In what he described as “good news” that would “annoy the Crusaders,” al-Qaeda leader Shaykh Ayman al-Zawahiri announced the incorporation of Somalia’s al-Shabaab militants as an official new chapter of al-Qaeda on February 9. [1] Al-Shabaab leader Shaykh Ahmad Abdi Godane “Abu Zubayr” appeared in the 15-minute videotape to pledge his movement’s obedience to al-Zawahiri and promised to follow “the road of jihad and martyrdom, in the footsteps that our martyr Osama bin Laden has drawn for us.”

The merger may be the first step in an al-Qaeda effort to ensure the survival of the movement by expanding into the larger Islamic world through the creation of official al-Qaeda affiliates without the so far apparent and unstated requirement for an Arab leadership.

Faced with increasing military opposition and severe blows to its revenue streams, al-Shabaab faces the options of gradual annihilation in the field or scaling back operations to a more asymmetric model based on a diminished interest in holding territory and a greater use of terrorist tactics in an expanded zone of operations that would certainly include Somalia’s neighbors and possibly reach to the foreign supporters of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

The announcement was remarkably ill-timed, coming only days ahead of an international conference in London in which many Western countries were already expected to announce some increase in their levels of military and economic support for the TFG and AMISOM. The al-Qaeda merger will almost inevitably result in greater levels of support than donor nations may have originally intended. The timing of the announcement seems inexplicable, unless al-Qaeda has started to believe its own propaganda efforts and actually believes such an announcement will send the TFG’s international supporters reeling in fear and dismay. The timing of the merger is also unlikely to meet with universal approval from Shabaab commanders and will exacerbate existing fissures within the movement’s leadership. TFG minister of information Abdikadir Husayn Muhammad suggested the unification could be a good thing for Somalia: "When Ayman al-Zawahiri described the merger between al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda as ‘good news,’ it is also ‘good news’ for us, and the time when al-Shabaab terror group used to disguise itself as a Somali Islamic organization has come to an end” (, February 10).

The February 23 conference, hosted by the UK government, has been convened to address political instability and piracy in Somalia. There have been claims in Somalia, particularly from al-Shabaab, that the conference will discuss the “re-colonization” of Somalia, but TFG officials have urged Somalis to wait for the outcome of the meeting (Shabelle Media Network, February 11). According to al-Shabaab spokesman Shaykh Ali Mohamud Raage: “It’s the imperious nature of the Brits that sees them meddling in Islamic affairs in the hope of reviving a hopeless dream of a British Empire" (AFP, February 14). In a recent speech in Mogadishu, TFG president Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmad insisted al-Qaeda were the colonialists and everyone in Somalia was required to do their part in “liberating” Somalia from their grasp (Shabelle Media Network, February 13). There is also speculation in Somalia that the African Union peacekeeping mission may be taken over by the UN following the London conference, possibly even in a mission led by Turkey (Dayniile Online, February 10).

Al-Shabaab ordered businesses and schools in areas under its control to close for a one-day celebration of their merger with al-Qaeda (Radio Simba [Mogadishu], February 13; Shabelle Media Network, February 13). At one such rally in Afgoye, Shaykh Ali Mohamud Raage promised “mujahideen fighters worldwide” that “the unification is a sign of the return of the Islamic caliphate worldwide” (AFP, February 13).

The existing cooperation between al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab over the last few years has yielded little for either group: al-Qaeda does not possess the weapons, funds or military assets to tip the conflict in al-Shabaab’s favor, while Somalia’s crumbling infrastructure, prevailing xenophobia and isolation provides a poor safe haven for terrorists operating in the global arena. Non-Somali jihadists generally find Somalia an unattractive theatre and unification is unlikely to change this. The merger will also endanger al-Shabaab’s diaspora fund-raisers, recruiters and volunteers who have had some success so far in meeting terrorism-related charges with claims they were inspired solely by nationalism and not the Salafist-inspired global jihad. U.S. drones operating out of Djibouti can be expected to increase surveillance missions and targeted attacks of al-Shabaab leaders within Somalia.

Kenya is scheduled to increase its Somali commitment from the existing 2,000 men deployed in southern Somalia to 4,700 men under AMISOM command in the Middle and Lower Juba regions of Somalia, though Kenyan authorities maintain the KDF must complete Operation Linda Nchi before Kenyan troops can join AMISOM  (East African [Nairobi], February 14). Uganda and Burundi are also preparing to increase their deployment to a total of 12,000 troops from the current level of 9,500.
KDF spokesman Colonel Cyrus Oguna noted international anti-terrorist protocols can now be applied against al-Shabaab and claimed that al-Shabaab’s revenue stream has been “totally disrupted” since the Kenyan incursion into southern Somalia: “In our own assessment, 75% of revenue collection of al-Shabaab has been disrupted” (KTN Television [Nairobi], February 11; AFP, February 11).

Somalia may now be faced by more al-Shabaab terrorist attacks such as the Mogadishu suicide bombing on February 8 that killed 16 civilians and severely wounded 30 more (al-Andalus Radio [Afgoye] , February 8; Africa Review [Nairobi], February 8). Somali MP and former information minister Tahir Muhammad Gili speculated that the merger would result in al-Shabaab changing its tactics to “carry out more bombings and transfer battles outside Somalia, particularly to Somalia’s neighboring countries, since those countries have troops inside Somalia at the moment. (al-Jazeera, February 12).

1. “Glad Tidings: Announcement of Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen Officially Joining al-Qaeda,” As-Sahab Global Media Front,, February 9.


