a radicalist leader Hassan Dahir Aweys.

In a joint analysis lead by Somalia Report, Professor Yahyeh Sheikh Amir, an analyst in Mogadishu, explains the recent move by the US.

“This is not first time for the US to hunt Al-Qaeda leaders throughout the world. It has already conducted targeted drone strikes against senior members of al-Shabaab movement in Somalia," he said.

“But now the use of reward money might mean it is possible to affect the future of these guys. You know they have had quite a bit of freedom in Somalia, the men on the list and the foreign fighters, however this is a new game. With American focus on Somalia and their own political game, their announcement on rewards should help a little in the pursuit of Somali’s Al-Qaeda key players," added the analyst.

The professor explained there are two possible reasons why the US government would offer the rewards now.

“I do understand the US government was looking for an opening to pursue the heads of al-Shabaab. Now that they are fleeing from many regions and losing ground, perhaps the the leaders know the end is in sight and they are fugitives. There is nowhere that they would choose to seek asylum unless they have a pre-arranged secret haven or an 'out'. The other reason that US is now hunting these men might be the recent threats from the group to target Nairobi’s tall buildings out of revenge for Kenya's incursion into the Somalia," Yahyeh said.

Al-Shabaab has been losing both credibility and the structure of its organizational power following allied advances in the south.

“Al-Shabaab instituted sharia law, which are like dictatorial orders against the civilians, and that was a clear point in the end of their presence in large swaths of southern Somalia," Said Mohamed Farah Dulyar, a Somalia veteran journalist, who wrote more about Islamist militants and their role in Somalia.

"First of all two things must be considered: the award money may lead the men to keep fighting. Once they know they are not safe, what do they have to lose? The other issue is that the news will intensify the suspicion among the officials. It would be better if the US would use this money to force these men to renounce terror," added the journalist.

As millions of dollars in reward money is offered to pay for the information leading to their arrest, speculation abounds on their whereabouts. Some reports claim the top leaders fled by boat for Yemen while others argue the suspects are re-grouping in their last remaining stronghold, the port city of Kismayo.

Godane rarely appears publicly or in the press and moves around often, according to an al-Shabaab official in Mogadishu who spoke anonymously to Somalia Report.

"Ahmed (Godane) usually covers and hides his face. He does not allow photos to be taken of him. He never sleeps in the same place twice. Sometimes he wears female dresses to hide himself," the source said.

What About Sheikh Aweys?

Questions are being raised over why the US government did not include Hassan Dahir Aweys in its new list of the most wanted in Somalia. Aweys, a radical of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), was the leader of Hizbul-Islam, another wing of Islamist militants, before it merged with al-Shabaab in December of 2010.

Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys
Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys

“The US may somehow consider Sheikh Aweys as a moderate man similar to Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the Somali president who was himself a former chairman of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) in mid 2006," he said.

Others argue he may be negotiating a deal with the US in exchange for not being placed on this list, sparking concern among other Shabaab leaders, and that his interests lie in politics, not fighting. Aweys has always been driven by the political atmosphere in Somalia rather than being in the militia. In his previous comments, Aweys critised the militia for their selfish ideology, including centralizing the jihad and al-Shabaab's indiscriminate killings across the country.

Sheikh Aweys is well known for his political ambitions in the past decade. He was in the frontline during the formation of Islamic Court Unions (ICU) before it was forcibly disintegrated by the Ethiopians in 2006. Prior to this Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys was a senior officer in the Somalia National Army. In 2009 he came from exile in Eritrea with a plan to put Hizbul Islam in the political game in Somalia. His plan failed after al-Shabaab (the former military wing of the ICU) gained strength and control of Somalia. Sheikh Aweys and his group were forced to merge with the militia. Upon signing, he requested to be given a high level post only to be granted the title of religious coordinator.

Over the past few weeks news or rumors that Aweys is planning to break away from the al-Shabaab militia and join the TFG has been spreading all over the country, sparking more responses from the militia itself than any other party.

Mohamed Ibrahim Bilaal, an al-Shabaab insurgent, condemned these allegations and said they are just being used to manipulate the public. “These are just baseless stories by the media. Sheikh Aweys is not leaving the mujahidins and has absolutely no intention to do so. Somalia has no government to surrender to," he said.

There are also suspicions that Aweys may be under house arrest, however, al-Shabaab has not yet commented on this.

According to one of the residents of Marka town who spoke to Somalia Report, most of al-Shabaab's top leaders are currently based in Marka, south of Mogadishu, including Sheikh Aweys. The source said Aweys is being closely watched by al-Shabaab since he did not appear on the terror list.

“The militia are now more than ever suspicious about Sheikh Aweys, they have even interrogated him on the allegations that he wants to betray the mujahidins. He has been unusually silent for the past week and I was told by sources close to him that his movements are restricted. In the past, whenever any false statements are given out concerning Sheikh Aweys, he used to give out immediate feedback,” the local resident said.

