Islamic State and al-Shabaab On Collision Course Over Somalia

The Islamic State (IS) claimed its first terrorist attack on Monday using an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) to destroy an African Union (AU) military vehicle on the outskirts of Mogadishu. It was not clear how many people and/or soldiers were injured or killed during the attack.

Monday’s attack in the Tardish section of Mogadishu was the first attack launched by a terrorist group other than the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Shabaab terrorist organization. Somalia fit the profile for IS expansion as the country has been plagued by the country’s an ongoing war with al-Shabaab since 2009. IS see’s an opportunity to potentially remove its al-Qaeda affiliated rival and seize control of the region.

IS and al-Qaeda both share desire to establish an Islamic caliphate under Sharia law, since IS split from Al Qaeda in order to position IS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi as Caliph the two groups now find themselves competing for recruits, operational space, and resources.

Over the past several months IS has used propaganda videos to try and lure al-Shabaab members away from the group and join IS.  In a video titled “A Message To Our Brothers In Somalia” a IS fighter of Somali descent speaking in English telling fighters from his homeland to leave al-Shabaab and join the band of fighters now aligned with IS.

Al-Shabaab’s emir Ahmad Umar (AKA Abu Ubaidah) has actively supported the group’s loyalty to al-Qaeda, and warned that all traitors will be killed, which has slowed IS recruitment.

On April 14, 2016, IS leader Abdiqadir Mumin was shown in a video promoting the Sheikh Abu Numan training camp in Somalia’s Puntland. Mumin was a former al-Shabaab commander who defected last October and took 20 al-Shabaab fighters from the Galgala Hills of the Puntland. Bashir Abu Numan was an al-Shabaab commander who defected to IS late in 2015 and was killed by al-Shabaab’s Amniyat death squads.

Jahba East Africa, a terror group with sworn allegiance to IS, and consisting of fighters from Somalia, Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda accused al-Shabaab’s leadership of enforcing “a psychological and physical prison” and have encouraged al-Shabaab members to leave the group and pledge allegiance to IS.

Some feel al-Shabaab is losing momentum as they have resorted to calling upon African-Americans from the U.S. to come and help them.  IS through social media is recruiting more aggressively than AL-Shabaab who still rely on outdated technology.  Al-Shabaab’s once promising pipeline of foreign terrorist fighter’s (FTF’s) from areas like Minneapolis may have dried up as anti-terror programs have diverted recruits away.

IS has been able to seize territory in Iraq and Syria and with its branches in Africa have also claimed territory in North Africa and West Africa. The strategic location of Somalia is appealing to IS as the country poses the longest stretch of coastline in the continent and lies on one of the busiest shipping lanes on the Gulf of Aden. However, it is also the location of Somalia that makes it such a difficult area to set up a base of operations, with Somalia’s geographic location allows government security forces, peacekeeping troops, and neighboring militaries quick and direct access for intervention.

While IS and Jahba East Africa has avoided direct confrontation with al-Shabaab there is a gradual shift occurring in Africa as IS support is developing.