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Al-Shabaab holds "graduation" ceremony as ex-commander is poisoned in Somalia

By Abuga Makori in Nairobi , Garowe Online

MOGADISHU, Somalia - Al-Qaeda linked militant group, Al-Shabaab, published photos purportedly of its "students" holding the "graduation" ceremony in Jilib town, which serves as headquarters, but the group did not immediately reveal the date and month when it took place.

In a statement published by friendly media outlets, the group claimed that the students who graduated belonged to the first batch and had "successfully" completed the "Arabization" of Somalis to be implemented by the militants.

Al-Shabaab has been fighting since 2008 with the sole purpose of toppling the fragile UN-backed Somalia government, which is also struggling to contain persistent inter-clan conflicts, internal political squabbles, floods, faminine, and hunger.

Arabization describes the process of growing Arabic influence on non-Arab populations, causing a language shift by their gradual adoption of the Arabic language and their incorporation of the culture.

In Somalia, the rural population is conversant with the Somali language, but Al-Shabaab has been fighting to have everybody practice speaking and writing of Arabic language, and this is one of the ideologies the militants have fought had to achieve.

Photos published by the militants showed several youths of female gender wearing traditional Somali attires getting lectures by representatives of the group in an unidentified location within Jilib town, which has been the main target for the military in Somalia.

Participants estimated to be over 50 wore block clothes and attentively listened to the Al-Shabaab team in a room surrounded with Arabic writings. The graduands are now mandated to "teach as many as they can" the Arabic language, Al-Shabaab said.

The incident comes barely a fortnight after members of the group were also sighted in several towns among them Jilib attending Eid al Fitr with locals which were a culmination of fasting during the Holy month of Ramadan.

In April, the team also held a five-day conference at an unidentified location where among others, it backed its violent activities against foreign troops which is referred to as "occupiers". Al-Shabaab accused both Ethiopian and Kenyan troops of "meting" violence against civilians.

And last month, the extremists also released details of a meeting where they urged their supporters to "keep safe" as a measure to combat Coronavirus. Jilib is found within Middle Juba and is used also for the recruitment and training of young people.

For months now, US Africa Command has been targeting the town in a series of airstrikes that have managed to eliminate dozens of militants. It's not clear why the Somali National Army [SNA] and AU forces are yet to execute ground combats in the region.

Ex-commander killed in Bay region

Elsewhere, a former top Al-Shabaab commander was poisoned within the vicinity of Bay region in Southwest, in an incident which could raise safety concerns of several defectors, who are working with the federal government.

Mukhtaar Geney, who defected in 2017, died at Baydhabo last week in what sources say was a "well-planned assassination" through poisoning. He died moments after excusing himself from a group of locals he had been engaged in a conversation, with his body retrieved hours later on May 29.

Before his defection, records indicate, Geney supervised Al-Shabaab battles in Southwest and had been promoted to lead the elite team where he served for almost a decade. It's not clear why to have defected from the team.

At one point, sources intimate, Geney served as personal bodyguard to US-born militant Omar Hammami alias Abu Mansour Al Amriki who fought within the ranks of Al Shabaab prior to his controversial death in 2013.

After his defection, Geney has been hiding in bushes according to sources and has rarely made public appearances before his assassination. He left the group almost at the same time with Mukhtaar Robow, a former Southwest presidential aspirant who is currently in a Mogadishu prison.

But at Baydhabo, reports indicate, Geney has been leading anti-Alshabaab operations with close supervision of Southwest regional forces. The incident, sources added, has sparked fear among security forces within the volatile state of Somalia.

The Somalia-based militants have been targeting defectors and most of them have been assassinated or taken to Al-Shabaab prisons where they are currently serving their terms for "betraying" the group.

Not easy for Al-Shabaab defectors

Among others, the defectors have been motivated by poor pay, inconsistent ideologies, or just out of their goodwill, deserting the violent extremist group. Dozens of them usually report to government facilities for counseling.

But their good gesture has often been betrayed by Al-Shabaab, which keeps trailing them. The poisoning of Geney is one typical example where defectors are executed or assassinated by the militants.

Early this year, Muse Moalim, a former Amniyat commander in Mogadishu, was killed by his former colleague at Bua'le town in southern Somalia. Moalim had defected from the group following differences between Al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Omar Diriye and the deputy leader Mahat Karate.

In the same period, another top Al-Shabaab commander, Bashir Qorgab, who is associated with the sophisticated Manda Airfield raid in Kenya on Jan. 5, was downed in a US military drone strike at Saakow town. Qorgab had also defected from the group after expulsion.

But more agonizing is the fact that the federal government has also been mistreating defectors. For instance, Mukhtaar Robow, the former deputy commander, was arrested after declaring intentions to run for Southwest presidency.

Federal troops with the help of those from Ethiopian non-AMISOM contingent, arrested, and transferred him to Mogadishu from Baidoa in December 2018. At least eleven civilians were killed in Baidoa while protesting against his arrest.

Al-Shabaab militants have been making millions of dollars through mafia-style taxation and extortion mainly through ransoms. Also, there are reports of external financial help from countries such as Qatar.

Last month, a report by Kenya Defense Forces also implicated Somalia's spy agency NISA of funding the militants, a claim which the federal authorities dismissed as "fake and misleading". But documents have been produced by KDF linking money transfer involving NISA operatives and Al-Shabaab agents.


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