Somalia's Shabab insurgents split with courts
More than a year after the country's Islamic Courts regime was routed on the battlefield by Ethiopian troops, insurgents continue their campaign against the foreigners and their local allies. Much of the violence is blamed on one group known as the Shabab, which represents the most militant aspects of Somali Islamism and a handful of foreign jihadists affiliated to Al-Qaeda.
However, the Shabab is no longer a cohesive force. Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, the leader of the Islamic Courts, claimed in January that part of the Shabab had broken away. The rift seems to be an extension of the Islamic Courts' internal differences.
Opinion was very much divided on the Islamic Courts, with many observers applauding them for bringing stability to Somalia after so many years of chaos. Others equated the courts to Afghanistan's Taliban regime and accused them of harbouring Al-Qaeda terrorists. These opposing views were personified by the Islamic Courts' most prominent leaders, Sheikh Ahmed and Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys. The former is seen as a comparative moderate, while the latter is considered a Salafist firebrand who is close to Al-Qaeda.
It was Aweys' hardline associates that led the Shabab and pushed for a jihad against Ethiopia, which was propping up the remnants of Somalia's transitional government. Ethiopia responded with an all-out offensive in December, which crushed the Islamists on the battlefield and swept them from power in Mogadishu.
An insurgency began almost immediately. While the fighting is intertwined with Somalia's longstanding clan rivalries, the Shabab continues to wage jihad with the intention of expelling the Ethiopians and establishing an Islamic state. Meanwhile, Sheikh Ahmed was detained in Kenya, but released and allowed to travel on to Yemen. He has subsequently emerged as the leader of a broader opposition alliance with questionable authority.
The first suicide bombing after the collapse of the Islamic Courts took place on 26 March 2007, when a Somali militant drove into an Ethiopian military base in a truck rigged with explosives. The Shabab released a video almost immediately, showing the bomber reading a last statement and the explosion from a distance.
Somalia's Islamic Courts received support from a number of states in 2006, according to a variety of sources. Ethiopia has repeatedly accused Eritrea of training and equipping the Shabab. The Shabab recruits interviewed by the National Post confirmed they had received Eritrean weapons and training.
The ongoing relationship between Eritrea and Somali Islamists was confirmed in September 2007, when the Eritreans hosted a conference of Somali opposition figures. The conference resulted in the formation of the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS), an umbrella group for the deposed Islamists, former parliamentarians and diaspora leaders.
Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed was appointed the chairman of the new alliance. Aweys also attended the conference, making his first public appearance since the collapse of the Islamic Courts. While Aweys has said he holds no formal position in the ARS, the presence of the Islamic Courts leaders in Asmara strengthened the presumption that Eritrea was sponsoring an alliance that included the Shabab insurgents fighting in Somalia.
However, the reaction to the ARS from militants in Somalia was less than positive. Mukhtar Robow telephoned a Somali radio station on 29 October 2007 to say that the Shabab did not recognise the new alliance. The ARS's broad membership seems to be contributing to its unpopularity with Islamists. Specific aired grievances include the ARS's support for UN principles and that some of its members were Somali women who had 'apostatised' themselves by marrying non-Muslims.
Although the ARS does not seem to represent the Shabab commanders in the field, Sheikh Ahmed seems to think differently. He told Garowe Online in January that part of the Shabab had split from his organisation (apparently referring to the Islamic Courts, rather than the ARS). 631 of 3,135 words
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