Islamic Groups and Movements in Somalia

A number of Islamic movements have appeared in Somalia most of them being paramilitary groups which played a role in the bloody civil war of 1991, the impact of which led up the ‘Islamic Courts Union eventually becoming the ruling force over most regions in Somalia before the Islamic Courts Union collapsed in 2006. The Islamic Courts were supported by the large bulk of armed movements who comprised its military arm.

The Somali Islamic Party

Which comprises 4 Somali Islamic political fronts which merged in 2009 in an alliance to oppose the transitional government headed by Shaykh Shareef Shaykh Ahmad under the name “Hizb al-Islāmī” [The Islamic Party] with the aim of unifying the actions of the resistance against African peacekeeping forces [AMISOM] present in Somalia. AMISOM comprises 3200 members largely from Uganda and Burundi. These factions view the presence of African forces in Somalia as unwanted entities which represent a mere extension of the previous Ethiopian occupation in Somalia. Dr ’Umar Īmān Abū Bakr announced his resignation from the head of the Islamic Party on 25th May 2009 and then Hasan Tāhir Uways assumed leadership of the party. In 2010 Muhammad ’Uthmān Uways, spokesman for the Islamic Party, announced the party’s unification with the Shabāb movement in order to step up attacks against the government.

Ahl us-Sunnah wa’l-Jamā’ah Movement

A unification of Sūfī cults in Somalia and one of the armed Islamic movements and is the only paramilitary movement in Somalia which supports the transitional government and cooperates to fight against opposing groups. The group had no political or military presence during the Somalia Civil War. Its followers are widespread throughout Somalia and due to the armed Islamic groups destroying graves and tombs in south central Somalia, the Sūfīs then took up arms against this and fought against Shabāb and the Islamic Party. The armed wing of the mov ement in Somalia manifested in 2008 when Shabāb militiamen and Islamic Party fighters in central and southern Somalia gained control over several cities.

The Faction of Muhammad Sa’eed Atom

The faction of the Somali warlord Sa’eed Atom is considered to be the largest paramilitary group in northern Somalia and the faction used to dream of establishing an Islamic Emirate in northern Somalia. They were also concerned with establishing strong ties with pirates and criminal gangs active on the coast of Somalia and Gulf of Aden. They also have links with smugglers and terrorist networks around the world. The leader of this armed movement was listed among a number of suspects who had violated the arms embargo imposed by the UN on Somalia in 1992. The group’s assets were frozen by Washington. In June 2012 the Puntland State of Somalia witnessed an outbreak of bloody violence on the part of Atom’s followers in town of Galgala in Eastern Somalia. This led to a continuous battle between the security forces and the armed wing of Atom’s faction, tens of people were killed and injured. Armed fighters from the faction during the battle raised black flags which are famously used in the country by the Shabab fighters in the rural villages in the mountain ranges. All of this raised serious concern with the Prime Minister at the time ’Umar ’Abdullāh ar-Rasheed Shārmārkī who feared that the region was turning into a new Toro Boro!

The Connection of Atom’s Faction with the Shabāb Jihādī Movement

The group of Sa’eed Atom is accused of being an arm of the Shabāb movement and of other paramilitary Islamic groups in the region. Some international reports claim that:

“Muhammad Sa’eed Atom was the central connection point for the import of arms from Yemen to Somalia and he is of the closest people to the Shabāb Mujāhideen Movement. However, the importation of arms in relation to him is as an arms dealer and to contract military arms deals for the conflicting factions within Somalia. The Shabāb Mujāhideen Movement benefit the most out of all of the factions in regards to these arms deals however the door became firmly closed in their faces at the end of 2010 when the Puntland State of Somalia attacked the main area of Sa’eed Atom.”

The Puntland State administration was able to defeat Sa’eed Atom and his forces by gaining control of the ports and facilities which Atom and his faction were using for the import of arms from overseas. In addition to this, Atom became a wanted man and thus initiated hit and run attacks on the Puntland State forces and this shifted atom’s attention away from arms trading to safeguarding his own safety and maintaining his followers. All of this has a negative impact on those who depended greatly on Atom for the importation of arms and weapons such as groups like the Shabāb Mujāhideen Movement which formally announced that it would fight alongside “Sa’eed Atom” against the Puntland State forces and that they considered to be a “Mujāhid” who has to be supported.

The Book and Sunnah Adherence Group

This is a Salafī group which was established in 1996 by Shaykh Basheer Salād as a result of the merging of two Islamic groups which were extensions of the Salafī da’wah in Somalia. It has an observable role in the arena of da’wah and human relief and the fought against the Ethiopian forces in the 1990s in South-Western Somalia after those forces entered the region. It is of those groups who participated in the formation of the military forces for the Islamic Courts Union and Shaykh Hasan Tāhir Uways ascribes to them ideologically who is the head of the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia [ARS] based in Asmara. The methodology of the group is more da’wah-related based on correcting creedal understandings of the Muslims by spreading the Salafī methodology and studying the Usūl of Ahl us-Sunnah wa’l-Jamā’ah. The group did not participate in the bloody conflict witnessed during the Somali Civil War and in the 1990s withdrew from the scene after major differences occurred which had a major role regarding the group’s core principles and a number of its prominent leaders joining armed factions.

