After the Tuesday attack by a Shabab truck bomber on a TFG ministry complex that reportedly killed around a hundred people, there was some hope that the attack would cause a backlash from the Shabab loyalist base.
Apparently, that has not been the case. In pro-Shabab websites there has been a cry of Takbeer (Allah Akbar) – a cry of joy to celebrate a major victory – from Shabab loyalists. The Shabab narrative that most (if not all) of the victims were TFG security personnel who had been taking training there has been clearly bought by their supporters.
I am not surprised if people who are not in Mogadishu believe those claims, but apparently even the Shabab loyalists in the city have bought that story. A source who lives near the area where the attack took place told me that the victims were “spies”.
Last time I checked the TFG security HQ was not in KM4. The attacker does not even mention going to attack a security building in his farewell interview. He talks about wanting to kill ministers who were based in the complex, none of whom died by the way (since he said he didn’t care whether he killed 20 or 1000, he wouldn’t mind this).
The Shabab narrative is helped by the fact that most of the victims have not been identified, according to people in Mogadishu, fueling the rumours that indeed they may have been TFG security operatives.
The Shabab supporters don’t believe what the TFG and their supporters say. This is not helped by the fact that the president himself came out on the day of the attack saying that it was carried out by the owner of a Kenyan ID they found at the scene. It turned out that that person was a student who was wounded in the attack and was lying in Madina Hospital. The presidential office retracted the claim later.
Also, the pro-TFG media is not known to be a reliable news source, especially locally. I remember in my recent trip to Mogadishu hearing on TFG radio that they had taken Bakara and Suq Ba’ad. I was staying in Suq Ba’ad at that time, and there wasn’t even fighting close to my area. Now picture a Shabab supporter listening to that news. It would be hard to convince him to believe them after that.
And don’t get me started on the bra-banning, socks-identifying-whether-a-woman-is-married-or-not thing, and the bizarre fake stories made up about the Shabab. All these make legitimate criticism of the group a bit less credible to the Shabab supporters.
This is not to say that all the Shabab loyalists and members are programmable (and update-able) beings who don’t think for themselves. A popular phrase used by them when it is clear that the Shabab have really messed it, and it goes along the lines, “They are not Angels. They may do wrong, but that doesn’t negate all their right”. Some of the members and commanders who feel like an operation is wrong, for instance a mortar attack on TFG forces stationed in a populated area (these have gone down now), especially if they are very devout, remind the perpetrators to fear God and to desist from doing that. They seem to hold the idea that everyone is accountable to God individually and hence don’t desert the group because of an action of one person.
By now it seems that whatever the Shabab do, their supporters will accept their explanation. They have won the propaganda war targeting their supporters, thanks in part to the TFG.
The TFG make radio shows and songs to try and influence the Shabab loyalists. A song that goes along the lines “You are a foreign stooge. You are not a nationalist”, will obviously not encourage anyone to change sides, assuming that the devout Shabab loyalists listen to music in the first place.