See part 2 for updated information about evidence that alleges these rumors are false.
Unverified rumors on June 4, 2012 allege that al-Shabaab’s spiritual leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys has defected from the terrorist group to the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Afgoye.
Afgoye was recently taken over by the TFG on May 25, 2012, and al-Shabaab fighters and leaders, including Aweys, reportedly fled to Marka and Barawe in Lower Shabelle.
This morning several Somali websites began circulating the same article indicating that Aweys was in talks with TFG.
Aweys has been frustrated with al-Shabaab recently for confiscating weapons belonging to his former outfit Hizbul Islam (which was forcibly absorbed into the group in 2010) at Sinka Dheere.
He also has criticized other leaders in the group for killing innocent civilians in its operations–ironically as Aweys himself has been responsible for many civilian deaths during his tenure as a militant in the Horn of Africa.
Additionally, Aweys always has harbored larger political ambitions in the president’s office in Mogadishu that have been scuppered consistently by intervening factors–including how his understudy in the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) Sheikh Sharif Ahmed seized the opportunity to cooperate with the international community in early 2007 and eventually become President of the TFG as the ICU was falling apart–an eerily similar context to al-Shabaab’s position now.
It is a much larger question whether Aweys’ motivations and frustrations would lead him to take such an extreme measure.
However, as Kenya, Ethiopia, and TFG-allied forces move toward Barawe and Kismayo, Aweys could have made a calculation that this is the most (and perhaps last) opportunity to remain politically relevant–and alive.
If Aweys indeed had fled to Barawe, he would have had to travel from Barawe to Afgoye–a dangerous 2-3 hour drive–in order to meet the TFG officials.
He most likely would have had to have substantial support from loyal fighters and negotiate along al-Shabaab checkpoints on the way in order to be escorted safely.
Is it likely in the current security environment and internal turmoil within al-Shabaab that Aweys could have made that trip successfully?
The details have yet to be verified but are certainly forthcoming.
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