A group of more than 200 al-Shabaab fighters has deserted to create an ISIS affiliate in Eastern Africa, according to a report from Defense News.
Al-Shabaab, al-Qaida’s branch based in Somalia, has undergone a split, according to Inspector General Joseph Boinnet of the neighboring Kenyan Police Service, with one group staying loyal to al-Qaida agenda and the other, predominantly foreign, group swearing allegiance to ISIS.
“They (al-Shabab) have split. As a result of the splits, particularly the ones along ideological and religious lines, are very keen to promote that internal competition by proving a point. They plan to prove a point by staging attacks. They are competing to spread an international jihadist agenda, which could be deadly if and when their attacks happens,” says Boinnet, speaking to journalists on December 24.
According to Boinnet, the groups have engaged in a sort of recruiting rivalry that has apparently led to the increased violence in Kenyan towns near the Somalian border. The two groups appear to have carved out individual operating areas, with the ISIS-affiliated group operating in Kenya’s northeast, and the al-Qaeda affiliate operating from Kenya’s southern forest region as a staging point.
The first signs of discord came when the al-Shabaab began its public relationship with al-Qaeda in early 2012. The group’s initial goal was to fight the government based in the capital of Mogadishu in order to establish a fundamentalist Islamic government. As global jihad popularized and ISIS began to rise, the group’s objectives evolved to include cross-border attacks in Kenya, including an assault on Kenya’s Garissa University which left 147 dead in April.
The first major defection to ISIS came in October when Abdul Qadir Mumin pledged his loyalty to ISIS. Mumin was regarded as a spiritual figure and leader in al-Shabaab, and though he only brought a handful of fighters with him to the ISIS ranks, his move was an important symbol. Al-Shabaab’s response has been heavy-handed, with the Amniyat secret police jailing several of their own members suspected of desertion.
Terrorism expert and Northeastern University professor Max Abrahms believes that ISIS’ momentum is a major draw for radical jihadists, including those in al-Shabaab. “Many experts and scholars view [ISIS] as a juggernaut that the international community simply cannot oppose because they use violence so brutally and then disseminate it so effectively over social media in an effort to recruit new members and intimidate opposing forces,” said Abrahms, speaking to CNN in October.
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