Other sources reported that that in addition to the alleged house arrest, his former bodyguards have now been instructed to be closer to him especially when he makes calls, however, neither allegation could be independently verified by Somalia Report.

In 2008, the US government added al-Shabaab to its black list of terrorist organizations in the world.

Editor's Note: Last year the Somali government soldiers who killed Al Qaeda's terrorist Fazul, also on a US terror list, were denied a reward by the US since they were operating at government soldiers at that time. In June of last year, a US official told Somalia Report the US discourages bounty hunting.

Residents Ordered to be Photographed and Remain in Town
©Somalia Report

Residents of Bardere (Baardheere), in Somalia's Gedo region and one of the few towns that are fully under the control of the al-Shabaab insurgent group, said tensions are high in the town after the militia ordered (by way of loud speakers) that any male, including youths and elders who are not Mujahidins fighters, must have their photo taken.

The exercise which started last Friday is compulsory and failure to adhere to this rule would result in severe punishment. In addition to this the militia also ordered those whose photos have been taken to remain in the city and prohibited them from leaving. Residents said they now more than ever concerned on the next possible rule the militia is going to impose on them.

A young entrepreneur who only identified himself as Khalif shared his concern with Somalia Report.

“We are now faced by the worst problems of our lifetime. At first most traders in Bardere were only restricted to trade in few product due to the poor business climate that prevailed in areas under their control," said Mr. Khalif. "But this one is worst of all times. For example, I personally used take goods out of Bardere town to other smaller town such as Eel Cade, but now how am I supposed to leave the town now that my photo is with them? My whole family depends upon me for our daily bread. My mother used to be self reliant before the khat business was prohibited; she was a khat vender," he added.

Residents wondered what prompted the group to take their photos and believe the answer to the question is the fact that the militia is under enormous pressure by the allied forces of Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya. Also the factor of mistrust came after the recent announcement by the USA offering millions on the top seven al-Shabaab leaders. The militia, residents told Somalia Report, has lost faith in people and as a control measure they have to monitor peoples' movement in and out of the towns that are under their control. They can also identify any non member or foreign intruder.

“I think the Mujahidins are under pressure now that their top leaders are being hunted down by the both the Transitional Federal Government and America. This makes them lose their trust in us. So the most appropriate thing for them to do is to keep us inside the town of Bardere so we cannot interact with rest of the Somalis outside there," said Mr. Khalif. "This is one of the worst decisions the have ever made, which will only earn hatred from the people. It was even more difficult to bear with their green constitution that can be modified according to their own interest," added the resident.

Somalia Report also spoke with a woman by the name of Habsa*, who is known in Bardere for her unconditional support towards the al-Shabaab militia.

“The Mujahidins are doing a good job and God will give them a hand in their daily undertakings. Taking peoples' photos is the only effective way of dealing with possible traitors. It is becoming difficult to know who is on your side and who is not now that the devil has ordered the top Mujahidins sheikhs to be captured in exchange for millions," she explained.

It is now evident that the militia is not only losing ground but also followers. The militia is causing more problems for the population who are not providing them with anything of value. Sheikh Abaas Abdullahi Abdirahman, an al-Shabaab official who is coordinator in the Gedo region and currently based in Bardere, was not available for comment.

An MP3 that was released from Marka, in Lower Shabelle region, last Friday with commentaries from the top al-Shabaab officials including Sheikh Hassan Takar, Sheikh Abu Halid and Sheikh Mohamed Omar Ahmed. They each raised the same issue on how the Mujahidins should cooperate and beat the allied forces.

Sheikh Takar who opened the speech criticized those who are fighting against the Mujadins as cowards.

“I think you have all heard the alarming news from the top house of the Devil saying that they will reward anyone who informs them of the whereabouts of our leaders. What has happened to the superpower of the Devil? Why don’t they come straight here and get what they are looking for? It is very unfortunate that they are promising our people fake dollars. To prove this, have they ever given the money they promised the traitor who spied on Sadaam Hussein? The answer is a big no,” said the sheikh.

He also said the Mujahidins should not to be shaken by anything and instead should stand firm ready to conquer the whole of East Africa. Before the meeting was concluded, the speaker asked members who have did not have any ammunition in their home to submit their names and mobile numbers so the Mujahidins could provide it the following morning on Saturday.

*Her name has been changed for security reasons.

Militants Resort to Criminal Tactics in Bay and Bakol Regions
Al-Shabaab Fighters (File Photo)
Al-Shabaab Fighters (File Photo)

The al-Shabaab Islamic group battling for control of Somalia are notorious for their implementation of strict Islamic sharia rule in areas under their control and harassment of local residents. As they lose more territory to the allied forces of Somalia and the African Union peacekeeping force (AMISOM), the militia has rapidly resorted to common criminal acts including carjackings and robberies to keep their jihad funded, as residents and victims complained to Somalia Report.

