Authorities target bickering Al Shabaab with more sanctions

Somalia and partners say leadership wrangles within the militant group offer an opportunity to annihilate the extremists. But it may take more than just targeting its leadership.

This week, the US government offered up to $5 million to anyone with information that could aid the arrest of Abukar Ali Adan, a leader in the Somali militant group Al Shabaab.

US Department of State’s Rewards for Justice programme on Wednesday said Adan, a former military chief of Al Shabaab is wanted for his atrocities.

Adan, said to be deputy leader of Al Shabaab, spent several years as the group’s military chief after previously heading the Jabhat, extremist group’s armed wing.

Last year, the US had increased the rewards for information leading to two of Al Shabaab’s top leaders, Ahmed Dirie and Mahad Karate, to $10 million each.

It is notable that in February 2021 the UN Security Council added to the list of terrorists three Al Shabaab officials including Abukar Ali Adan together with Moalim Ayman, the planner of ‘Jaysh-Ayman’ militants and Mahad Karate.

On January 4, 2018, the US Department of State designated Adan as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) under Executive Order 13224, effectively barring American entities from dealing with him.

“Among the consequences of this designation, all of Abukar Ali Adan’s property and interests in property subject to US jurisdiction are blocked, and US persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any transactions with him,” the department specified.

Adan is also said to be associated with Al Qaeda affiliates Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (West Africa) on top of the described extremist engagement with Al Shabaab in what could show loose linkages between the extremist groups.

“Al Shabaab is responsible for terrorist attacks in Kenya, Somalia, and neighbouring countries that resulted in significant loss of life, including of US citizens,” the department stressed.

Diriye and one of his deputies, Karate alias Mahad Warsame Abdi, Commander of their intelligence wing (Amniyat) are behind major terror attacks that occurred in Kenya, Somalia and other countries in the region. Now they are quarrelling, official intelligence reports publicised by Somalia show.

Last Friday, Somalia’s ministry of defence revealed that the dispute began when militants loyal to Mahad Karate, one of the top officials were detained by a faction allied to the group’s spiritual leader Ahmed Dirie alias Abu Ubaida.

Somalia said the disagreement is centred on the management of the group’s finances. However, intelligence reports show that the dispute extends to leadership ambitions, clan wars and alleged longstanding dalliance between Karate and foreign intelligence agencies including the National Intelligence and Security Agency of Somalia.

According to the report, Mahad Karate’s penchant for public and media appearances have grown his stature within the rank and file of Al Shabaab further complicating the group’s dynamics.

Karate who hails from the Galmudug State and has been notably vocal in his ambitions for leadership within Al Shabaab. In a public address, he has expressed concerns about the ongoing military operations in Galmudug State, signaling potential internal disagreements over the group’s strategies and objectives.

“Karate faces allegations of collaboration with local and international spy agencies, sharing sensitive information about Al Shabaab’s plans and outing of Ahmed Omar Diriye also called Abu Ubeida, the group’s emir loyalists for successful targeted strikes. This collaboration has resulted in the deaths of several top-level Al Shabaab commanders in recent months,” notes the report.

As a result, the report says the families of Mahad Karate, and his close allies have accumulated wealth and are living in opulence outside the country despite the militia’s financial resources dwindling heavily due to the ongoing onslaught by Somalia and regional governments that have resulted in a disruption of the militant’s illicit financial activities.

It further adds that Mahad Karate has consistently harboured aspirations of leading the organization and is thus instigating the internal strife, as factional feuds and clan rivalries threaten the extremist group’s cohesion.

“The division within the group presents both challenges and opportunities for regional governments’ efforts to combat violent extremism in the Horn of Africa region,” the classified report adds.

Several top-ranking militants within Al Shabaab’s top decision-making hierarchy like Abdullahi Osman Mohammed alias Engineer Ismail, Mustafa Serwan, Sheikh Fuad Shongole and Abdirahman Fillow, who have since have since aligned themselves with his faction after disagreements with Ahmed Diriye.

Furthermore, there are claims that Karate has been secretly communicating with ISIS militants in northern Somalia, even funding their activities using the Al-Shabaab’s resources under his control.

“Should he gain dominance within the group, there are concerns that he might shift Al Shabaab’s allegiance from Al Qaeda to ISIS,” the report says.

The developing situation has seen opposing militants coalesce around Diriye with the purpose of preventing Mahad from taking over leadership.

Clan affiliations and loyalties are also playing a key role in the power struggle within Al Shabaab with both men exploiting clan rivalries to consolidate their authority within Al Shabaab and exploit terrorism as a means of resource acquisition.

Karate hails from the Hawiye/Habargithir clan, and Diriye, from the Diir lineage.

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