Inncreasing its mission on countering terrorism around the world by hunting down some of the remaining top Al-Qaeda members, the United States this week officially announced $33 million dollars has been earmarked for those who aid in the hunt of several top Somali al-Shabaab officials. What is more interesting, however, is who is not included on the list.
The men listed are the top leveled individuals in Al-Qaeda’s Somalia wing – al-Shabaab aligned with Al-Qaeda in February of this year – which opposes the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the presence of African Union peacekeepers of (AMISOM) in the country.
These wanted men on the Rewards for Justice list include Mukhtaar Abuu Zubeyr formerly known as Ahmed Godane (aka) Ahmed Abdi Aw-Mohamed, the leader of al-Shabaab, Mukhtaar Robow Ali Abuu Mansoor, Fuad Mohamed Khalaf Shongole, Ibrahim Haji Jama, Ahmed Abdi Aw-Mohamed, Bashir Mohamed Mahamoud, Zakariya Ismail Ahmed Hersi, and Abdullahi Yare. Other senior members, however, are not named in the US list, such as a radicalist leader Hassan Dahir Aweys.
In a joint analysis lead by Somalia Report, Professor Yahyeh Sheikh Amir, an analyst in Mogadishu, explains the recent move by the US.
“This is not first time for the US to hunt Al-Qaeda leaders throughout the world. It has already conducted targeted drone strikes against senior members of al-Shabaab movement in Somalia,” he said.
“But now the use of reward money might mean it is possible to affect the future of these guys. You know they have had quite a bit of freedom in Somalia, the men on the list and the foreign fighters, however this is a new game. With American focus on Somalia and their own political game, their announcement on rewards should help a little in the pursuit of Somali’s Al-Qaeda key players,” added the analyst.
The professor explained there are two possible reasons why the US government would offer the rewards now.
“I do understand the US government was looking for an opening to pursue the heads of al-Shabaab. Now that they are fleeing from many regions and losing ground, perhaps the the leaders know the end is in sight and they are fugitives. There is nowhere that they would choose to seek asylum unless they have a pre-arranged secret haven or an ‘out’. The other reason that US is now hunting these men might be the recent threats from the group to target Nairobi’s tall buildings out of revenge for Kenya’s incursion into the Somalia,” Yahyeh said.
Al-Shabaab has been losing both credibility and the structure of its organizational power following allied advances in the south.
“Al-Shabaab instituted sharia law, which are like dictatorial orders against the civilians, and that was a clear point in the end of their presence in large swaths of southern Somalia,” Said Mohamed Farah Dulyar, a Somalia veteran journalist, who wrote more about Islamist militants and their role in Somalia.
“First of all two things must be considered: the award money may lead the men to keep fighting. Once they know they are not safe, what do they have to lose? The other issue is that the news will intensify the suspicion among the officials. It would be better if the US would use this money to force these men to renounce terror,” added the journalist.
As millions of dollars in reward money is offered to pay for the information leading to their arrest, speculation abounds on their whereabouts. Some reports claim the top leaders fled by boat for Yemen while others argue the suspects are re-grouping in their last remaining stronghold, the port city of Kismayo.
Godane rarely appears publicly or in the press and moves around often, according to an al-Shabaab official in Mogadishu who spoke anonymously to Somalia Report.
“Ahmed (Godane) usually covers and hides his face. He does not allow photos to be taken of him. He never sleeps in the same place twice. Sometimes he wears female dresses to hide himself,” the source said.
What About Sheikh Aweys?
Questions are being raised over why the US government did not include Hassan Dahir Aweys in its new list of the most wanted in Somalia. Aweys, a radical of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), was the leader of Hizbul-Islam, another wing of Islamist militants, before it merged with al-Shabaab in December of 2010.
“The US may somehow consider Sheikh Aweys as a moderate man similar to Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the Somali president who was himself a former chairman of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) in mid 2006,” he said.
Others argue he may be negotiating a deal with the US in exchange for not being placed on this list, sparking concern among other Shabaab leaders, and that his interests lie in politics, not fighting. Aweys has always been driven by the political atmosphere in Somalia rather than being in the militia. In his previous comments, Aweys critised the militia for their selfish ideology, including centralizing the jihad and al-Shabaab’s indiscriminate killings across the country.
Sheikh Aweys is well known for his political ambitions in the past decade. He was in the frontline during the formation of Islamic Court Unions (ICU) before it was forcibly disintegrated by the Ethiopians in 2006. Prior to this Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys was a senior officer in the Somalia National Army. In 2009 he came from exile in Eritrea with a plan to put Hizbul Islam in the political game in Somalia. His plan failed after al-Shabaab (the former military wing of the ICU) gained strength and control of Somalia. Sheikh Aweys and his group were forced to merge with the militia. Upon signing, he requested to be given a high level post only to be granted the title of religious coordinator.
Over the past few weeks news or rumors that Aweys is planning to break away from the al-Shabaab militia and join the TFG has been spreading all over the country, sparking more responses from the militia itself than any other party.
Mohamed Ibrahim Bilaal, an al-Shabaab insurgent, condemned these allegations and said they are just being used to manipulate the public. “These are just baseless stories by the media. Sheikh Aweys is not leaving the mujahidins and has absolutely no intention to do so. Somalia has no government to surrender to,” he said.
There are also suspicions that Aweys may be under house arrest, however, al-Shabaab has not yet commented on this.
According to one of the residents of Marka town who spoke to Somalia Report, most of al-Shabaab’s top leaders are currently based in Marka, south of Mogadishu, including Sheikh Aweys. The source said Aweys is being closely watched by al-Shabaab since he did not appear on the terror list.
“The militia are now more than ever suspicious about Sheikh Aweys, they have even interrogated him on the allegations that he wants to betray the mujahidins. He has been unusually silent for the past week and I was told by sources close to him that his movements are restricted. In the past, whenever any false statements are given out concerning Sheikh Aweys, he used to give out immediate feedback,” the local resident said.
Other sources reported that that in addition to the alleged house arrest, his former bodyguards have now been instructed to be closer to him especially when he makes calls, however, neither allegation could be independently verified by Somalia Report.
In 2008, the US government added al-Shabaab to its black list of terrorist organizations in the world.
Editor’s Note: Last year the Somali government soldiers who killed Al Qaeda’s terrorist Fazul, also on a US terror list, were denied a reward by the US since they were operating at government soldiers at that time. In June of last year, a US official told Somalia Report the US discourages bounty hunting.
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