The Al-Shabaab terror group began in Somalia in the year 2004 as the police wing of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a federation of local and clan-based Islamic courts that had been founded in southern Somalia in order to combat the lawlessness and banditry afflicting the country since the collapse of the government of Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.
The Al-Qaeda branch in East Africa quickly became the dominant jihadi actor in Somalia and effectively maintained its supremacy over ‘jihadi’ violence across the Horn of Africa.
However, in 2015 different pro-Islamic State cells eventually amalgamated into an organized group, Islamic State Somalia province (ISSP) led by former Al-Shabaab commander AbdulqadirMumin, in Somalia’s northern Puntland region.
Although believed to have a low number of fighters, they have significantly expanded operations across Somalia, and have recently been linked to terrorist activity in parts of Somalia. ISSP and Al-Shabaab groups may be pursuing the same long-term goal of spreading Islamic law globally, but their ideology and methods differ fundamentally in that they are increasingly turning on each other.
The rivalry between Al Shabaab and ISSP began as a war of words before escalating into a series of abductions, executions, assassinations, and clashes between the groups.
Both sides however kept their conflict under wraps and did not openly publicize it, but as ISSP continued to get more active inside Somalia, the competition between Al Shabaab and ISSP reached a boiling point, with both sides openly declaring war on each other for the first time in late 2018.
While Al Shabaab as a whole has yet to succumb to the Islamic State’s calculated pressure, ISSP has been able to attract several prominent commanders and disgruntled foot-soldiers within Al-Shabaab. The growing assertiveness of the ISSP has strongly rocked the Al-Shabaab camp. The emergence of such a competitor has provided an opportunity for disgruntled members (of Al-Shabaab) a way to challenge the status quo” in their operational culture.
Al-Shabaab’s leadership has begun to quickly release internal memos and addresses about the situation via its local radio stations, calling for the killing of anyone who “promoted disunity.” A speech by al-Shabaab’s spokesman Ali Mahmud Rage was also broadcasted via al-Shabaab’s Radio al Andalus, which carried the simple point that those who supported the Islamic State will be “burnt in hell”, while their AMNIYAT (Al-Shabaab’s intelligence wing) were busy arresting, combating, and sometimes executing known or suspected Islamic State-loyal members in southern Somalia.
Dozens of Al Shabaab members have been killed or arrested by the AMNIYAT during this period.
In the last 12 months alone, Al Shabaab has executed at least 32 of its own fighters and civilians for “spying” against the group. Al Shabaab has rarely executed this many in a single year. The group’s growing paranoia of informants within their ranks and reckless increase in deadly violence is causing a great rift within it.
They are quickly losing members to ISSP, and the level of respect and fear that they once held is quickly dwindling.