A high-ranking member and spiritual leader of Al-Shabaab has pledged allegiance to ISIS, a move that further fractures the Somali-based jihadi group and spreads the reach of ISIS farther into Africa.
The report that formerly UK-based Abdul Qadir Mumin had sworn loyalty to ISIS came from a source familiar with Al-Shabaab and was supported by a U.S. intelligence source, who said Mumin’s pledge came in a video that is expected to be released online.
In the video, Mumin, along with several other jihadis based in Somalia’s Central Region, swear their allegiance to ISIS. Some known Al-Shabaab members have already done so online.
Al-Shabaab’s leadership pledged loyalty to al Qaeda in 2012.
The Al-Shabaab-linked source told CNN that members of the group now fear for their lives as other political leaders systematically try to root out possible ISIS supporters within their ranks.
Sources within Al-Shabaab say the announcement is not totally unexpected. For weeks, Al-Shabaab’s secret police, known as the Amniyat, have been arresting and jailing members within the insurgent group who they believed would switch their allegiance from al Qaeda to ISIS. The source close to the jihadi group told CNN from inside Somalia that the situation within the group is “tense,” and likened it to a “state of emergency.”
Mumin is thought to be currently based in the mountainous Puntland region of northern Somalia, and thus unlikely to be persecuted or reached by the Amniyat, which operates mostly in southern Somalia.
The split is more significant in symbolism than in numbers.
Sources within Somalia’s security apparatus estimate that about 100 fighters would likely defect to ISIS, among the estimated 1,400-strong insurgent group.
Yet the defections are mostly coming from the younger members, while the older members maintain allegiance to al Qaeda. A Western diplomat inside Somalia told CNN the defection demonstrates a discontent with the current status quo, and shows that ISIS may be more appealing to younger, more impressionable jihadis.
“What does ISIS hold for these disaffected members of Al-Shabaab?” asked the western diplomat. “What is the ‘wedding gift,’ so to speak? This is about technical expertise and funding. Al-Shabaab’s money streams are being depleted by the current war. ISIS could be seen as really attractive on one hand, and dangerous on another. This is a sort of terrorists’ conundrum.”
One analyst explained ISIS’ effectiveness in using modern technology to recruit new members.
“Many experts and scholars view (ISIS) as a juggernaut that the international community simply cannot oppose because they use violence so brutally and then disseminate it so effectively over social media in an effort to recruit new members and intimidate opposing forces,” said terrorism expert Max Abrahms, based in the United States.
Al-Shabaab’s leadership, however, is still very much pro-al Qaeda. Its most recent propaganda video, showing a deadly attack on Burundian soldiers fighting for the African Union in Southern Somalia, used quotes from the late al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and the group’s current leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri. “This is a subtle way of intimating the leadership’s loyalty to al Qaeda,” says a source close to Somalia’s intelligence service, NISA.
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SOURCE: CNN, Robyn Kriel and Briana Duggan