The group remerged in 2010 at a conference organised to reject the application of kufr laws on the Muslim criminal without there being any reference whatsoever to religious rulings from scholars or a Sharee’ah-based judicial process. They also condemned killings, assassinations, bombings and banditry. The group announced that what is taking place in Somalia is a tribulation [fitna] and it is not permitted according to Islām to participate in such a raging conflict and that the group in front of Allāh declares its innocence from such conflict. They called upon all factions to fear Allāh in regards to themselves, their land and their nation and that they resolve the situation among them.

Ittihād al-Islāmī

An organisation which has links to al-Qaeda and led by Muhammad Dāhir ’Uways and it was based on Somalia in the rural regions and sought to overthrow the then Somali president Muhammad Said Barre and establish a religious state in the Horn of Africa. After they achieved the first objective in 1991 they increased their activities and enlisted thousands of soldiers under the military leadership of Aways which also included the leadership of Hasan ’Abdullāh Hersi Turkī and ’Adan Hāshī Aroo both of whom had direct contact with the al-Qaeda organisation.

The Shabāb Mujāhideen Movement

The history of the formation of this group goes back to the late 1990s and was one of the factions who split off from the Ittihād al-Islāmī group. The reason for this division was due to the Ittihād al-Islāmī rejecting involvement in any armed conflict and return to civilian life after a series of lost wars in a number of Somali regions during 1991-1998. However, some of the youth leadership of the group who had returned from Afghanistan rejected this decision and formed a special organisation under the name “ash-Shabāb al-Mujāhideen” [the Mujāhideen Youth]. After these steps there was a complete split from al-Ittihād yet they did not have any observable activities in the first few years and sufficed with mere training and enlisting of fighters, they did not participate in any warfare against any specific Somali faction.

The Shabāb group became prominent in 2005 during the establishment of the Islamic Courts Union [ICU] in southern Somalia and was the most prominent faction of that time. For its main leaders had executive roles with the ICU however the Shabāb Movement split off from the ICU in 2007 following the announcement of the birth of ARS headed by President Shaykh Shareef Shaykh Ahmad who at the same time was also the head of the ICU! The Shabāb Movement rejected this new alliance with the Somali government of the time in an initiative led by the UN. In February 2008 the USA included the Shabāb Movement in a list of banned terrorist organisations and accused it of links with al-Qaeda. In April 2010 Washington imposed economic sanctions on ten major leaders of the Shabāb Movement including the leader of the movement Mukhtār Abu’z-Zubayr and the military commander Shaykh Hasan Turkee. Many of the leaders of the movement were killed in US airstrikes on south Somalia and the most prominent member killed was Adam Ayru, aka “al-Mu’allim” on 1 May 2008 and Sālih Nabhān on 14 September 2009.

Related Military Formations

The Shabāb Movement has fighters however their numbers are not known, yet they are thought to number in their thousands. Despite the secrecy of these military formations and their number among the Shabāb Movement there are three main groups the most prominent of which is in the area wherein Shabāb are based. The first of these formations is the “Jaysh ul-’Usra” which is the military force within the Shabāb Movement mainly based on the regions where the Shabāb actively participate in military attacks, such as the central region of the country near the Ethiopian border. Here Shabāb have two main enemies: the governmental forces being backed by Ethiopia and the militiamen from the “Ahl us-Sunnah wa’l-Jamā’ah” Soofee group linked to the Somali government, which also gets military support from Ethiopia. This is also the case in the capital Mogadishu in that the Shabāb Movement fight against three fronts: the governmental forces; the AMISOM forces and the militiamen from the Sūfī Ahl us-Sunnah wa’l-Jamā’ah group. Shabāb also have to deal with battles near the Kenyan border in southern Somalia as one of the wings of the Hizb al-Islāmī are present there with their militias which are fighting against Shabāb also. This wing is led by the former leader of the ICY Shaykh Ahmad Muhammad Aslān aka “Ahmad Madobe”. The Jaysh ul-’Usra was formed from trained fighters and most of them are Somalis yet a number of them are also foreigners. They form the main backbone of the Shabāb Movement and the real number of the Shabāb Movement is unknown though it is estimated to number into the thousands however individuals from the army have absolute loyalty to the Shabāb Movement and its core principles.

The second of these military formations within the Shabāb Movement is the “Jaysh ul-Hisbah” [a kind of police force as it were] and the importance of this army is to establish and implement security and organise daily affairs in the regions over which the movement control. The Jaysh ul-Hisbah operate in the region in which the Shabāb are based and there are about 10 states which are under the control of the Shabāb Movement and 18 which are part of the Somali Republic. The movement thus control over 80% of central and southern Somalia. The Jaysh ul-Hisbah also have control over the roads and fight bandits and highway robbers. They also ensure the implementation of modest clothing such as the hijāb, condemn freemixing and they apply judicial regulations related to theft, adultery and other things which the Shabāb regard as crimes according to the Sharee’ah. The Shabāb Movement apply the laws related to cutting off the hand of the thief and cutting off the feet of bandits and highway robbers. They also implement stoning for those guilty of adultery.

