Somali terror group Al-Shabaab could soon scrap its allegiance to Al-Qaeda and pledge loyalty to rivals ISIS instead, MailOnline has learned.
Islamic State invited the east-African jihadi group to join forces with them through a propaganda video released in March – urging it to wage jihad on neighbouring Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania.
Now Al-Shabaab members and sources within the Somali army suggest the invitation will be accepted and the group – which commands around 9,000 fighters – will soon extend ISIS’s self-proclaimed caliphate to east-Africa.
The decision comes at a time when many of Al-Shabaab’s local and foreign leaders are being killed by commando raids and drone strikes, the group is rapidly losing territory and its money is running out as a result.
Al-Shabaab’s senior figures held a secret meeting in the Middle Juba region – just over 200 miles away from the capital of Mogadishu – earlier this week, one of its commanders told MailOnline.
He said: ‘It is still an ongoing process to reach a final decision in the next weeks and months… We [the leaders] are now on same boat.
‘I do not want to comment about why [Al-Shabaab] is willing to leave and cut ties with al-Qaeda and its leader Ayman al-Zawihiri.’
‘Islamic State captured Muslim’s attention globally and regionally in terms of leading global Jihad.
‘We share many things with ISIS ideologically and we are ready to help our Muslim brothers and sisters around the globe under a united leadership with one agenda and ideology.
Its leader Abu Ubaidah and his deputy Mahad Karate both agreed to join the rapidly-expanding Islamic State at the meeting – and urged their fanatical followers to ditch al-Qaeda too, Garowe Online reported.
Al-Shabaab has executed hundreds of bloody attacks on the Somali and Kenyan military, as well as civilians, since pledging allegiance to Al-Qaeda in February 2012.
Two of its most gruesome attacks were the raid on Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, which killed 67 and the massacre at Garissa University College in which 148 people were slaughtered.
It has recently ramped up violence inside the country. It staged a staggering 150 attacks on Somali military checkpoints in June alone – and slaughtered over 50 peacekeepers in a single attack on the Kenyan border town of Mandera.
On Tuesday, it gunned down 14 sleeping Quarry workers in the Kenyan border town of Soko Mbuzi after smashing through a gate and unfurling round after round of machine gun fire.
Senior Somali intelligence officer Mohamed Hassan suggested recent attacks such as this are ‘a show of force for that possible allegiance’ to ISIS.
He added: ‘The group has conducted a high profile attacks on AU troops and Somali forces in southern and central Somalia over the last couple of weeks.’
This surge in violence could be the final sign that Al-Shabaab is ready to accept Islamic State’s courtship, according to Abdirahman Yarisow – former adviser to Somali president Hassan Sehikh Mohamud.
Al-Shabaab has lost land in the country since 2011, when the militants were forced out of the capital Mogadishu.
It also lost revenue from being pushed out of key Somali ports and one of the biggest blows came in 2014 when its former leader Ahmed Godane was killed in a US drone strike.
There has been friction within Al-Shabaab’s leadership between those who want to merge with global jihadi movements and those who want to stick to their initial domestic mandate, sources familiar with the group’s inner-workings have told CNN.
As part of Al-Qaeda, the group managed to recruit as many as 50 British nationals, including Thomas Evans – known as the ‘White Beast’ because of his ruthlessness on the battle field.
The 25-year-old from Wooburn Green, Buckinghamshire, was shot dead during an assault on a Kenyan army base in Lamu County last month – the first case of a British Islamist militant being killed on Kenyan soil.
Extraordinary pictures of the onslaught were found in a camera and series of videos discovered on the body of Evans, the group’s second in command and cameraman, in the aftermath of the 5.45am attack at Baure.
It has also emerged that British-born Samantha Lewthwaite, the widow of a London 7/7 bomber, commands a terrifying army of up to 200 female Al-Shabaab jihadis who she has trained to infiltrate governments, carry out suicide attacks.
She is working in the Intelligence Unit of the Somali terror group, according to the country’s intelligence agencies.
Al-Shabaab’s foreign jihadists ‘hugely advocate’ joining ISIS because they are ‘fed up with Al-Qaeda’s poor leadership both financially and militarily’ Mohamed Hassan added.
In March this year, ISIS released a six-minute propaganda video imploring Somalis and members of the Al-Shabaab – who they refer to as ‘truthful mujahedeen’ – to join their movement.
Security expert Ryan Cummings says that ISIS’ desire to merge with Al-Shabaab is part of its international expansion plan.
‘Al-Shabaab is the largest jihadi movement in East Africa, and central to the core mandate of ISIS is the unification of the Muslim world,’ a counter-terrorism expert told CNN at the time.
Ryan Cummings added that a merger ‘would be a significant ideological victory for the group [ISIS]. It would be massive from a public relations perspective, which is central to the Islamic State’s operations.
‘The Islamic State still wants to create the perception that it’s growing and branching out to various parts of the world.
The only way that it will be able to achieve this will be to have groups serving as an extension in their various areas of operation.’
‘While Al-Shabaab has lost more territory and this is a victory for the allied of AU [African Union] and Somali forces, the group is however far from end,’ A Mogadishu-based security analyst told MailOnline.
Khalid Omar added: ‘If the group turns to join ISIS formally, such move could change more on the ground for it.
‘It can capture the hearts and minds of new ISIS supporters in the region and that may boost the group to get more of both militarily and financially.’
Source: Mail Online