24 July 2009
The Shabaab - a militia that has dominated three-quarters of Somalia - are not the organised force many believe them to be. In fact, it is a mistake to believe they are a single fighting unit at all, a French expert told FRANCE 24.
Al Shabaab ("youth in Arabic"), a group of Islamist militias, have dominated headlines coming from Somalia in recent months. A murky organisation, the Shabaab was created in 2005 as the armed branch of the Islamic Courts Union, a group of sharia courts which formed a rival administration to the transitional Federal Government of Somalia. Although they seem to have no organised structure, they — along with the Hizbul Islam militia — appear to control three-quarters of Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu.
But a French expert on Somalia, who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitive nature of his research, told FRANCE 24 that “there is no such thing as the Shabaab” but rather several organisations under an umbrella grouping.
These disparate militias have various political and religious outlooks, but they share a similar ambition to impose sharia law, although none of the groups can agree on how it should be applied.
The result is that the country — and especially the capital, which has been a war zone since 1991 — is not controlled by one organisation but by a hotchpotch of small independent groups, all more or less radical, who sometimes collaborate with each other.
The fact that government soldiers are thought to occasionally help out militias in return for cash payments further blurs the lines.
The two French defence advisers abducted on July 14 were taken by government soldiers and then sold to the militias, the head of Somalia’s information services, General Mohammed Sheikh Hassan, told FRANCE 24 earlier this week.
"Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed doesn’t have a penny in his pocket,” said the anonymous French expert. “He can’t pay his men regularly so they go out and take money for themselves."
Foreign jihadists among the Shabaab
The ranks of the Shabaab militias are increasingly filled with foreign fighters, including Pakistanis and Indians as well as Iranians.
In March 2009, Osama bin Laden, in an audio message posted on the Internet, made a call for “Somali champions” to overthrow President Ahmed, himself a moderate Islamist who had led the Islamic Courts Union, from which the Shabaab originate.
Shabaab militias are also suspected of being supported by neighbouring Eritrea. The Somalian government, the African Union and others have accused Eritrea of supplying funds and arms to Somali insurgents.
It's not just Eritrea that the the Shabaab militias use. “Al Qaeda funds are getting through from the Cayman Islands where the terrorist organisation keeps much of its funds,” the French expert told FRANCE 24.