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In 2009, the first radio station established by al-Shabaab, the hardline Islamic group battling for control of Somalia, was based in the port city of Kismayo to propagate the views of the hardliners and try to sell their ideas to the population.
The establishment of the radio station came after the owners of private radio stations in Mogadishu agreed not to publicise or broadcast stories relating to conflicts as Ethiopian forces withdrew from Somalia, and the Shabab vowed to continue fighting until all foreign forces pulled out of Somalia, including the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces.
In the following days and weeks, the insurgents began what seems to have been a revenge campaign against private media companies that failed to collaborate with them, looting several radio stations of their equipment as well as targeting journalists, many of whom were assassinated in Mogadishu. The Islamists also banned music to be played on radio stations, saying playing music was a sin according to Islamic teachings.
The following radio stations had their equipment partly or fully confiscated by the Shabab and Hizbul Islam, which later merged with al-Shabaab, to be used by the groups’ own radio stations:
• GBC Radio and Television (Mogadishu)
• HornAfrik Mogadishu
• Idaacada Quranka Karimka (IQK – Holy Quran Radio) in Mogadishu, which was owned by a Transitional Federal Government (TFG) Minister
• HornAfrik Beledweyne
• HornAfrik Kismayo
• Capital Voice (in the same building as HornAfrik Mogadishu)
• BBC transmitters in Mogadishu
• BBC Marka
• BBC Jowhar
• VOA in Mogadishu
• Radio Somaliweyn (Mogadishu)
• Jowhar Radio
• MarkbaleyRradio in Baardheere
• Shabelle Radio, which narrowly survived after it relocated from Bakara Market
Pro Shabab Radio Stations
Using mostly seized equipment, the Shabab set up their official Al-Andalus radio station in a number of cities:
• Al-Andalus Radio in Kismayo (HornAfrik equipment in Kismayo)
• Al-Andalus Radio in Marka (IQK equipment)
• Al-Andalus Eel-bur in Galgadud
In addition Radio Al-Furqaan is also considered a Shabaab-supporting station.
Most Shabab journalists were trained at Holy Quran Radio (IQK) in Mogadishu that the Shabab would eventually loot after the owner, Daahir Mahmud Geele, became member of the TFG parliament and Minister of Information. The Quran Radio was an Islamic radio station that did not employ females, and music also was forbidden.
When the Shabab ideology widely spread in the country and Al-Andalus Radio became operational, IQK journalists joined and began to work for the Shabab media machinery.
Shabab journalists were accused of facilitating the killing of many journalists in Mogadishu and have been accused of calling their fellow journalists, threatening them and telling them how to broadcast the stories about fighting in the country.
“It was a very critical moment when some journalists who we used to work with joined the Shabab because they knew us and have been calling to threaten us,” said Mohamed Abuker, a former editor with HornAfrik Radio. Few journalists remain in the country and stopped working while others fled to neighboring countries because of Shabab threats.
But after the TFG re-established Radio Mogadishu, the official government radio, many of the journalists who had stopped working out of fear started working for the government radio, after the government guaranteed their safety.
But Shabab officials issued a decree stating that it is permissible to kill or hunt anyone who works for Radio Mogadishu, wherever they may be.
“Today I announce that anyone who listens to Radio Mogadishu will be recognized as an enemy of Islam and our enemy, because that radio is working for the invaders in Somalia,” Sheikh Ali Mahmud Ali Dheer, the Shabab spokesman, reportedly said.
The Shabab began to use the Twitter social media network in 2011. The move is believed to be an attempt by the group to counteract tweets by their enemies, and to serve as a venue for the dissemination of information on alleged casualties as well as a way to interact with the press.
Mohamed Ali Abuuja, a purported Shabab defector, claims to have been part of the Shabab media department before his defection.
“I used to work as a cameraman with Sheikh Yoonis, head of information of the Shabab from 2009 up to 2012. I used to film the Shabab attacks on government positions, and give them to media stations,” claimed Abuja.
Sheikh Ali Dheere, who is the Shabab general spokesman, and AbdiAzis Abu Mus’ab, the spokesman for the military operations, belong in the information department which is headed by Shiekh Yoonis, who has a journalism degree from Sudan.
“The Twitter account is run from different places in Somalia, including Marka, and Barawe in Lower Shabelle region. When we film the wars, there are several other young Somali men translating them to English language. After that, there is a man named Abu Abdalla, who is a Canadian fighter, who posts on Twitter. I also heard that other fighters from England also operate the Twitter account, but I did not confirm those rumours,” claimed Abuja.
Most of the Shabab's messages on Twitter are in English, with authorities suggesting that they are intended for an outside audience and potential recruits in the West. The authenticity of the Twitter feeds, however, remains questionable as the Twitter remain unverified.
As the Shabab withdraw from more cities, taking with them what they can of their radio equipment, their reliance on the internet is bound to increase, and Twitter will play a major part in the group’s propaganda machine going forward.
(Editor's Note: Somalia Report urges the official al-Shabab Twitter spokesman to please contact us for an interview to set the record straight on which account should be regarded as 'official'.)