Hi folks, I have a new article out at The Conversation focusing on what the recent merger between al Qaeda and al Shabab means for Australia.
Comments as always are welcome. Cheers.
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.
I tweeted earlier today that I think I might scream if I see one more headline announcing Shabaab has “joined” AQ. It hasn’t. It has made steps towards this goal, which shows it clearly follows the doctrine I keep harping about. But nothing has been officially sanctioned. Consider their announcement as a form of job application. AQ is still musing over it because of the situation in Somalia, and the fact that all of the groups aren’t unified. It may choose to weigh in to tip the balance if it thinks this will push things towards unity. But this far it has stood back and watched to see how things unfold.
And when the time does come for a merger, if it does, people might want to look back to how things went with the GSPC. I’ve included a small snippet here from 2007 when the GSPC changed its name. The reason I’ve done so is the bottom line, specifically the last few words of the sentence *until it received an order from bin Laden*.This order was for the name change but there was a similar order/announcement approving the GSPC joining AQ.
So until we hear about something along these lines, can we PLEASE quit with panicky fear mongering headlines that only serve to further lionise al Qaeda and pre-emptively make a mountain out of a mole hill. We’re going to have big enough problems when it does eventuate. And I don’t see how lionising it, along the lines of the way al Qaeda in Iraq was lionised before it even formed (and when Zarqawi actually only had 17 men) helps anyone. Ok rant over. And yes I did end up shrieking at the computer screen.
The Group for Preaching and Combat GSPC Changes Its Name to “Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghrib”On January 26, 2007, Islamist websites posted a communiqué by the Algerian Salafi organization “Group for Preaching and Combat” GSPC, signed by organization commander Abu Mus’ab ‘Abd Al-Wadud, which announces that the GSPC has changed its name to “The Al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghrib.” The message explains that, after “joining Al-Qaeda [in September 2006] and pledging allegiance to bin Laden… the organization had no choice but to… take a new name reflecting the unity, the strong affinity, and the real connection between the mujahideen of Algeria and their brothers in the Al-Qaeda organization.” The message further states that the GSPC was ready to change its name immediately after joining Al-Qaeda, but refrained from doing so until it received an order from bin Laden.
This is interesting. This moves the guys in Shabaab closer to getting official al Qaeda sanction and acceptance of their pledge. From memory Hassan Turki has some pretty interesting historical links to al Qaeda, which you can find in the Harmony database on the Westpoint CTC’s website.
I wrote some time ago that I didn’t think al Qaeda would accept Shabaab or a Somali entity more generally until these older guys were brought on board and the in-fighting stopped. It’s not all smooth sailing over there yet, but this does lay some pretty solid groundwork towards this eventuality. It’s worth keeping a very close eye on.
I have clearly dropped the ball on keeping up with the news. I missed this.
I’m interested in how long he had been in Somalia prior to conducting this attack– for the purposes of understanding his radicalisation trajectory.
They are born in Canada, educated, from respected families and they might be fighting for the shadowy al-Shabab
An interesting read.
Sadly a bit too busy to go into this in much depth.
But was walking along today wondering ( as one does when shopping) whether or not the Somali arrests/those charged in US also have edge of network connections or whether because they are diaspora based around a particular conflict the networks are more discrete and more pathway based.
A similar case here had very peripheral edge of network connections, but nothing like the types that have characterised AQ core operations. In other words they were not instrumental.
I suspect the network structures will be slightly different between these two examples. With the Somali case and others like it they will probably tend to be more discrete.
Curious though if the radicalisation pathways are that much different– at least on the way in.
Ooooh I so wish I had some time to go digging on this. But I just raise my little shopping epiphany as something some of you folks out there interested in network behaviour might be interested in.