In late June, telecommunications was temporarily taken down by the Shabab in Barawe as hundreds of fighters from the Jabha (the trusted guerrilla units) came into the city to arrest some members of the Shura (the group’s consultative council) and others that had been openly opposing the supreme leader, accusing him of oppressive dictatorial policies. After a brief fight, the group’s most extremist members lay dead including the veteran Jihadi and the group’s number two man and founding member, Ibrahim Afghani; others such as Hassan Dahir Aweys and Mukhtar Robow Abu Mansur ran for their lives.
The rebels, made up of almost every faction in the Shabab, were apparently in the process of declaring themselves independent from the Shabab. But since declaring a new group was outlawed by the General Leadership in early 2012 to pre-empt ex-members of Hizbul Islam that were on the verge of breaking away then, the rebels’ death warrants had been signed even before they had openly rebelled.
As serious as the developments may be, Harakatu Shabab Al-Mujahideen is as far from complete disintegration today as it was in August 2011 when it had withdrawn from Mogadishu and the wishful-minded predicted their complete demise as a result. The main reason for this is that despite the stature of the rebels, there is no regional military or intelligence commander on their side. And on the forums and Somali Jihadi sites, the peanut gallery seems to be firmly on the side of the supreme leader, Abu Zubayr.
In Islamic teachings, Bughaat (Muslims rebelling against a leader they have given their pledge of allegiance) are to be fought if they fight back but their dead are considered Muslims and buried in the Muslim cemetery. That is why the Shabab military spokesman prayed for Afghani and company, claiming that they had resisted arrest and not killed execution-style as reported by some Somali sites.
Most top and mid-level commanders of the Shabab security forces are apolitical when it comes to internal issues and take orders from whoever is in charge. This works well for the incumbent; Abu Zubayr can count on them to have his back as long as he is the leader.
I am interested in the fact that some of the rebels were frustrated by the lack of escalation of the foreign front by Abu Zubayr. This means that the faction that opposes escalation of the foreign front appears to have won. Even if Mukhtar Robow manages to rally his large clan behind him and force Abu Zubayr to accept some sort of compromise, this would probably not change much in the group’s foreign tempo; Mukhtar Robow is actually a moderate when it comes to foreign attacks; for instance, he seemed surprised when the Kenyans invaded in late 2011, explaining that the group used to stop even freelance fighters from crossing the border to loot from the Kenyan army because “we weren’t at war with Kenya”.
In 2010 Abu Mansur the Somali had disagreements with the Shabab leader, but had buried the hatchet after arbitration. I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened again, especially now that his co-conspirators have been dealt with.
While Shabab operations against allied forces may be reduced by operations against internal Somali and non-Somali rebels in Lower Shabelle and Bay/Bakool regions, the group will continue to operate normally in other regions and probably increase operations in the Kismayo area as the Kenyan occupiers of that city push warlords and some clans into the arms of the Shabab. To demonstrate that the internal power struggle has not diminished its capability, the group may launch more of the “martyrdom” commando raids inside Mogadishu.
It is going to be a long Ramadan this year.