War Igniting between al-Shabaab and al-I’tisam

Tension appears to be growing between al-Shabaab and rival Salafi group al-I’tisam–both offshoots of Somalia’s defunct Salafi-Jihadi group al-Itihad al-Islami (AIAI).

On 7 March 2013, a grenade was thrown at the al-Rawda mosque in Bosaso during an al-I’tisam lecture ironically entitled “Infringements on Islam and the Resulting Problems.” No group has taken responsibility for the attack, but many suspect it was al-Shabaab.

Footage of the event and the explosion can be seen in the video below at the 1:50 mark.

Deaths of Al-I’tisam Clerics

Al-Shabaab has been blamed for the deaths of two prominent al-I’tisam clerics: Sheikh Ahmed Haji Abdirahman in December 2011 and more recently Sheikh Abdulkadir Nur Farah in February 2013.

Top al-Shabaab leaders have yet to comment on the murder of Sheikh Abdulkadir. Comments by the group’s sidelined religious figure Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys (who was a senior leader in AIAI) were not completely convincing in absolving al-Shabaab.

Another marginalized leader—Sheikh Mukhtar Robow—also denied the killing.  But, this hardly will change the belief among many that al-Shabaab members were involved.

As a result of Sheikh Abdulkadir’s murder, al-I’tisam has promised to step up efforts to counter al-Shabaab’s influence and proposed the idea of an anti-al-Shabaab conference.

A few of the thousands who attended Sheikh Abdulkadir’s funeral in Garowe

From Fatwa War To Real War

In the past, religious figures supportive of each group have issued fatwas (religious edicts) criticizing the authority of the other group.

As al-Shabaab continues its effort to increase its operations and recruitment in Puntland, al-I’tisam leaders could be the continued targets of attacks.

Even though the two groups share basic Salafi principles—such as advocating for an Islamic state in Somalia—al-Shabaab sees al-I’tisam as a stumbling block for the spread of an armed resistance against foreign forces and “apostates” in Somalia.

Though there have been exceptions in the past, al-I’tisam has pursued its goals in recent years non-violently through religious education.

Contrastingly, it appears al-Shabaab will rely on the same strategies in Puntland that it has used in southern Somalia to garner support: [1] provide benefits to and gain the loyalty from clans marginalized by the government and [2] more broadly exploit anti-government sentiments.

Mohamed Ali Yusuf

Mohamed Ali Yusuf

For example, pro-al-Shabaab site Somali Memo recently claimed in February 2013 that al-Shabaab had succeeded in recruiting the support of Warsengeli clan elder Mohamed Ali Yusuf—who weeks earlier had critiqued an array of Puntland politicians.

Additionally, anti-Farole protests are becoming more common than President Farole would like, partially due to the circumstances in which he extended his term for one more year and other controversial measures such as banning the import of fuel from Yemen.

These circumstances present Puntland with significant religious, political, and security challenges in the near future—even as it signs a historic agreement for cooperation with Mogadishu.

Categories: al-Shabaab, Puntland

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