The third of the Shabāb Movement’s military formations is the “Jaysh ul-Āmināt” [intelligence unit] which is a secret unit responsible for assassinations of government officials and employees. They focus on purifying the ranks of the soldiers, police and intelligence officers, as a result individuals are often assassinated based on orders from this unit. In addition to these military formations within the Shabāb Movement there are also other groups which branch off from these main formations. There is a faction who performs bombing operations against government officials and a division who focus on performing suicide bombing operations against specific targets which are monitored on a daily basis.

The Ras Kamboni Movement

The Ras Kamboni Movement is of the oldest Islamic paramilitary of Somalia and takes its name from the Ras Kamboni coastal area in southern Somalia. After the arrival of the Somali president to power in 2009 the Ras Kamboni Movement joined an alliance with the Somali Islamic Party under the leadership of Shaykh Hasan Tāhir Uways. Then in 2010 the group announced its split from the party and in the same year announced its merger under the “Shabāb Movement”. The text of the announced merger of the two groups contains six items:

– unification of the Mujāhideen

– working to bring in Mujāhideen from other factions into this alliance

– supporting the Muslim peoples within the Horn of Africa who live under “Christian” enemies

– working towards the unification of these peoples so as to revive political and economic power

– establishing an Islamic state in Somalia in the near future which rules by the Islamic Sharee’ah and
– connecting the ongoing regional jihad with the larger global jihad which is being led by al-Qaeda which was formerly under the leadership of Usāmah bin Lādin.

Sources

– Muhammad Mahfūdh, The Shabāb Mujāhideen Movement (al-Jazeera.net, 18th June 2011).

– Sharq al-Awsat newspaper, 19 July 2010; 15 August 2010; 2 February 2010; 22 December 2010 and 14 December 2009.

– Ali Halanī, al-Qaeda Arm in the Horn of Africa (Sharq al-Awsat, 13 August 2010).

– Somali News Network, 28 July 2010 and 9th May 2010

– Official website of the security council

– Al-Ma’rifah Encyclopedia

– The Somali Islamic Party (al-Jazeera.net, 23 July 2009)

After the year 1992 Subhī ’Abdul’Azeez Muhammad al-Jawharee Abū Siniyyah, one of the senior al-Qaeda members in Somalia, was sent to form an alliance against the USA and UN forces in Somalia. This was in keeping with a so-called “fatwa” issued by the slain al-Qaeda leader Usāmah bin Lādin in 1993. 1993 therefore was the same year in which al-Ittihād al-Islāmī, under the leadership of Uways, formed an alliance with al-Qaeda. Bin Lādin specified a cadre to work to establish an Islamic state in Somalia from which al-Qaeda could launch their global operations. Furthermore, al-Ittihād al-Islāmī, in conjunction with al-Qaeda, carried out the US embassy bombing in Kenya and Tanzania on 7th August 1998. Since 1996 al-Ittihād al-Islāmī, under the leadership of ’Uways, was involved in several attacks such as: the shooting of two Ethiopian businessmen in Somalia; bombings in Ethiopia, such as a hotel in Addis Ababa which killed four people and injured 20 and assassination and attempted assassinations of ministers from the Ethiopian government.

After the al-Qaeda attacks on 9/11 the Ittihād al-Islāmī group became a decentralized organisation in order to avoid being targeted by anti-terrorist operations, Uways has continued to achieve the objectives of al-Ittihād al-Islāmī. In the year 2006 Uways was given a high leadership position within the ICU. He exploited his position to agitate the transitional government in Somalia. In December 2006 following the entry of Ethiopian forces into Somalia, Uways relocated to Asmara in Eritrea and continued to implement the objectives of al-Ittihād al-Islāmī via incitement and collecting finances and weapons for rebels associated with al-Qaeda to launch attacks in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya. He sought to assume the role of a prominent national figurehead and thus travelled to a number of countries to gain support for his cause.

He rebuffed negotiations supported by the UN which led to the withdrawal of Ethiopian forces from Somalia and the formation of the new Somali government under the leadership of Shaykh Shareef Ahmad. He also later rejected negotiations towards a ceasefire and instead ordered a platoon to continue the insurgency against the government and AMISOM. This was done with cooperation with the Somali Islamic Party and on 26 May 2009 Uways became the leader of Somali Islamic Party which was an alliance involving four different paramilitary factions which still pose a significant security threat in Somalia and perform regular operations against the transitional government and AMISON. In the year 2009 Uways returned to Mogadishu and his forces attempted to gain control over the transitional government by cooperation with the Shabāb Mujāhideen Movement which supports al-Qaeda, however this attempted alliance failed. In September 2009 Uways strongly condemned the foreign military intervention which led to the death of Sālih ’Ali Sāli