A scathing letter addressed to al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane from one of the group’s top foreign fighters has exposed the deepening mistrust and communication breakdown between various factions within the al-Qaeda-allied organisation.
Little is known about the author — al-Zubayr al-Muhajir — but from the letter it is evident that he is a high ranking official in al-Shabaab closely connected to the muhajireen (foreign fighters).
In the letter, al-Muhajir explains how Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abu al-Zubayr, appointed him as a member of al-Shabaab’s Shura Council and as chairman of a special sharia court that mediated between Godane and movement’s other top three leaders — Ibrahim al-Afghani (whose real name is Ibrahim Haji Jama Meeaad and is also known as Abu Bakr al-Zaylai), Sheikh Mukhtar Robow Ali (or Abu Mansur) and Fuad Mohamed Khalaf.
In al-Muhajir’s 12-page letter, which was posted on several jihadist websites on April 20th and titled “Yes, there are problems”, he said his purpose in writing the letter was to “relieve myself in front of God and the nation of all the aggressions and legal violations committed by some of us [… and to] warn all lovers of jihad among the muhajireen inside or outside the country that the situation is not as it is depicted by the movement”.
Communication breakdown within al-Shabaab
Al-Muhajir explained that he resorted to posting an open letter on the internet because all other means of communication had failed.
Several months ago he said he had passed along a message to Godane through members of the Shura Council “to clarify some issues relating to the arrest of some mujahedeen brothers with no clear charges while their families do not know anything about their situation or even their place of detention”.
After not receiving a reply, al-Muhajir said he went to a mosque where al-Shabaab officials were to speak to the “mujahedeen and Muslims and warn them of the dire consequences of our sins and vices, fearing that they, along with other aggressions, would be the reasons for defeat”, but was stopped before he could finish and banned from the mosque.
According to the letter, al-Muhajir tried to then set up a face-to-face meeting with Godane, but was refused, and then finally tried to meet with the official Godane appointed to represent the muhajireen, yet was refused again.
“You did not leave me any other choice,” he wrote referring to Godane, “except to keep silent while seeing the miserable situation of the mujahedeen and Muslims. This is not acceptable in sharia.”
Pressure mounts on foreign fighters
Al-Muhajir goes on to list a litany of problems facing the muhajireen in Somalia, including:
“Spokesman for the army said that any muhajir who leaves Somalia without permission from [Godane] is considered an apostate.”
“You [Godane] have not met for years, even once, with all the muhajireen to speak with them and check their situation directly with no mediation.”
“You [Godane] arrest some of the muhajireen without any charges and you do not tell their families or brothers about their whereabouts or conditions. You ban any visits for them and reject trying them in front of a public court.”
“You [Godane] took a secret decision not to receive the muhajireen coming from abroad, whether individuals or families, but you did not declare this decision … and they would travel and suffer the difficulties of emigration, only to end up either not participating in jihad or in the prisons of the infidels.”
“You arrested some of the muhajireen, accusing them of following the apostates. In spite of the decision of the secret court that proved their innocence, they are still treated like criminals. You have banished some to the lands of infidels while you are hunting down the others.”
Al-Muhajir even accused al-Shabaab security officials of raping the wives of muhajireen who left to go to the frontlines. He explained that in one instance, a muhajir official submitted a rape complaint against an al-Shabaab member to one of Godane’s officials who “insisted that he concede and withdraw the complaint. The brother found that this is an obstruction of God’s judgments, so he fled the country out of fear.”
“Some of the foreigners have been tortured to death in your secret prisons and you have not prosecuted your security members who have committed such crimes,” al-Muhajir continued.
Al-Muhajir concluded his letter by saying, “This is the situation of the foreigners, oh Emir, and if you are unaware of this situation, then this is a calamity, and if you do know this, it is an even greater tragedy.”
“Do not oppress people even if you could, because most of the time, injustice leads to regret. You will sleep while the oppressed will stay awake praying for God to avenge him. God does not forsake the oppressed.”