Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 39


The sight of the black flag of the highly feared al-Shabaab organization being burned in the streets of Mogadishu by enraged Somalis was not something the leaders of the radical Islamist group hoped to see at this stage of their struggle for control of Somalia. The street demonstrations against al-Shabaab that followed the brutal December 3 suicide bombing of a graduation of medical students in Mogadishu were unprecedented in a nation where the only political opinions taken seriously are those expressed by gunmen.

One protest leader remarked, “Everybody assumed [al-Shabaab members] were fighting foreigners and the government, but we realized on Thursday [December 3] that they are at war with us; it was the last straw. They are killing our best and brightest. They are the enemy" (IRIN, December 11).

The attack by a suicide bomber dressed as a woman that killed 23 people, including badly needed medical graduates, parents, professors, journalists and three cabinet ministers of Somalia’s hard-pressed Transitional Federal Government (TFG), may be the start of a reversal of fortunes for the Islamist rebels of al-Shabaab, who have diverted resources from their assault on the TFG to fight Sufis and fellow Islamists alike over the last year. The movement is increasingly seen as an occupation force, with news of its imminent arrival in a certain town or region inevitably preceded by a rush by civilians to leave the area first.

Soon after the bombing came the dismissal of the TFG’s police commander, Abdi Hassan Awale, and the TFG military commander, Yusuf Hussein. Kenyan police have intensified their patrols of Nairobi’s largely ethnic-Somali suburb of Eastleigh, with reports of over 80 arrests in two days (Reuters, December 6).

Though few in Somalia doubt al-Shabaab’s responsibility for the attack, noting that al-Shabaab is the only Somali group using suicide bombers, the movement’s spokesman, Shaykh Ali Mahmud Raage (a.k.a. Shaykh Ali Dheere), quickly blamed the government itself for the attack, which appears to have been designed to kill the three TFG cabinet ministers. “We have no relation to this attack – it is from the enemy… We know that some so-called government officials left the scene of the explosion just minutes before the attack. That is why it is clear that they were behind the killing… We do not target innocent people” (, December 4; al-Jazeera, December 3).

Local investigations revealed that the suicide bomber was a 26-year-old Copenhagen native and Danish citizen of Somali descent named Abdurrahman. Formerly known for nightclubbing and playing football, Abdurrahman began to change his behavior several years ago, withdrawing from his friends and former activities before deciding to return to Somalia in June 2008 “to study Islam” (Somaliweyn Media Center, December 10).

According to the TFG Speaker of Parliament, Shaykh Adan Muhammad Madobe, “It is unfortunate that a child whose parents escaped Somalia’s conflict and raised him in Europe came home with extremist ideologies and blew himself and innocent people up" (Reuters, December 11). Abdurrahman left his pregnant wife behind in the Somali coastal town of Marka, an al-Shabaab stronghold (Mareeg Online, December 11; Somaliweyn Media Center, December 10).

There are also reports of a change of leadership within al-Shabaab, but these remain unconfirmed. Djibouti’s Foreign Affairs minister, Mahmud Ali Yusuf, told an al-Sharq al-Awsat reporter on December 8 that Comoros Islands native and longtime al-Qaeda operative Fazul Abdullah Muhammad had taken over control of al-Shabaab from Shaykh Ahmad Abdi Godane (a.k.a. Abu Zubayr), who has been less visible than usual since he was seriously wounded in a suicide bomb-training incident in May (Garowe Online, December 8; Mareeg Online, December 8). Though Fazul Abdullah may have stepped up in the organization after the death of fellow al-Qaeda operative Salah Ali Nabhan in a September U.S. missile strike, it seems unlikely that the leadership of al-Shabaab could be taken over by a non-Somali. The movement has not confirmed the report or made any announcement regarding a change in leadership.


General Kelly Kwalik, a senior leader of the Free Papua Organization (Indonesian – Organisasi Papua Merdeka – OPM), was shot and killed in a raid by Indonesia security forces on December 16 in the southern coastal town of Timika (Jakarta Post, December 16). National Police Chief General Bambang Hendarso Danuri said the shooting of Kwalik was justified by the rebel leader’s record of violence (Jakarta Globe, December 19).

Kwalik’s December 21 funeral in Timika was accompanied by clashes between Indonesian police and up to 800 OPM supporters attending the services (AFP, December 21; Tempo Interaktif [Jakarta], December 21). The coffin was covered with the illegal red, white and blue “Morning Star” flag of the West Papuan independence movement. Displaying the flag can bring a sentence of 20 years to life under Indonesian law. The Catholic bishop of Timika, John Philip Saklil, called Kwalik “a great figure who fought for the best for the Papuan people,” but added, “Violence will only generate more violence and murders will only lead to more murders” (AFP, December 21). The funeral followed several days of high tensions, marked by protests and warning shots fired by Indonesian security forces who kept the army on standby to intervene if rioting broke out.

Control of Western New Guinea was transferred from the Netherlands to Indonesia according to the terms of the 1962 New York Agreement, negotiated by the Netherlands, the United States and Indonesia without input from the natives of the area concerned. Several of the region’s ethnic groups opposed the agreement and founded the OPM in 1965 to seek independence for western New Guinea (now administered as the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua). In 1971 the OPM declared the existence of the “Republic of West Papua,” but the declaration was soon followed by a major split in the movement. Support for the movement was revived in the 1990s by the activities of American gold-mining giant Freeport-McMoRan in the region and alleged human rights abuses by the Indonesian military. The OPM now operates through at least nine decentralized commands but remains poorly armed, using bows and arrows and arms and munitions left over from battles fought on the island in World War II.

Indonesian police, who claim the 60-year-old Kwalik was guilty of abductions, murders and terrorist attacks (including the murder of two American Freeport employees in 2002 and the killing of an Australian mine technician last July), verified the identity of the body through videos and photos after family members refused to submit DNA samples for testing (Jakarta Post, December 17; Jakarta Globe, December 19). Kwalik denied any role in the attacks, which others have suggested may have been part of a protection racket run by Indonesian security forces. The rebel commander described the attacks as a “pure conspiracy between the Indonesian police, the Army and Freeport” (Jakarta Globe, December 19).

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