Defection of fighters highlights tensions within Somalia's al-Shabab

Defection of fighters highlights tensions within Somalia's al-Shabab
4 min read
10 December, 2015
The defections of two fighters from Somalia's extremist rebels highlight tensions within al-Shabab over whether it should remain affiliated to al-Qaeda or switch allegiance to IS.
The defections of Hassan and Jones show tensions within al-Shabab [AFP/Getty]

The defections of two fighters, an American and a US resident, from Somalia's Islamic extremist al-Shabab rebels highlight tensions within the group over whether it should remain affiliated to al-Qaeda or switch allegiance to the Islamic State group, said an al-Shabab commander.

Foreign fighters are being alienated and feel trapped in Somalia over suspicions they are plotting to switch allegiance to IS, Abu Mohammed, a military commander with Al-Shabab said on Tuesday.

     Foreign fighters are being alienated and feel trapped in Somalia.

The 'ambitions' of some foreign fighters in al-Shabab to join IS had led to their isolation within the Somali group and some have even faced death at the hands of their erstwhile comrades-in-arms.

An American who had been fighting with al-Shabab left the rebels and was arrested by Somalia's security forces on Monday.

Abdimalik Jones, who said he is from San Diego, was arrested in the southern port of Barawe, said African Union spokesman Col. Paul Njuguna.

Jones claimed he fled al-Shabab because of rifts within the group, said an official with Somali security forces who insisted on anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the press. Jones is missing the index finger of his right hand, said the official.

Separately a US resident, a Minnesota man named Mohamed Abdullahi Hassan who joined al-Shabab in Somalia more than seven years ago, surrendered to Somalia's federal government on 6 November, the US State Department said.

Legally Hassan was a permanent resident of the US but not an American citizen.

Hassan had been fighting with al-Shabab but recently went online to urge others to carry out violence on behalf of IS.

He was among those wanted by the FBI for allegedly providing material support to al-Shabab, and he faces several terrorism charges in the US.

State department spokeswoman Pooja Jhunjhunwala said Hassan is in the custody of the Somali National Intelligence and Security Agency in Mogadishu.

The US is discussing the case with the Somali Federal Government, but noted that the US does not have an extradition agreement with Somalia, she added.

In a phone interview Tuesday with Voice of America, Hassan said he has no intention of returning to the US.

"Any crimes that I have committed, if there are any, were carried out over here in Somalia," he told Voice of America.

"If I am to be going to court, it is going to be in Somalia not in the US," he added.

Not 'tied to IS'

     Foreign fighters with al-Shabab would have to give up their desire to join IS to escape death.
 - Mohamed Abdullahi Hassan, a US resident who joined al Shabab


Hassan, who was speaking from prison, said he was not tied to IS. "I am not part of ISIS and I have nothing to do with any other group or any other jihadi movement," he said.

Hassan said he joined al-Shabab to help defend against Ethiopian intervention in Somalia. However, he left the group in 2013 blaming "the oppression that they are doing on the people, the way they are killing people, and the imprisonment of innocent people and the torture without any evidence".

He said last month, al-Shabab members raided his home and terrorised his family. He escaped, but was later arrested by government forces, reported Voice of America.

The defections of Hassan and Jones show tensions within al-Shabab, according to Mohammed.

"Some mujahedeen fighters now prefer to fall into the enemy's hands instead of meeting death at the hands of their brothers," said Mohammed. He explained that friction over IS "is messing everything up here".

Al-Shabab's leadership declared that fighters contravening the group's mainstream alignment with al-Qaeda  would represent "Bid'ah," or misguidance, which would lead to them being killed.

Foreign fighters with al-Shabab would have to give up their desire to join IS to escape death, said Mohammed.

"They have no choice," he said by phone from southern Somalia.

Rita Katz, director of SITE Intelligence Group, said Hassan had used social media to help recruit a new class of jihadists, including some from Minnesota. While news of his arrest is important, Katz said, there are many others who are willing to take his place online.

A report published Tuesday by the Soufan Group, an intelligence consultancy, said that at least 27,000 fighters have travelled to Iraq and Syria, double the number present there a year ago.