For more reading on Al-Muhajiroun, click here and here.
On July 21, 2015, the al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab aligned group Al-Muhajiroun-Emigrants of East Africa released the second edition of "Amka", an online magazine detailing their latest goals, ideological messages, and exploits. Al-Muhajiroun is a relatively new group which emerged earlier this year in Kenya, with the intention of operating in the East African region. While they haven't claimed formal responsibility for any attacks yet, they seem to be Swahili-oriented and appear to have several members of Western origin.
Entitled "East Africa: Jihad's Homecoming", the magazine opens with an introduction from Abu Salim Al-Kenyi, the editor. Al-Kenyi states that while there were certain difficulties in publishing the issue, "The Ummah [nation] in East Africa responded with great enthusiasm and passion, in particular the lions in Mahenge and Mombasa." Mahenge is both an area and town located in Ulanga District, Tanzania. Mombasa in particular has been the site of frequent terrorist attacks in Kenya since 2008. While there are no recorded attacks having occurred in Mehenge since the first publication of Amka, it is possible that Al-Kenyi's statement refers to recruitment efforts in both areas. Al-Kenyi then goes onto to claim that al-Shabaab is on the cusp of victory in Somalia. While there have certainly been many high-profile attacks recently, it appears that for now the situation remains in AMISOM's favor.
According to Al-Kenyi, militants from East Africa (Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda) are returning to their respective homelands to unite the region under an Islamic government. Al-Kenyi ends his statement with, "And as the Mujahideen congregate back in their respective homelands, we want to assure the Ummah that their homecoming is to inspire and to “open up” East Africa. Like the home-comers, we in Al-Muhajiroun yearn for an immediate expansion of Jihad that will consume the whole of East Africa bringing it absolute freedom under the protection of Islam." This is the first time Al-Muhajiroun has specifically mentioned an ongoing operation in the region, as opposed to merely stating their vision for al-Qaeda in the region or detailing recents. It is important to note the nuance of Al-Kenyi's language. He insinuates that a major component of the returning jihadists' duties will be to build up domestic networks and "open up" more opportunities for al-Qaeda in the region.
Al-Kenyi's message is expounded upon in the titular article, which discusses how lessons learned in Somalia would be applied in Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya. The author, who is unnamed, states that "[p]ast mistakes and tactical errors that were once the trademark of “Jihad” in East Africa, will now give way to new ideas learned from Al-Shabaab." He mentions that the leadership of these militants will be based on 'Sunnah', which is a body of teachings and actions of the Prophet Mohammad. This is important, as the author goes into detail about the necessity of 'legal jihad' in East Africa. The teachings of the Sunnah provide an important foundation for Islamic law and theology. He then explicitly identifies 'taqwa' (piety) as a the "starting point" for waging a legal jihad, which will be raised in East Africa by jihadists and then combined with 'Aqeedah' (absolute conviction).
The author briefly outlines an operational guide for returning militants. In order for the "arc of Jihad" to be completed, Tanga and Mombasa must be liberated. It is very possible that the author specifically choose these two cities for strategic reasons. Located near their respective borders, a short three hour car ride is all that separates both metropolises from one another. By capturing both cities, al-Qaeda would effectively isolate a long segment of the transnational A-14 highway, enabling forces in both countries to link up and dismantle a portion of the Tanzanian-Kenyan border. In other words, they would be creating a transnational caliphate that controls portions of two East African nations. Naturally, of course, it would be incredibly difficult to muster the necessary resources and manpower to conduct such an operation without either Kenya or Tanzania catching on.
While both Uganda and Kenya have weathered severe and at times crippling terrorist campaigns by al-Shabaab, Tanzania has managed to remain comparatively secure in an otherwise chaotic region. Indeed, it has previously been referred to by analysts as an aberration marked by relatively high levels of political stability and democratic efficacy. However, this could begin to change in the coming months if militants begin to seep through the country's porous and poorly defended borders. There have already been indications of al-Shabaab's interest in the country. This past April saw the arrest of nine suspected al-Shabaab militants who were carrying explosives, while last month two suspected recruiters were apprehended by Kenyan authorities while attempting to sneak into Tanzania. Tanzanian security forces have also clashed with suspected al-Shabaab forces at least twice this year. Despite some successes, however, chronic deficiencies within the army, such as financial anemia and undermanned units, inhibit the government's ability to intercept infiltrators and the requisite arms shipments needed for attacks.
Shiekh Abu Ubeydah Ahmad Omar, the emir of al-Shabaab, wrote an article commemorating Eid. He decried efforts by the West to:
- Smother Muslim economies
- Spread decadent values and practices among Muslim youth
- Sow seeds of division in Muslim communities.
- Steal Muslim resources
Omar also briefly went over the state of al-Shabaab in controlled territories:
- Islamic courts are fully functional and actively arbitrating disputes between Muslims
- The Department of Da'wa (community development/outreach) is purportedly spreading religious awareness, mediating disputes between tribes, establishing schools, and providing medical/food assistance
- A new battalion called "Sheikh Abu Zubayr Battalion" was formed
Several groups and nations were also addressed as well. Omar:
- Commended tribesmen who have contributed to al-Shabaab's operational successes
- Reaffirmed al-Shabaab's commitment to protecting Muslims in Kenya and reiterated the need for Jihad in the country
- Congratulated the militants who perpetrated the Garissa University attack
- Extended condolences to Muslims living in Djibouti, Ethiopia, the Central African Republic, and Uganda and encouraged them to join al-Shabaab
- Advised Burmese Muslims to remain patient and migrate to the lands of Jihad
None of this is particularly shocking or new, especially the foreign recruitment. Not only are al-Shabaab's ranks supplemented by international Jihadists, but they can then be used to create inroads within their respective communities. This is beneficial in the long run as it helps propagate al-Shabaab's ideological narrative.
"Amka" also features a visual obituary for militants who have died or been killed since the last edition. Centered in the middle of the page is a picture of Sheikh Hassan Abdullah Hersi al-Turki, who passed away from natural causes in May. Coincidentally, Sheikh Abdullah also penned an article in this edition of the magazine about his relationship with Shikeh Makaburi, who was killed by unknown gunmen in Mombasa on April 3, 2014 (though many suspect it was an extrajudicial killing carried out by the government). ABdullah wrote of Makaburi, "Personally, I believe the Sheikh deserved and earned his martyrdom... [He was a] born leader and a great thinker."
Unfortunately, many of the articles are written in Swahili, and Google translate did not clear up very much. So if any reader is fluent in the language and willing to translate a few documents, leave a comment down below or reach out to me via our contact form.
- Militants from East Africa are returning home from service with Al-Shabaab to "open up" opportunities for al-Qaeda in their respective nations.
- Tanga and Mombasa are al-Shabaab's strategic objectives in East Africa right now. By seizing both cities, militants in Tanzania and Kenya will be in a prime position to take control of a segment of the transnational A-14 highway and effectively dismantle part of the border separating the nations. However, this would also be a difficult feat to accomplish from an operational perspective.
- While Tanzania has enjoyed relative security thus far, al-Shabaab appears interested in conducting operations there. The Tanzanian military is not capable of adequately securing the border.