On the eve of the fatal U.S. strike against Aden Hashi Ayro, leader of the Shabaab al-Mujahideen movement in Somalia, the electronic monthly magazine Echo of Jihad conducted an interview with Mukhtar Ali Robow, the ex-deputy minister of defense of Somalia’s Islamic Courts Union (ICU). Better known as Abu Mansur, the veteran militant is the spokesman for Shabaab al-Mujahideen as well as Ayro’s successor (alsomal.com, May 9). The interview was published as a special edition by the Global Islamic Media Front and posted in different pro-jihadist websites (shmo5alislam.net, May 8).
Abu Mansur was born in 1969 in Bakol State of south-central Somalia, where he finished high school and continued informal Islamic study in different Bakol mosques. In 1996, Abu Mansur set up the al-Huda camp in Bakol to train jihadis, some of whom participated in the 1998-2000 border war between Eritrea and Ethiopia under the command of Abu Mansur. In 2001, Abu Mansur moved to Afghanistan and participated in the jihad against U.S. forces until 2003, when he returned to Somalia and became deputy minister of defense in Somalia’s ICU. Abu Mansur withdrew from the Union and became the spokesman and successor of the leader of Shabaab al-Mujahideen, the armed “youth wing” of the ICU (alsomal.com, May 9). The nucleus of Shabaab al-Mujahideen was established as early as 1996 in the al-Huda training camps, but only became the spearhead of Somali jihad efforts under the name Shabaab al-Mujahideen with the 2006 Ethiopian invasion of Somalia (Somaliland Times, August 12, 2006). On February 29 it became a U.S.-designated terrorist organization (U.S. Department of State, March 18).
In his interview with Echo of Jihad, Abu Mansur said that the “gates of jihad” are wide open in the Horn of Africa, which he describes as the third- or fourth-most important jihadist front defending Islam. Abu Mansur also declares the adherence of Somali jihadis to the Salafi-jihadist confession of Islam. Somali jihadis acquired two decades of jihadi experience in different types of jihad, describing their efforts as “the jihad against the apostates” and “jihad against regimes aiding the Crusaders’ proxy war against Muslims.” Abu Mansur enumerates the achievements of the Somali jihadis as follows:
• The mujahideen have adopted new operational techniques never used in the region before (though further details of these techniques are not given).
• The mujahideen succeeded in cutting off enemy supply lines by planting booby traps on the main routes.
• The mujahideen liberated cities and whole regions occupied by the enemy. They also stormed enemy barracks at Baledogle military airport (about 60 mi west of Mogadishu) and in more than eight Somali directorates and governorates.
• The types of Somali jihadi operations conducted for the last year and half include urban ambushes and raids, suicide attacks, artillery and rocket attacks on enemy positions such as the presidential palace and the airport in Mogadishu.
Ideologically, Somali jihadis are all Sunnis led by Salafi-jihadis. Abu Mansur says there is a high level of cooperation between different Somali jihadi groups and the “victorious cult,” a name used by jihadis to refer to Salafi-jihadis. On the other hand, Shabaab al-Mujahideen renounces the Alliance for the Liberation of Somalia—formed in 2007 by Islamists and opposition leaders—because the alliance comprises leaders who relinquished their Islamic identity and objectives, adopted a secular constitution, abandoned jihad, nationalized the cause, comply with international laws and advocate indictments of Somali war criminals by the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Most importantly, the alliance denies the jihadist principle of al-wala wa al-bara (loyalty and repudiation), loyalty to Islamic law, and repudiation of all other forms of governance—fundamental Salafi-jihadist principles that appear in much of al-Qaeda’s literature, another indication of Shabaab al-Mujahideen’s affiliation with al-Qaeda.
In an earlier interview, Abu Mansur denied direct contacts with al-Qaeda, but threatened to ask for al-Qaeda’s help and combine forces with al-Qaeda members in Somalia (muslm.net, March 25). Abu Mansur stated that many Shabaab al-Mujahideen members trained and fought U.S. forces in Afghanistan alongside al-Qaeda. Moreover, Abu Mansur considers the Somali jihad part of the global jihadi movement led by al-Qaeda, ideologically and methodologically aiming to revive the jihadi spirit among all Muslims. Even though Somali jihad is in full conformity with the global jihad, it lacks the influx of mujahideen from the outside, complains Abu Mansur.
Defiant of U.S. counter-terrorism efforts, Abu Mansur says: “Adding Shabaab al-Mujahideen on the U.S. list of terrorist groups reveals a great secret for us. It proves that we foiled the international conspiracies and ousted the apostate government of the ‘Somali Karzai.’ We celebrated the day the United States listed us as a terrorist group. It’s a medal on our chests.” Abu Mansur insists that neither the “apostate” Transitional Federal Government of Somalia nor the Ethiopian forces can endure sustained mujahideen attacks, therefore they will eventually withdraw from Somalia, as evidenced by the many statements made by Ethiopian military and political leaders expressing pessimism regarding the possibility of imposing law and order in Somalia. Concerning the Arab-Israeli conflict, Abu Mansur deems the city of Jerusalem and al-Aqsa mosque the core of the struggle between global Zionism and Muslims. “Here in the jungles of Somalia, we are conducting jihad to free Palestine from the occupying Jewish grip. We are fighting in Somalia while our eyes are on Jerusalem.” Here Abu Mansur recalls the phrase once used by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, former leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq: “We are fighting in Iraq with our eyes on Jerusalem.”
Since the collapse of the ICU, the pro-al-Qaeda Shabaab al-Mujahideen movement has become one of the leading jihadi groups in Somalia. The U.S. designation of the movement as a foreign terrorist group has bolstered its influence within the Islamic resistance movements both in Somalia and in the rest of the Islamic world, offering al-Qaeda the opportunity to exploit the situation and promote its own version of jihadist ideology in Somalia, a step forward in al-Qaeda’s drive to secure a strong foothold in Africa.