SLAUGHTER IN MOGADISHU MOSQUE INFLAMES SOMALI CONFLICT
A new wave of heavy fighting broke out in Mogadishu on April 19 that lasted for over 48 hours and left more than 80 dead. More residents continue to pour out of the city past Ethiopian tanks awaiting further attacks from the Islamists (al-Jazeera, April 21).
Numerous eyewitness reports claim that Ethiopian troops entered the al-Hidaya mosque in Mogadishu, where they killed 11 Somali civilians, including a number of preachers and the imam of the mosque, Shaykh Said Yahya. A further 10 civilians were killed outside the mosque. The preachers were members of the Tablighi Jamaat, a normally non-political Islamic missionary order that originated in India and has spread to East Africa, among other places. The Tablighis are not known to have played any part in the Islamist insurgency in Mogadishu. One of the surviving preachers, Shaykh Muhammad, claimed: “We believe the reason behind the attack was a fight against Islam, and to completely destroy areas where it is active, and make it stagnant” (Radio Shabelle, April 24).
In Washington on an official visit at the time, Somalia’s interim President Abdullahi Yusuf described Ethiopian clashes with “terrorist groups named al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda,” but claimed “there is no incident where soldiers entered a mosque and slaughtered the people inside” (Garowe Online, April 25). A spokesman for the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry stated that the account of Ethiopian troops killing civilians at the mosque was “a completely fabricated story designed to blackmail the Ethiopian army, one of the most disciplined forces anywhere in the world” (Guardian, April 25).
The throats of seven of the victims were slit, which Amnesty International described as “a form of extra-judicial execution practiced by Ethiopian forces in Somalia” (AI Press Release, April 23). A later statement from the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry eventually acknowledged the killings had taken place, but pinned the blame on the Islamist Shabaab militia: “The cutting of the throats of even enemies and mutilating bodies is not in the tradition of Ethiopian troops. On the other hand, the al-Shabaab [Islamist] terrorists have never been ashamed of these types of atrocities” (AFP, April 25). A December 2007 statement from Mogadishu’s dominant Hawiye clan deplored a number of “grave violations of human rights” committed by Ethiopian occupation troops, including “throat slitting” (Appeal by Hawiye Council in London, December 12, 2007).
Forty-one Quranic students in the mosque ranging in age from nine to 18 were taken away by Ethiopian troops and eventually transferred to the local police, where they were being investigated for terrorist activities (Shabelle Media Network, April 26); 37 of the students were released on April 24.
The massacre at al-Hidaya mosque has thrown the peace talks scheduled to begin in Djibouti on May 10 into doubt. A number of opposition leaders already in Djibouti, including Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmed, are reported to have left Djibouti after receiving reports of the mosque incident.
FORMER IRAQI AL-QAEDA LEADER REVEALS DIVISIONS IN RESISTANCE
In a 50-minute interview with a Dubai-based television station, a former leader in Iraq’s al-Qaeda movement described the disillusionment with the militant group that led him to abandon it and join an anti-al-Qaeda Awakening Council (al-Arabiya TV, April 19). Al-Mulla Nazim al-Juburi was a senior member of the Islamic Army, a member of the five-man Mujahideen Shura Council, the leader of the Ghuraba Brigades and a close associate of Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the former leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Al-Juburi has returned to his hometown of al-Duluiyah, once an al-Qaeda stronghold, after serving a period of imprisonment. As the imam of the Duluiyah mosque, al-Juburi joined the Salafist Islamic Army after the U.S. invasion of 2003. He was eventually arrested and sent for a five-month term in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, where he met many imprisoned al-Qaeda members.
Many of al-Juburi’s most interesting statements concerned the deadly rivalry between Iraqi and non-Iraqi Arab leaders of al-Qaeda. Al-Juburi claims that many Iraqi jihad leaders were murdered because of their refusal to permit non-Iraqis to lead the resistance. Eventually many of these non-Iraqi leaders and outside groups like al-Qaeda came under suspicion from Iraqis like al-Juburi: “After meeting with these groups outside Iraq, we reached the conclusion that they maintained suspicious ties with foreign intelligence services, which provided logistic support and helped fighters infiltrate into Iraq and carry out bombing operations against Sunnis and civilians.” According to al-Juburi, interference from foreign intelligence agencies has “destroyed the jihadist project in Iraq, harmed the Sunnis and dwarfed the mission of many jihadist groups in Iraq.”
After disagreements over extremism with al-Qaeda’s foreign leaders, al-Juburi says: “I quit al-Qaeda and declared war on its extremist line, which shed blood, humiliated people, usurped people’s rights, violated human values, and blocked Islamic law from protecting religion, property, and lives.” Al-Juburi cited attempts by foreign leaders to take control of Sunni cities, the massacres of Shiites and sadistic acts such as killing people with electric saws as reasons why al-Qaeda would never gain a popular following in Iraq. Al-Qaeda’s application of takfir (declaring other Muslims apostates) to anyone who disagreed with their operational or ideological line also drove many leading jihadis from the movement. Al-Juburi suggests the main problem for the Sunni resistance in Iraq is division: “Each 10 Sunnis establish an army and speak in the name of the Sunnis.”
In the interview, al-Juburi claimed that the elusive al-Zarqawi was betrayed to the Americans by a close aide before his safe-house was destroyed in a U.S. bombing in June 2006. There were no kind words for the current leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Egyptian native Abu Hamza al-Muhajir (a.k.a. Abu Ayyub al-Masri), especially when compared to al-Zarqawi: “Al-Qaeda was in its best condition when al-Zarqawi was in charge because he was committed to jihad, which is one of the constant principles of the Sunnis in particular and Muslims in general… [al-Zarqawi] was an attractive man, capable of recruiting young men in and outside Iraq, and more acceptable to Sunnis than Abu-Hamza.”