- February 9, 2012 |
- 3:11 pm |
- | Edit
In one bold move, al-Qaida incorporated al-Shabab, one of the world’s most assertive extremist groups, thereby expanding its reach out of tribal Pakistan and bolstering its dwindling ranks. Expect the growing U.S. shadow war in Somalia to heat up in response — and U.S. citizens who’ve joined Shabab are likely to be first in the crosshairs.
An audiotape circulating across the Internet on Thursday from Shabab leader Mukhtar Abu al-Zubayr and Ayman Zawahiri announce that “jihadi unity” has motivated the merger — the first major move for Zawahiri since inheriting al-Qaida.
It’s good news for the “jihadi agglomeration,” Zawahiri tells supporters, “in the face of the crusader Zionist campaign and its agents of rulers and traitors who allowed invading crusader forces access into their countries, entering mounted on tanks into government palaces in Kabul, Baghdad, Mogadishu and Grozny.”
Perhaps, but those “crusaders” have also been building their counterterrorism forces in east Africa for years. The U.S. is establishing three new drone bases in the region. Special Operations Forces have detained Shebab “supporters” in the waters off of Somalia and launched raids into the interior of the country to free captive humanitarian aid workers.
When elite U.S. troops have hunted al-Qaida suspects in Somalia — missions that typically go unreported for years — they’ve been able to call on serious military hardware, from Navy Destroyers to AC-130 gunships. Oh, and the CIA’s set up shop in Somalia, too.
Zawahiri and al-Zubayr surely didn’t mean it this way, but the merger will have serious and potentially lethal consequences for al-Shabab’s cohort of U.S. members, affiliates and supporters. One of its members, Omar Hammami — who doubles as the group’s lead emcee — was born in
Other Americans have gotten involved with Shabab, including one who became a suicide bomber in Mogadishu last October. The Justice Department has charged a number of Americans and U.S. residents with supporting Shabab, and the federal attention is sure to increase with the al-Qaida merger.
Still, the union might be more an act of desperation than strength. Shabab’s been trying for years to show al-Qaida how much it hearts the OG jihadis, with little reciprocal love. The group’s even been driven out of Mogadishu by U.S. proxies. Australian terror analyst Leah Farrall wrote shortly after the bin Laden raid that the “the benefits of a merger at a time when al-Qaida needs to project power and influence [might] outweigh any lingering concerns about al-Shabab’s suitability.”
Which provides some context to Zawahiri’s first major decision as al-Qaida’s leader. “Shabab has been allegedly losing ground, [so the merger provides] a boost to the movement and ‘legitimacy,” says Aaron Zelin, a terrorism researcher at Brandeis University who translated the video for Danger Room, “and it gives some press to al-Qaida, a failing brand, by associating it with Shabab, which has a nice safe haven.” Except the merger might soon make that haven less safe.