Shaykh Ahmed Iman Ali, a middle level commander within al-Shabaab of Kenyan origin, has fallen out with the top leaders of the Somalia-based al-Qaeda affiliate in East Africa. Shaykh Ali is reportedly on the run after a dispute with Shaykh Abu Ubaidah (a.k.a. Ahmed Diyire), the al-Shabaab emir, and his deputy Mahad Karate (a.k.a. Abdirahim Mohammend Warsame) (Daily Nation, November 23). Karate commanded the Amniyat, al-Shabaab’s intelligence wing, when fighters from the group attacked Kenya’s Garissa University College in 2015, killing 148 people.
The two are allegedly planning to execute Ali, who they view as too ambitious. According to reports, Ubaidah has been seeking to lure the leader into a trap and kill him without leaving behind a trace of the top leadership’s involvement (KBC, November 23; Nairobi News, November 26). Until his departure, Ali was viewed as the de facto leader of the foreign African fighters within al-Shabaab. He had been commanding Jayshi al Ayman, a deadly faction within al-Shabaab that has been operating in Boni, a forest that spreads from Kenya’s Lamu County into Southern Somalia.
Controlling these two powerful entities, it is believed that Ali harbors ambitions to become the overall emir of al-Shabaab. It is this fear that has continued to cause uneasiness within the militant group’s top leadership. Diriye and his supporters are growing more uncomfortable with Ali each passing day. The leader is also said to be receiving funding from foreign sources, which he has not been sharing with Diriye and his group. Ali is a powerful figure in the group, having appeared in several jihadist videos, some of which mock the Kenyan Defense Forces (KBC, November 23).
The attempts to eliminate the leader, however, are not isolated. Ubaidah recently executed several African militants under Ali’s command. By executing Ali, it appears Ubaidah was attempting to rein in the internal discontent and disobedience that has hit the group.
Ali has also been sending emissaries to Kenyan authorities, seeking amnesty alongside other militants from Kenya who wish to return home (Intelligence Brief, November 22). In return, he has offered to cooperate with the government in fighting al-Shabaab in Kenya and Somalia. The possibility of surrendering to the Kenyan authorities cannot be ruled out, as the threat by Ubaidah continues to intensify. His killing would further weaken al-Shabaab and stir further discontent within the group, with more foreign fighters continuing to feel insecure or even fleeing.