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Merger of Somali militants could mean more attacks

In Uncategorized on December 21, 2010 at 9:30 am

 Somalia’s weak, U.N.-backed government could face an increase in attacks from Islamist insurgents after the two largest groups dropped their running feud and merged, analysts and fighters said Monday.

The announcement on Sunday of a merger between al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam means the two won’t waste resources fighting one another, and will instead concentrate on fighting the Mogadishu-based government and the African Union troops who protect it, said Sheik Mohamed Osman Arus, Hizbul Islam’s head of operations.

“The two groups have already shared ammunition, field clinics and fought together,” Arus said. “But having a united leadership will mean the end of the puppet government and the African dogs,” a term militants use for the 8,000 African Union troops in Mogadishu.

Some of the 1000 soldiers of Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) trained by Uganda and European Union at their passing out parade, in Bihanga about 350kms west of Uganda capital Kampala, Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010

Since its establishment in 2007, al-Shabab has sought to defeat any Islamist rival. The group — Somalia’s most dangerous — increased attacks on Hizbul Islam in recent months and overtook several towns Hizbul Islam once controlled, military momentum that hastened the merger.

Abdirahim Isse Adow, the director of the government-run Radio Mogadishu, saw the merger as an opportunity for the government.

“It will be easier for the government to fight one group instead of fighting two different parties,” he said. “The public got fed up with al-Shabab’s tactics, and now the government can present itself as the only option in the market of winning hearts and minds.”

Al-Shabab imposes a harsh and conservative reading of Islam that bans movies and TV. Punishments include the chopping off of hands of thieves and death by stoning of adulterers. Several hundred foreign fighters — some of them veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts — populate its ranks.

Hizbul Islam has previously condemned al-Shabab’s use of suicide bombers and summary executions. Its founder, Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, also criticized al-Shabab’s public pledge of allegiance to Osama bin Laden. Hizbul Islam is widely seen as having a more nationalist agenda than al-Shabab, which has been heavily influenced by Wahhabi Islam ideology.

Arus, the Hizbul Islam commander, said his group united with al-Shabab under its own terms because continued fighting would only degrade both organizations, giving “more power to the enemy.” He said that 22 Hizbul Islam leaders met in Mogadishu on Friday and Saturday and decided on joining al-Shabab.

“We said to ourselves fighting al-Shabab will only lead to the Islamists’ downfall, as those apostates (the government and its backers) will take advantage of our weakness,” Arus said. “So we decided to unite with al-Shabab and strengthen the Mujahedeen. We will advise those hardline elements in it from within.”

Omar Abdirahman Mohamed, a political commentator on Mogadishu radio stations, said the merger wasn’t equal, but that al-Shabab “gobbled up” Hizbul Islam.

“The merger is a not a sea change in Somali politics,” he said. “I don’t think that their merger will affect the government significantly because they were already government enemies. If it brings something it is that it will only make reconciliation efforts more difficult because the anti-peace al-Shabab has taken over the opposition.”

Rashid Abdi, a Somali analyst with the International Crisis Group, downplayed the alliance, calling it “tactical.”

“I don’t think it can have a serious military effect on the government because Hizbul Islam has been weakened by al-Shabab and desertions,” he said. “I’m skeptical about its life span.”

Source: SGGP

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