Today I came across an article claiming that the Shabab is resorting to petty crimes, robbing people, carjacking, and randomly shooting at travelers in Bay/Bakol regions, the group’s support base.
The truth is none of these stories seem plausible for a number of reasons:
First, the Shabab would not do anything to hurt its public image, especially that it is now heavily reliant on civilian support as it increasingly resorts to guerilla warfare. Also, the regions of Bay and Bakol support the Shabab perhaps more than anywhere else; the Shabab activity this Ramadan is many times more active in Bay and Bakol regions than in Mogadishu.
Why would they want to antagonize their hosts in that region?
Second, the petty money made from randomly robbing the population is barely enough to fuel the Shabab: an AK-47 bullet is .5 USD; a PK bullet is more than a dollar; and an RPG round is more than 100 USD in the black market in Somalia (mostly bought from traders who buy from government forces). For the Shabab to fund their attacks from robbery they would have to steal more than is in the pockets of impoverished nomads; they probably use thousands of AK-47 and PK rounds, and at least a dozen RPG rounds in a typical ambush. More expensive ZU and Dshka are also used in some attacks, especially in cities. One attack would therefore cost in the tens of thousands of USD.
How many days’ worth of highway robbery can bag that amount?
True, the Shabab is partly funded by money collected from Somali businesses all across the country, even in territories not in their hands. This system of tax collection has given rise to corruption in the past, with security operatives resorting to taking protection money from individual businessmen even without the knowledge of the Shabab leadership (remember “The Takers”?).
If indeed there are fighters in Bay and Bakool robbing the locals, they are most likely bandits trying to make use of the fluid security situation in the region, or less probably rogue Shabab fighters.
The Shabab may have harsh interpretation of Shariah, but that interpretation is harsh especially to robbers and highwaymen who get their hands and feet chopped off, and sometimes crucified.