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Hizbul Islam's split from al-Shabaab further isolates militant group

Friday, September 28, 2012
By Mahmoud Mohamed

Hizbul Islam's decision to break away from al-Shabaab is a sign that the al-Qaeda-affiliated militant group is disintegrating from within, Somali analysts say.

Hizbul Islam spokesman Mohamed Moallin told the Somali media on Monday (September 24th) that his group has decided to leave al-Shabaab after in-depth consultations with the group's leadership.

"The fact that Hizbul Islam decided to break away from al-Shabaab confirms that it is internally divided and splintered," Farhan Abdullahi, a Mogadishu-based political analyst, told Sabahi. "Mass defections from al-Shabaab, which have become ever more apparent, are proof that the group is on the verge of collapse."

Abdullahi said the pace of mass defections within the ranks of al-Shabaab has increased because of military pressure on the group. This is because the Somali National Army, with the backing of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), has surrounded the last remaining al-Shabaab strongholds.

"It is clear that the defectors have realised that they can no longer endure the mounting military pressure by the allied regional forces, which is why they decided to leave al-Shabaab and join the Somali government," he said.

More than 200 al-Shabaab fighters surrendered with their weapons to Somali and African Union forces in Jowhar on Saturday (September 22nd) in the biggest defection from the al-Qaeda-allied organisation in a single day.

"Public differences between al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam surfaced in March when the leader of Hizbul Islam Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys directed scathing criticism towards al-Shabaab's leaders," Abdullahi said.

At the time, Aweys described al-Shabaab's acts as far removed from the teachings of Islam, accusing them of spilling the blood of Muslims and killing innocent civilians.

In early June, an al-Shabaab commander told Sabahi that a group of al-Shabaab leaders, including Aweys and Sheikh Mukhtar Robow Ali, known as Abu Mansur, met in the village of Janaale in Lower Shabelle to discuss starting political negotiations with the Somali government.

Ideological differences
Abdirahman Mohamud, a political analyst who monitors fundamentalist groups, said there are ideological differences between al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam.

"From the beginning, al-Shabaab had adopted the al-Qaeda ideology, which knows no geographical borders and sees the whole world as an open space to stage its military operations," Mohamud told Sabahi. "Hizbul Islam, on the other hand, never leaned towards that approach, which has resulted in an ideological difference between the two sides."

Mohamud said Hizbul Islam was also not happy about the union of al-Shabaab with al-Qaeda and foreign jihadists in Somalia.

The Hizbul Islam spokesman acknowledged the clash of ideologies. "Hizbul Islam is no longer al-Shabaab's partner as there are political and ideological differences with the group," Moallin said.

"Military pressure, dwindling funds and supplies, loyalty to al-Qaeda, a rise in civilian deaths and tribal policies are all factors that have caused increasing and deep divisions within the radical Islamist factions," Mogadishu-based political analyst Ali Omar Mohamed told Sabahi.

"The two groups, al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam, were already divided from the beginning because al-Shabaab did not appoint any of the Hizbul Islam leaders to senior positions after the merger and al-Shabaab has also not put them on equal footing," Mohamed said.

Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys founded Hizbul Islam in 2009. He fought against the Somali Transitional Federal Government led by his former ally Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. The group joined al-Shabaab in December 2010. Since then, most leaders of the group were off the radar with the exception of Aweys.


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