Home > Commentary, Somalia > Thoughts on the attacks in Uganda

Thoughts on the attacks in Uganda

Re: the attacks reportedly carried out in Uganda by Harakat al-Shabab

If it is them, it is an interesting development. Not the first time that the group has tried to carry out an attack outside of its area of operations, and/or sanctioned attack plots outside of its operational ambit. First time it’s been successful on this scale though.

I’m interested to see the propaganda output from this. While the attacks could have been targets of opportunity, to my mind it is starting to look like a formal AQ-al-Shabab merger could be on the way or at least greater efforts are underway by al-Shabab to secure this outcome for whatever reason is driving it to do so.

So with the caveat firmly in place that  these attacks may well have been targets of opportunity and more to do with local and regional dynamics, I’m going to engage in a  little speculation, based on what I’ve been thinking as I read the news.

First, a little explanation on why the formal merger idea comes to mind in the aftermath of these attacks…

If it carried out these attacks al-Shabab just earned its stripes, which as we’ve seen with previous mergers, is a pre-requisite before formal AQ core recognition.

This raises a few questions.

First,  were the  attacks designed to push forward with its expansion, since the group has already recognised OBL but had been pretty much ignored by AQ for membership status because of internal dynamics in Somalia?

Second, were the  attacks the outcome of completed negotiations and designed to depict the group’s new operational ambit under an AQ umbrella? AQ could use the benefits a merger with the group would bring. **If** reports of hundreds of foreign fighters being in its ranks or fighting alongside it are correct, this means it has more foreign jihadist boots on the ground than AQ does in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

All of AQ’s EO’s  have been disrupted of late and because of this AQ  brand power is starting to wane, which would concern AQ far more than a loss of material capacity. In fact I’d guess that as a result of this AQ has revisited its stance on al-Shabab over the past little while, even though very real concerns exist about al-Shabab’s conflict  with other groups within Somalia, some of whose leaders have historical links with AQ.

So…. if my speculation pans out, what can we expect to see??

Well, first  a polished al-Shabab propaganda video, referencing the attacks and labeling them with some derivative or signifier of the Battle of Badr, and announcing the new AQ branch name. Alternatively an announcement from AQ HQ, but with Adam’s piss poor efforts at As Sahaab lately that’s not likely and  I’d bank more on a slick presentation from al-Shabab.

Anyway, there’s my two cents worth on it all. As I said it could very well be a case of these attacks being opportunity driven and related more to regional dynamics.

However, it is also worth bearing in mind that an expansion of a group’s operational ambit in a manner like this  has been a feature of group behaviour just prior to a merger with AQ core, as well as being a trait of those seeking formal sanction.

update: just to clarify, I’m *not* saying the attacks weren’t driven by local/regional dynamics. This is a speculative post  based on patterns of group operational behaviour that I have observed take place prior to groups merging with AQ.

Categories: Commentary, Somalia
  1. Ibn Siqilli
    07/14/2010 at 2:32 am

    Interestingly, in their recent video, “The African Crusaders,” Harakat al-Shabab addressed the people of Burundi and Uganda, saying that they needed to carefully evaluate whether there was a good reason for “their sons” to be dying in Mogadishu. They said that if the more “reasonable” among the two populations were unable to win the debate, they would continue to see “their sons” come back in coffins. Harakat al-Shabab, however, didn’t threaten to launch attacks in the two countries, though I believe they have done so in other venues.

    • Leah Farrall, Australia
      07/14/2010 at 2:58 am

      Interesting. Thanks for this. Will be v. happy to stand corrected on my speculation! (-:

  2. 07/14/2010 at 4:52 am

    Interesting post Leah.
    “Internationalization” of Shabab should follow with more Western targets attacked and ideological base deformation (include more US, Europe, global warming, other wordly events). We have already seen some of these in their last speeches…

    I read in some places that the attack “holds the hallmarks of AQ” (I guess they mean synchronized simultaneous blasts)… do you agree with that? Is that enough to label it as AQ fingerprint?

  3. John
    07/14/2010 at 7:32 am

    “**If** reports of hundreds of foreign fighters”

    Reports I have seen say that the presence of foreign AQ is disliked as much in Somalia as it was in AF/PAK.

  4. 07/14/2010 at 8:28 am

    I am ignorant of AQ’s and al-Shabab’s branding issues, but considering al-Shabab’s years long string of attacks against the African Union’s peacekeepers, an extension of that fight to the enemy’s sanctuary looks like a sufficient explanation. Of course, that doesn’t preclude exploitation for marketing purposes.

  5. jorgewmata
    07/18/2010 at 11:24 pm

    Somali Militant Group Built Training Camps, al Qaeda Links. By WILL CONNORS in Kampala, Uganda, SIOBHAN GORMAN in Washington, D.C., and SARAH CHILDRESS
    WSJ, Jul 17, 2010

    The terror group behind last weekend’s deadly Uganda blasts recruited a local man to coordinate the attacks and received funds from al Qaeda, say investigators, as it extends its reach beyond lawless Somalia.