According to Mama Hawa Ali, a businesswoman who trades in fabric in Dinsoor town in Bay region, militant fighters continue to loot the shops in the town in broad daylight.

“We are being harassed by these young men who people tell me are al-Shabaab fighters. They can come anytime and confiscate our properties. Most of the businesses here are at risk of closing down and I personally also have the same plans. Maybe we will take a month off until the level of security improves," she told Somalia Report.

What is causing the hardline Islamists to commit criminal acts when they were the ones tasked to prevent such behavior? To learn more, Somalia Report spoke with residents of Hudur, the capital of Bakol region and one of the towns recently seized by allied forces that still has pockets of fighters scattered throughout the town.

"We are finding it difficult to believe what the mujahidins are doing to the same people on whom they once implemented strict Islamic rules. For example, only two days ago a car belonging to one of our residents was forcibly taken by al-Shabaab. Insecurity in the town is rampant nowadays," explained Hassan Gedi.

"In addition to carjacking, robberies are on the rise. The masterminds behind these robberies are the militia themselves. It is so difficult to see your resources being confiscated and you can do nothing about it especially in the villages that are fully under their control. It is no longer the al-Shabaab we knew who implemented sharia law. Now they are the real thugs. On the other hand the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) has done little in eradicating the al-Shabaab militia and their sympathizers in the town that they have taken control of,” he added.

In response, the Hudur town district commissioner, Mr. Mohamed Maalin, condemned the acts in a harshest manner possible.

“Insha’Allah (God willing) the TFG will not rest until the Somali population - wherever they are - is safe from the danger of terrorist attacks from the al-Shabaab militants and their foreign fighters. It just feels good that we gaining more grounds from them and that is why they are frustrated now more than ever. This is certainly not the militia we knew. They have transformed into criminals and consequently giving us and the Somali population rough time. But Insha’Allah we will overcome them," the commissioner told Somalia Report.

One of the hardest hit sectors is that of transportation, according to residents and officials. Recently vehicles that were operating along the road that connects Hudur and outlying towns including Ceelbarde have encountered difficulties from the militia. Drivers reported the militants have gone so far as beating up the passengers on board and as an additional punishment took any valuable item with them. The number of checkpoints has also risen throughout southern Somalia.

Nuur Ali was one of the lucky passengers who escaped with only a few bruises when al-Shabaab tried to stop his vehicle by firing recklessly at it as he traveled from Hurdur to a village where his livestock are being held.

“It is cowardice on the part of al-Shabaab to turn their backs on the Somali population. They used to be criticized all over the world, but personally I didn’t see their evil side until a week ago when I narrowly escaped death," explained the herdsman.

"For me, it started when the fighters fired at our overcrowded lorry until the driver lost control and decided to stop. They came to the lorry and started beating up the passengers especially men and some women who were protesting and then ordered us to lie on our stomachs. Almost fifteen minutes they left and we got up and realized that they stole our valuable items including them sugar. We were really traumatized and we no longer know what to do. The same militia whose hymn we have been singing for so long are now the ones who are becoming traitors. Or are they taking revenge out on us because Hudur is now under the control of the government? What are we to do? I can't drive on this road anymore but must reach my livestock," Mr. Nuur told Somalia Report.

It is clear the group is suffering financially by losing ground to the allied forces and the residents are the ones suffering from their losses. Al-Shabaab controlled the southern Somalia for almost three years and had a stable source of income from taxes. During that time, they imposed a consistent form of sharia. In cases relating to theft and robbery, the militia severely punished the criminals by amputation. Today, however, sharia seems to be a thing of the past as those tasked with its implementation are the same people who have become criminals.

To understand this shift in dynamics, Somalia Report spoke to Mr. Maalim Adan Yare, the al-Shabaab leader representing Tiyeglow district in Bakol region.

“Alhamdulillah, I thank God for this opportunity to address this sensitive issue of public interest. As we all understand Harakatul Shabaab al Mujahidin has never failed to deliver justice to the population since it took control of Bay and Bakol regions of southern Somalia, so why now? The answer is no. Al-Shabaab would never do stupid things such ambushing and looting public transportation in the area we control or even in the areas we don’t control. But the interesting thing is why is all this insecurity happening as soon as the foreigners invaded our land? This simply means that TFG solders and their Kafir allies had something to do with this."

Mr. Yare emphasized that the militia has vast support in the districts of Hudur, Ceelbarde, Dinsor and Burhakaba and Teyeglow in both Bay and Bakol regions.

This comes as the allied forces advance towards the port city of Kismayo, al-Shabaab's last stronghold and a financial center, in Somalia's Lower Juba region.