Hussein Ali Fiidow’s Challenge to al-Shabaab Leadership

Publication: Militant Leadership Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 5

At the center of an alleged power struggle in the top leadership of al-Shabaab, the Somalia-based al-Qaeda affiliate in East Africa, is a deputy emir who is in charge of governorates and finance. Reports suggest that Hussein Ali Fiidow, an influential leader within the militant group, had been plotting a coup against the elusive emir, Shaykh Ahmed Umar (a.k.a. Abu Ubaidah; Ahmed Diriye) (Daily Nation, December 14, 2017).

A new conflict that ignited between the top two leaders over al-Shabaab’s finance and administration structure—the sector that Fiidow controls—continues to widen, leaving the militant group exposed due to internal divisions. The conflict is so bitter that Fiidow reportedly attempted to eliminate Umar. This threat to his life in part forced Umar to flee from his hideout in the town of Jilib, in Lower Jubba region—where he had originally fled to escape increased U.S.-AMISOM air raids—to the region of Gedo (Intelligence Briefs, December 7, 2017).

Umar is reportedly ailing and has been bedridden for the last six months, and most of the group’s finances are being redirected to pay for his treatment. This has weakened Umar’s position as leader, leaving him unable to sufficiently exert control over the militant group. Meanwhile, Fiidow, who is seen as one of Umar’s possible replacements, and other deputies have met to discuss Umar’s successor. However, the meetings have ended in disarray, with the group looking more divided than before (Daily Nation, April 20; Tuko, April 23).

Fiidow (a.k.a. Hussein Dayniile), believed to be in his mid-40s, is seen as a hardliner. He is from the Hawiye clan and the Murusande sub-clan, which has provided a majority of the fighters for al-Shabaab. This lineage elevates Fiidow’s general standing and strengthens his position as a possible future leader of al-Shabaab. At the moment, he is in charge of the governorates and finance administration, a position that further underpins Fiidow’s significant power and influence within the group. Previously, Fiidow held various key positions within al-Shabaab’s administration. He served as an al-Shabaab administrator in the district of Banadir, where the Somalia capital Mogadishu is located. Fiidow once headed the division within al-Shabaab that oversees politics and regional relations, and he also served as the head of the drought emergency relief committee, which was launched by the group to provide relief aid to communities in 2011 (Somalia Media Monitoring, September 6, 2011).

The first display of the true power Fiidow wields within al-Shabaab came in 2012, when he was serving as an official in al-Shabaab’s political and regional office. Fiidow fired the governor of Kismayo over his alleged failure to inspire new recruits within the movement. Riding into the town with a retinue of fighters from the southern Somalia city of Afgooye, Fiidow fired Sheikh Hassan Yukubu Ali and the head of preaching, Sheikh Abdinasir (see Militant Leadership Monitor, April 5, 2017; SomaliaReport, December 1, 2012).

In a rare and significant appearance, Fiidow met clan elders in the Adan Yabaal district of Middle Shabelle in January 2018, and expressed the group’s fears that one of Somalia biggest clans was drifting away from al-Shabaab (Twitter, January 10). Such a meeting is significant because powerful clan elders can influence al-Shabaab’s recruitment abilities and access to an area. With reports a possible change in leadership for al-Shabaab, Fiidow’s activity in managing group affairs is of note. Further, he has displayed his ambition to rise to the top spot, allegedly having organized an attempted coup.