Inside Al-Shabaab's "crisis conference" amid US military airstrikes in Somalia


MOGADISHU, Somalia - Al-Shabaab convened a five-day conference at an unidentified location in southern Somalia, it's affiliate media outlets reported, coming amid massive losses in its traditional strongholds.

Dubbed "Consultative Forum Regarding the Jihad in East Africa", the conference commenced on Mar. 13 for five days, bringing together several delegates, the group claimed.

Among the participants were intellectuals, tribal leaders, Islamic scholars, and Al-Shabaab leadership, the group said in a statement, adding "we discussed the recent situation of Jihad" in East Africa.

Over 100 participants were pictured in a well-decorated hall in which they discussed "political confrontations in East Africa, the difficult plight of Muslims in terms of economy, politics, health, and education" according to the statement issued on Wednesday.

Deep analysis of the current situation was purportedly dissected by scholars present before a legal Fatwa was issued on five key issues, the militants said, in a statement that could evoke the wrath of Somalia's government and allied partners.

The "Consultative Forum" was organized by the Politics and Wilaayaat wing, which is entrusted with matters strategy and contemporary affairs, the militants said, in yet another indication that they are determined to paralyze efforts to restore normalcy in Somalia.

For over a decade, the Al-Qaida associated group has caused havoc within East Africa, in pursuit of dethroning the fragile UN-backed Somalia government, although it has been degraded to a larger extent.

What was the outcome of the conference?

This is the first time the group is openly claiming to have held a meeting, although it usually coordinates frequent attacks against security forces and civilians, within and outside Somalia.

Some of the extreme resolutions the militants agreed upon include fighting the federal government of Somalia and member states, which they accuse of "collaborating with the enemy" to antagonize "innocent" Muslims.

The group rubbished much-anticipated polls in Somalia, arguing that it's "Impermissible to participate in so-called Democratic elections that crusaders are planning to hold in cities held by AMISOM."

Somalia is racing against time to hold first-ever universal suffrage polls in December, although a section of opposition teams led by FNP and federal states wants the clan-based model to be retained due to "unpreparedness" by the electoral body.

Electoral law has been passed, although it's still contested by the opposition. Among others, critics insist that the federal government under President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo is keen to unconstitutionally "extend" term limits.

But the Al-Shabaab militants believe the current federal model could "divide the country, resume hostilities of civil war and plunge the country into the mercy of Kenya and Ethiopia" whom it outrightly terms as "invaders".

Ethiopia and Kenya are large contributors of troops to AMISOM, whose mandate is set to expire next year. Kenya alone has over 3,000 troops mainly stationed in sections of Jubaland state.

Also, the militants condemned the frequent drone strikes by the US, which they claimed target "innocent civilians", besides rebuking Kenya and Ethiopia for alleged "forceful occupation" and "atrocities" against our people.

"Send condolences to victims of American aerial bombings, Kenyan government atrocities and Abiy Ahmed crackdown in Amhara region," read the statement in part.

The militants cautioned their members against infectious diseases such as COVID-19 and HIV-Aids, adding that their administration is keen to empower civilians economically across their territories in Somalia.

Al-Shabaab's losses and US military factor

In recent weeks, the militants have been rocked in internal squabbles which have triggered mass resignation and exodus, further weakening them in their own territories, especially in central and southern Somalia.

For instance, Ahmed Omar, the group's leader, is said to have expelled senior commanders Mahad Karate and Bashir Qorgab, after a disagreement over bombings in the capital Mogadishu.

But it's the increased US airstrikes which have rendered the group almost dysfunctional in their own villages, forcing some of them to take refuge in urban areas which are not prone to the airstrikes.

As of last week, the US Africa Command, which coordinates Washington's activities in the continent, had waged a record 31 airstrikes within three months, the highest in such a period. Last year, there were 63 airstrikes in Somalia, AFRICOM said.

Bashir Qorgab, who was under surveillance, was killed in an airstrike in the vicinity of Saakow town, Middle Juba in February. He's linked to Al-Shabaab raid at a US Naval Base in Lamu early this year.

Significantly, the US military has been assisting both the Somali National Army [SNA] and AMISOM troops in recapturing strategic towns from the militants, killing dozens of the insurgents in the process.

The latest to fall was Janaale town in Lower Shebelle, which saw over 15 militants killed last week. Prior to that, the US military had launched two airstrikes which claimed the lives of nine militants, officials said.

While the US labels the group "dangerous" to the people, it, however, insists that the airstrikes and ground combats "have drastically degraded" it further giving hopes of establishing a functional state in Somalia.

Al-Shabaab's defiance in Somalia

But despite the significant victory against them, the Al-Shabaab has, however, managed to execute small and large scale sporadic attacks, mainly targeting the capital, Mogadishu in recent weeks.

During the conference, a Fatwa from scholars comprising of up to 16 pages and signed up 40 clerics of the Islamic scholars, declared that it's "forbidden" to hold elections, besides condemning "foreign establishments" for interfering with Somalia affairs.

Sheikh Jama Abdi Salaam, one of Somalia's most prominent scholars read the fatwa, which is explained in detail in each of the five articles and the adherents, the militants said.

A parallel fatwa statement detailing the points made was also released at the meeting, which consisted of 14 articles, and was read by the chairman of the Somali traditional elders, Ibrahim Nabhi [Shairul Islam].

In December last year, the group unleashed in Mogadishu, killing over 90 people are the busy Afgoye junction. Later, it would emerge that the suicide bomber targeted a Turkish convoy.

Christopher Anzalone, an Islamic researcher, opines that as part of their proto-state governance projects, Islamist rebels "construct and deploy symbols and symbolic repertoires that advance the group’s claim to symbolic sovereignty."

This, he adds, manifests their "legitimate sociopolitical authority in a systematized language that is meant to resonate more deeply with local audiences than a naked display of insurgent power."

Since their emergence in 2008, the Al-Shabaab militants have waged numerous attacks within and outside Somalia, killing close to 5,000 civilians and dozens of security forces, the UN said in a report.


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