An escalating tribal conflict in the strategic Kufra Oasis has revealed once more that Libya’s Transitional National Council (TNC) is incapable of restoring order in a nation where political and tribal violence flares up on a regular basis, fuelled by a wave of weapons liberated from Qaddafi’s armories. Though this is hardly the first clash between the African Tubu and the Arab Zuwaya tribe that took control of the oasis from the Tubu in 1840, it is certainly the first to be fought with heavy weapons such as RPGs and anti-aircraft guns, an innovation that is reflected in the various estimates of heavy casualties in the fighting.

Fighting began on February 12 and has continued to the present. Well over 100 people have been killed in less than two weeks; with many hundreds more wounded (Tripoli Post, February 22). Tensions had been running high between the Arab and Tubu communities throughout last year’s political turbulence and the current fighting appears to have been sparked by the alleged murder of an Arab by three dark-skinned men the Zuwaya believe to have been Tubu. The latter have also been affected by a canard promoted by Qaddafi that suggests the Tubu only arrived in southern Libya during the Italian occupation of Libya or later, an assertion that could easily lead to efforts to expel the Tubu from the region. A newly formed group called the National Rally of Tubus has issued alarming warnings that the clashes in Kufra were part of an effort to cleanse the region of its traditional Tubu presence: "Kufra is a disaster area and what is happening in the town is genocide and the extermination of the Tubu" (AFP, February 15).

The Tubu fighters are led by Isa Abd al-Majid Mansur, who backed the rebel forces in last year’s revolution. Isa Abd al-Majid is head of the Tubu Front for the Salvation of Libya (TFSL), founded in June, 2007. The TFSL confronted Libyan security forces in a five-day battle at Kufra in 2008 during which the movement threatened to sabotage the important Sarir oil fields in southeast Libya (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, November 11, 2008). The Zuwaya claim that al-Majid is now supported by mercenaries from Chad and Darfur (Reuters, February 13). Despite playing an important role in the Libyan revolution, the Tubu have experienced little change since the Qaddafi regime, when the Tubu were subject to loss of their Libyan identity cards and were denied access to health and education facilities. Isa Abd al-Majid denies that the TFSL seek to divide Libya: “We are not seeking a separation; we are like all other Libyan opposition movements. We are calling for the restitution of our rights.” (al-Alam TV [Tehran], August 15, 2007).

During the Libyan insurrection, the Tubu formed the rebel-allied “Desert Shield Brigade” under veteran Tubu militant Barka Wardougou, conducting long-range raids on Murzuk and al-Qatrun (Ennahar [Algiers], August 20, 2011; AFP, July 23, 2011). Wardagou is the former leader of the Niger-based Tubu movement Front armé revolutionnaire du Sahara (FARS).

Having already been active in armed opposition to the Libya government for some years prior to the 2011 revolution, Isa Abd al-Majid foresaw a time when the rest of the Libyan people would join the struggle against the Qaddafi regime: “We claimed our rights, but [Qaddafi] marginalized us and denied our rights. He even said [the Tubu] are all foreigners. Even when al-Qaddafi visited Qatrun, he said we should be distributed over Bengazhi and the coastal regions and we should leave the border areas [in southern Libya].” (al-Alam TV [Tehran], August 15, 2007) Today, most Tubu live in northern Chad, ranging through the deserts and seasonal pastures surrounding their headquarters in the Tibesti Mountains. Much smaller communities live in eastern Niger and southeastern Libya. Though the latter is a traditional part of the Teda Tubu homeland, some Chadian Tubu have arrived in recent decades and  live in shantytowns around Kufra.

In 1895 the leadership of the Sanussi Brotherhood relocated to the oasis to avoid entanglements with the Ottoman authorities in northern Libya. The Sanussis transformed the oasis into an anti-colonial bastion until its conquest by a massive column of heavily armed Italian troops in 1931. Kufra’s strategic importance and airstrip meant that Italian occupation was short as Free French colonial troops and British forces from the Long Range Desert Group took the oasis in 1941, transforming Kufra into a base for long range strikes across the desert on Italian and German forces in northern Libya. Though the Libyan garrison declared itself for the rebels early in last year’s revolution, loyalist forces retook the oasis at one point during its campaign to establish control over the all-important oil and water resources of Libya’s southern deserts (see Terrorism Monitor Brief, May 8, 2011). Some 40,000 people live in Kufra (roughly 10% of them Tubu), which dominates a number of trans-Saharan trade routes.

The Zuwaya claim the Tubu are being helped by hundreds of “mercenaries from Chad” – one local government official described 40 4X4 vehicles full of soldiers attacking the “May 5 military camp” at Kufra and warned that if military aid from Benghazi was not forthcoming, Kufra would be forced to declare independence (Reuters, February 13).  

TNC military chief General Yusuf al-Mangush has denied reports of foreign fighters in the region and urged elders from the Zuwaya and Tubu to meet (Reuters, February 18). TNC chairman Abd al-Jalil, a former Qaddafi loyalist, has claimed that the fighting in Kufra was started by Qaddafi regime loyalists who were “seeding sedition” (AFP, February 21). Sources within the Zuwaya have confirmed the TNC has been shipping arms and fighters to the Kufra Arabs to combat what a TNC spokesman described as “smugglers helped by foreign elements” (Daily Star [Beirut], February 15). A Zuwaya source confirmed that a plane carrying weapons and fighters had landed at Kufra airport on February 13 to aid the Arab fighters there (AFP, February 14).

The Libyan Defense Ministry has promised military intervention if the fighting does not end soon, but has otherwise taken no action to end the conflict so far (Reuters, February 20).