On December 16th there were reports coming out of Somalia that Islamic state fighters had clashed with Al Shabaab fighters. The Islamic state news agency, Amaq, released a video on December the 18th that claims to provide visual evidence of its fight with Al Shabaab on December 16th. This is the first time the Islamic state has openly and publicly announced that it is responsible for an attack on Al Shabaab.
Where did this supposed battle take place? Reports suggest that Islamic State clashed with Al Qaeda’s long-established branch Al Shabaab in the northern regions of Puntland. Islamic State and Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi’s men claim to have killed 14 members of Al Shabaab during the clash.
I have taken the time to review pictures that were released, and after speaking to my contacts in Mogadishu, Islamic State fighters had set up a small ambush for Al Shabaab fighters. The footage itself and the pictures don’t reveal any dead Al Shabaab fighters. Although they do show four dead bodies and some AKs, the Islamic State is claiming that it has indeed killed 14 members of Al Shabaab. But there is no definitive proof that the bodies in the video are Al Shabaab. After speaking with my contacts in Mogadishu, they also have denied that any Al Shabaab members were killed during the clash.
What’s the big deal… Two terrorist groups potentially killing each other? December the 16th marks a special date for the Islamic State in Somalia, and indeed that of Al Shabaab. This is the first time the Islamic state has openly and publicly announced that it is responsible for an attack on Al Shabaab.
Screenshots from the Islamic State’s video from Somalia:
Looking back, this is not the first time that Al Shabaab has clashed with the Islamic state in Somalia, in 2015 there was some inter-fighting between the two groups. But neither side would comment on these potential clashes and remained radio silent throughout that period. Al Shabaab is yet to officially confirm whether or not it was involved in this latest clash with Islamic State on December 16th… time will tell, when Al Shabaab speaks.
I have mentioned in previous articles that Al Shabaab is the dominant force within Somalia. They will remain the dominant force in Somalia, due to having a loyalist population a long-standing relationship with some political figures. They have an overall larger presence in the region… and “more guns.”
Now having said that Al Shabaab is indeed the dominant force. This does not mean that the Islamic State is going to just take this lying down. They have funds, they have fighters, and they have all the branches in Africa. This could be the start of a potential conflict the likes of which have been seen in Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. This is not something new, but the question is what this entails for the Somali government and for the Somali civilians. I think, personally, we will see more clashes on this scale — little skirmishes — potentially leading some heavy clashes, and a rise in overall and armed violence within a broken and fragmented region.