    Al Shabaab, the Somalia-based group that has claimed responsibility for July 11’s triple suicide blasts that killed 76 people in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, has in recent months built up Pakistan-style terror training camps. One top leader, Sheikh Muktar Robow, has helped to transform the group from a local insurgency into a global jihadist organization modeled on, and swearing allegiance to, al Qaeda.

    That picture of the group, and its development under Mr. Robow, emerged from interviews with Ugandan, Kenyan and U.S. investigators; current and former U.S. intelligence officials; and Somalis, including a member of the militant group.

    A U.S. intelligence official said information gleaned from militant communications shows links between al Shabaab and al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan and Yemen. U.S. officials also see evidence of overlap in training and membership and say their working assumption is that al Shabaab has several hundred core members, similar to the numbers in al Qaeda in Pakistan and in al Qaeda’s Yemeni outpost.

    Intelligence officials say they believe al Qaeda is using the Somali group as a symbiotic host body, allowing its operatives access to other African countries. “As much as we’re looking at al Shabaab, they are riding on the back of a more experienced player,” said Col. Herbert Mbonye, the director of counterterrorism for Uganda’s military intelligence body.

    That relationship has raised red flags at U.S. intelligence agencies. In the past 18 months, militant training camps have emerged in Somalia similar to those that developed in Pakistan’s tribal areas, a U.S. intelligence official said. Intelligence officials are now following about two dozen individuals from the U.S. and other Western countries who may have been affiliated with al Shabaab, or gone through these camps.

    “It’s quite an alarming story,” the U.S. intelligence official said.

    Al Shabaab’s relationship with al Qaeda appears to have been cultivated in part by Mr. Robow, a top commander. Also known as Abu Mansur, he is among the U.S. government’s most wanted terrorists.

    Mr. Robow offered a warning of sorts ahead of Sunday’s blasts, which hit a restaurant and a sports club where people had gathered to watch the final match of the World Cup. Speaking during a public address at Friday prayers earlier this month, Mr. Robow called for attacks against countries that had sent some 6,000 troops under African Union auspices to support the Somali government’s offensive against al Shabaab. “We tell the Muslim youths and Mujahedeen, wherever they are in the Muslim world, to attack, explode and burn the embassies of Burundi and Uganda,” Mr. Robow said, according to local media reports.

    Mr. Robow grew up in southern Mogadishu as a devoted student of the Quran, according to public speeches he has made. He studied law at the University of Khartoum in Sudan, and then returned to Mogadishu to teach Arabic for several years. He is about 40, U.S. officials believe, based on a birth date on an Eritrean passport he used.

    In 2000, Mr. Robow traveled to Afghanistan to train with the Taliban and al Qaeda, which used the strife-torn South Asian country to plot the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S. In Afghanistan, Mr. Robow learned to fight, fire a sniper rifle and conceal roadside bombs, an al Shabaab official in Somalia said. He stayed less than a year, leaving before U.S.-led forces swept into Afghanistan.


    The blasts have presented U.S. officials with a quandary. They see a need to step up support and involvement in the region, but they haven’t determined the best course. “Violence always breeds urgency,” the U.S. intelligence official said. “The question is: What [to do]?” The U.S. has been tracking al Shabaab and al Qaeda in Somalia for years, officials say. The Central Intelligence Agency works with military special forces units to collect intelligence and pinpoint targets, a former senior intelligence official said. The U.S. also works closely with the Ethiopian and Kenyan governments on counterterrorism operations.

    Those efforts have grown in recent years as U.S. officials discovered as many as 20 Americans from Minnesota making their way to Somalia, including one who was determined to have been among five suicide bombers in an October 2008 attack in northern Somalia.

    The intelligence-gathering paid off last year when U.S. Special Forces killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a top operative linked to both al Qaeda and al Shabaab who was believed to be linked to 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.


    You can request the article at bipartisanalliance.com

  6. 07/19/2010 at 8:37 pm

    Fascinating post.

    An interesting possible development: http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/front-page/pakistanis-among-20-held-over-uganda-attacks-970

    I am unsure whether this necessarily shifts Shabaab firmly from the localized fighters to international quite yet, though it shows a clear step along a path which would likely lead to that. Maybe in the short-term it will strengthen them as a local actor, as it will likely inflame local tensions which have in the past led to increased support for them in response to what is seen as local enemies attacking. What I mean: the invasion by Ethiopian troops was a huge recruiting sergeant for the troops – if this leads to some other local reaction, then it might have a similar counter-reaction.

  7. 07/25/2010 at 4:48 pm

    As-Sahab media produced a new film :

    They exposed the crusaders lies on this new film , Know your sources crusaders … !!

  1. 07/15/2010 at 5:13 am
  2. 07/20/2010 at 12:46 am

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