Cablegate: Somalia - Violent Uprising Against Al-Shabaab

DE RUEHNR #2900/01 3661210
P 311210Z DEC 08





E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Somalia - Violent Uprising Against Al-Shabaab

1. (SBU) Summary: Since December 27, local residents and militias,
loosely led by Ahlu Sunna wal Jama'a (ASWJ), a group of moderate
Islamic scholars, have clashed with al-Shabaab in response to
al-Shabaab takeovers of central Somali towns and the subsequent
desecration of graves in central Somalia. ASWJ reports that they
have ousted al-Shabaab from several towns and are enjoying popular
support throughout Somalia. Post is in contact with the
Nairobi-based members of an ASWJ-affiliated organization. End

Nexus of
the Clashes

2. (SBU) Since December 27, militias loyal to the moderate Islamic
group Ahlu Sunna wal Jama'a (ASWJ), with support from local
residents, have reportedly clashed with al-Shabaab militia in towns
in the central Somali region of Galgudud. Residents were reportedly
in part reacting to the December 6 and 7 al-Shabaab capture of the
towns of Guriel and Dusamareb. Embassy contacts recount that ASWJ
and local clan militia were meeting in the town of Heraale (Galgadud
region) when al-Shabaab militia seized control of Guriel and
Dusamareb. Al-Shabaab's unprovoked attacks on the local
administrations, coupled with desecrations of places of pilgrimage
and the tombs of revered Sufi clerics, appeared to have catalyzed
ASWJ counterattacks. Among the most scandalous of the grave
desecrations was that of the tomb of Sheikh Samatar, a
well-respected cleric and founder of the Samataria Sufi sect. On
several occasions al-Shabaab militia also disrupted ASWJ "hatra"
rituals, which involve song and poetry, terming them "un-islamic".

3. (SBU) In response, ASWJ mobilized militias and, with support from
local residents from across the clan spectrum, engaged al-Shabaab in
a series of battles. (Note: The Ayr are the predominant clan in the
area, but minority subclans including the Sa'ad, Saleebaan,
Murasade, Marehan and Majerteen sided against al-Shabaab as well.)
According to Embassy contacts, al-Shabaab forces retreated to
Galinsoor, near Galkayo. While preparing a counterattack, the
al-Shabaab militias were besieged by Sa'ad militias from Galkayo,
who killed eight al-Shabaab militia members and seized two of their
"technicals" (battle wagons). Ethiopian forces based at the border
town of Balambale reportedly deployed to the outskirts of Guriel on
December 29, forcing a further al-Shabaab retreat. Several days of
heavy fighting, with at least 30 deaths and dozens of wounded, have
reportedly forced al-Shabaab to withdraw.

4. (SBU) According to sources in Somalia, these most recent clashes
in the central region are part of a broader attempt by various
groups in Somalia to gain control of territory in advance of the
pending Ethiopian withdrawal. However, these most recent clashes
may also be evidence of increasing resentment of al-Shabaab.

5. (SBU) On December 28, an al-Shabaab spokesman Mukhtar Robow,
seemingly at pains to explain why his group was overpowered in the
clashes, alleged to the media that there were only a few al-Shabaab
militia left in Guriel when ASWJ attacked. Robow claimed that the
majority of al-Shabaab forces were involved in mediation efforts
between warring communities outside the town and were not able to
defend themselves against attack. Robow further claimed that it was
an Ethiopian-organized group, not ASWJ, which had attacked

6. (SBU) Sheikh Abdirashid Maalim, coordinator of the Somali
Traditional Scholars (SOTIS), an ASWJ offshoot with representation
in Nairobi, told us that ASWJ's patience with al-Shabaab was wearing
thin, and they had felt compelled to stop the desecration of revered
religious monuments. In a December 31 meeting with us, he termed
the current clashes "a defensive war." Sheikh Abdirashid said ASWJ
have remained a non-political and nonviolent spiritual body through
centuries of existence in Somalia. Al-Shabaab evidently viewed
ASWJ's deep roots in Somalia as a threat, he thought. Referring to
clashes in central region, Sheikh Abdirashid told us the Somali
civilians in Mogadishu, Gedo Region, and Lower Shabelle, under ASWJ
leadership, had organized themselves in reaction to the continued
desecration of shrines and graves in Somalia. Abdirashid believed
that the current popular uprising was the beginning of a wider
revolution against al-Shabaab's "corrupt" view of Islam and its
oppressive tendencies.

7. (SBU) ASWJ leadership from "dariiqas", or parishes, across
Somalia and eastern Ethiopia (Ahmediya, Salihiya, Qadiriya and

NAIROBI 00002900 002 OF 002

Samataria) met in Mogadishu on December 27. Under the acting
chairmanship of Sheikh Abdulqadir Samow, who is also ASWJ's
spokesman, the group discussed the al-Shabaab threat at length and
resolved to revolt. They also drafted a document outlining the
group's view of the current situation in Somalia and seeking
international support.

Somali Islamic Front

8. (SBU) Another group involved in the current clashes is the Somali
Islamic Front (SIF), a purist Salafi organization and an offshoot of
former al-Itihad al-Islami (AIAI) and also known as Jabhal Islamia.
Members of the SIF have spoken out in support of al-Shabaab during
the recent clashes. According to Embassy contacts, SIF is allied
with al-Shabaab in its opposition to ASWJ but, unlike al-Shabaab,
has shown respect for local administrations and is opposed to
infighting among "resistant" groups. SIF has attempted to mediate
between al-Shabaab and the two factions of the Alliance for the
Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS) in an effort to forestall infighting.

9. (SBU) Clerics allied to the SIF have openly condemned the killing
of Somalis and aid workers. In a statement carried by Somali
websites, SIF said "while opposed to all un-Islamic heresies, we are
not a party to the current campaign of destroying and desecrating
tombs of the dead. The Front believes in a more methodical process
of eliminating heresies, through education and building social
awareness. The Front denies any involvement in the ongoing
destruction of tombs." In an apparent reference to ASWJ, SIF
described one side as fighting a proxy war for the "enemy."

Post Interaction with ASWJ

10. (SBU) Post has met with SOTIS, the ASWJ offshoot. SOTIS has
requested USG cooperation with and support for its campaign against
al-Shabaab. The group plans to submit to us in the next week a plan
for future activities. SOTIS hopes to establish "bases" in
Mogadishu, Gedo Region, and central Somalia, from which they can
continue ASWJ's work.


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