|Join Our Mailing List|
Al-Shabaab’s military spokesman announced last Wednesday that the group had found, while on a routine patrol of a deserted Mogadishu neighbourhood, a weapons cache that included anti-tank missiles and was “the biggest in recent times”. The weapons had been buried in a house in Sinka Dheer on the outskirts of the Somali capital near Elasha Biyaha.
Although the exact number of weapons remains a secret, the weapons cache was found in an underground room measuring 6 metres deep and 4 metres wide that was completely full.
The subject of the weapons has brought to the forefront - yet again - ideological differences within the Shabaab leadership.
On Friday, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who has apparently been sidelined from the Shabaab decision-making bodies (remember his admission of hearing about an al-Shabaab General Leadership decree on the radio?), spoke about this issue at a mosque just outside Mogadishu in Lafole after the Friday prayer (apparently, he likes making his speeches in Mosques after Friday prayers where he can get a readily available crowd). Using his now-trademark opening that shows his weakness within the Shabaab, he started by talking about the importance of correcting one another as he did when he criticised the Shabaab General Leadership's ban on any new Jihadi or Islamist movements in Somalia.
The Sheikh claimed that the weapon haul was not as a result of a routine patrol but seemed to be a systematic confiscation of weapons that were the property of “Muslims” he doesn’t name. He denied that the weapons belonged to him or the disbanded Hizbul Islam.
Contrary to the claims being made by the Sheikh, there is a strong possibility that the weapons were owned by Hizbul Islam, since military uniforms were also found at the site and the area was a stronghold of Hizbul Islam for years before the group was forced to disband and join the Shabaab.
Never mind the fact that al-Shabaab will most likely not give back the weapons, but Sheikh Hassan insists that he will not stop following-up the issue until he gets an explanation from the concerned officials as to why they took the weapons.
I loved the way the Sheikh told us about “rumors” that he said were not true and falsely claimed that the weapons were bought with US$2 million that Hizbul Islam leaders were given to join the Shabaab. He corrects the figure: they got US$800,000 to join the Shabaab “to pay off debt”. Yeah, right: that is what they all say – even small units that defected from the Hizb to the Shabaab were given that debt-paying-off money.
No major al-Shabaab leader bothered to reply to Sheikh Hassan, at least publicly: his reply came on Saturday from the Shabaab military spokesman, Sheikh Abdul Aziz “Abu Musab”, who declared that the issue of the weapons will be sorted out at an Islamic court.
It isn’t hard to guess the verdict the Islamic court will give regarding the Sinka Dheer weapons since the Shabaab unleashed their proxies to explain why the weapons will be rewarded to them.
On Saturday, the clearly pro-Shabaab (in terms of ideology) Council for Islamic Awakening (Golaha Baraaruga Islamka) seemed to be doing the verbal battering of Sheikh Hassan Dahir for the group.
While this council is not officially aligned to the Shabaab, its statements are often distributed in pro-Shabaab sites, indicating that it is a kind of proxy Shabaab organization that releases statements that are too sensitive for the official Shabaab media, such as the bashing of the now-pacifist Jihadi groups such as the I’tisam, and now of wayward Shabaab members.
In a rather long, impassioned statement posted on Somalimidnimo.com, the council – who I bet would not like me to use the English acronym of their name since it is the same as a certain American intelligence agency – attacked the Sheikh for focusing on what they considered to be a minor issue – the large cache of weapons the Shabaab confiscated from Sinka Dheer, and his earlier bringing up of his opposition to the ban on new Jihadi groups.
The council questioned the reason behind Sheikh Hassan’s follow-up of the weapons confiscated by the Shabaab. According to the council, if Sheikh Hassan is not the owner of the confiscated weapons as he has claimed, why wouldn’t he let the courts decide the matter, as the Shabaab military spokesman had said would be the case? Never mind the fact that the Shabaab military spokesman talked about the matter being decided in court after Sheikh Hassan made the claim that the weapons were owned by a “Muslim” he knew (as opposed to “apostates” – the TFG).
The council seems to be subtly suggesting that the Sheikh may have been the owner of the confiscated weapons stockpile, a rumor that is now making the rounds in Somali sites.
While the weapons may not be the personal property of Sheikh Hassan, his high interest in the matter indicates that the weapons are the property of someone well connected to the Sheikh, if not Hizbul Islam itself.
Much of the weapons used by the Shabaab and the preceding Salafist Jihadist groups in Somalia were either bought by “well-wishers” in the form of wealthy sympathisers or friendly governments. The weapons would have a “custodian”. This person would be responsible for protecting the weapons and making sure they are used in Jihad and not in other, Islamically questionable conflicts.
For many in Hizbul Islam and other Islamist and Jihadist groups in Somalia, the current Islamist-on-Islamist warfare pitting the Islamist-dominated TFG against the Shabaab is not a Jihad, but an Islamic civil war that has to be avoided.
This gets us to the question of the Sinka Dheer weapons. Many leading members of the disbanded Hizbul Islam did not join the Shabaab because of obvious ideological differences. The Shabaab were apparently too extreme for them, and that may be why they decided to ground, so to speak, their weapons: the unburied weapons may have a former Hizbul Islam custodian.
If the matter goes to an Islamic court, the weapons may most likely be awarded to the Shabaab. There is precedence for this:
In 2008, the Shabaab were receiving members of the ICU and other smaller groups, sometimes by “paying off their debts." Since these members had come with their weapons, the Shabaab and the ICU found neutral Salafi sheikhs in Mogadishu to arbitrate the matter.
The sheikhs decided that as long as the weapons were not personal properties of ICU leaders - in which case the weapons would be given back - and that the weapons were bought by “well-wishers”, the holders of said weapons could join any Jihadi group of their choice as long as the weapons were used in Jihad.
Since now there is no other Salafist Jihadi group in Somalia, and thanks to the convenient Shabaab ban of the formation of new ones, keeping weapons below one’s home will not likely go well with the Salafi sheikhs.
This time, if we are to assume that the Council of Islamic Awakening is an indication of the attitude within the Salafi establishment, the owner or custodian of the weapons is not likely to see them again.
According to the council, the Shabaab have the right to take weapons from anybody in Somalia, with or without paying, because Somalia has a more urgent matter at hand: fighting the invading foreigners who are against the implementation of Sharia.
The Shabaab General Leadership’s banning of all future Islamic movements and Jihadi groups in Somalia may have been a precursor to the Sinka Dheer weapons haul. I wouldn’t be surprised if more “routine” patrols by the Shabaab military produces more weapons caches that may be held by former Hizbul Islam officials.
Mubarak's Musings is a Somalia Report weekly column published every Wednesday. Follow Mubarak on Twitter, at @somalianalyst.