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Death of a Somali Jihadi – Professor Hussein Solomon

September 15, 2014

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Death of a Somali Jihadi 

By Hussein Solomon

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 2 (2014), Number 10 (September 2014)

The killing in a US airstrike of Al Shabab’s Emir, Ahmed Abdi Godane[i], this past week is a matter of great strategic significance. There are some who would argue that his death would have little major impact on Al Shabab or the East African region. After all, in May 2008 following another US airstrike which ended the life of his predecessor, Aden Hashi Ayro, the Shura Council of Al Shabab elected Godane to succeed Ayro. Similarly, following Godane’s death the Shura Council once again  gathered and unanimously elected Ahmad Umar aka Abu Ubaidah as Godane’s successor[ii]. Critics then question the utility of the airstrike and such efforts aimed at decapitating the leadership of Al Shabab – believing its business as usual with or without Godane for Al Shabab. Certainly, Al Shabab following Godane’s death was quick to reaffirm its commitment to Al Qaeda and pledge revenge. In its statement following Godane’s death, Al Shabab stated, “By the permission of Allah, you will surely taste the bitter consequences of your actions”[iii].

Notwithstanding the statements emanating from Al Shabab and its appointment of a new leader, I am of the firm belief that Godane’s death had dealt a severe blow to Al Shabab. Under Godane’s leadership, Al Shabab in Somalia merged with Al Qaeda’s East African cell, thereby extending its operational reach. It was Godane who masterminded the twin Ugandan bombings in 2010. It was Godane who masterminded the terrorist atrocity on Nairobi’s Westgate Shopping Mall in September 2013 which resulted in the murder of 67 people and scores others injured[iv].

By concentrating power in his hands and that of his loyalists, Godane improved command and control within the movement. Godane’s creation of a Special Operations Directorate also witnessed greater coordination between Al Shabab’s reconnaissance, kill and suicide units resulting in ever more sophisticated attacks mounted with greater frequency. Moreover, Godane’s Al Shabab trained its 5,000-strong force daily – reinforcing fitness and discipline[v]. Under Godane’s leadership, then, Al Shabaab evolved into a sophisticated insurgency movement. Conversely, his death would serve to undermine the cohesion that Godane brought between Somali Al Shabab fighters and Al Qaeda’s foreign fighters within its ranks. His death might also open up simmering clan tensions which Godane fought hard to stamp out. Not much is known about the new Emir – Ahmed Umar; but Godane’s death would certainly have negative implications for the movement for the reasons outlined.

What is obvious though is that both the Somali government and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) certainly intend to exploit Godane’s death by attempting to further widen the cracks within Al Shabab through the proverbial carrot and stick approach. Shortly after Godane’s death, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mahamud announced an amnesty to Al Shabab members who reject violence and renounce their allegiance to Al Shabab and Al Qaeda. To make this amnesty even more appealing, Somali forces and AMISOM launched a joint offensive dubbed “Operation Indian Ocean” in an effort to wrest more territory from Al Shabab[vi].

Only time would tell if this strategy will be effective.

[i] Jon Lee Anderson, “Killing Godane, Chasing Isis,” The New Yorker. 6 September 2014. Internet: www.newyorker.com/new/news-desk/killing-godane-chasing-isis. Date accessed: 10 September 2014.

[ii] “Al Shabaab names new leader after death of Ahmed Abdi Godane in US strike,” The Nation. 6 September 2014. Internet: www.nation.co.ke/news/Ahmed-Abdi-Godane-Al-Shabaab-Somalia-Terrorism/-/1056/244106/-/7ijkvry/-/index.html. Date accessed: 10 September 2014.

[iii] Simon Allison, “Somalia: Amisom failures show that Godane’s death is no quick fix,” Daily Maverick. 8 September 2014. Internet: http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2014-09-08-somalia-amisom-indiscretions-show–that-godanes-death-is-no-quick-fix/#. Date accessed: 10 September 2014.

[iv] Anderson, op.cit.

[v] David Smith, “Al Shabaab rebuilds forces in Somalia as African Union campaign stall,” The Guardian. 28 October 2013. Date Accessed: 14 February 2014. Internet: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/28/al-shabab-african-union.

[vi] Allison, op. cit.

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