One year after bin Laden's death, al-Qaeda walks same path of self-destruction

Residents carry the body of a woman killed in al-Shabaab's latest attack on Somalia's National Theatre in Mogadishu. [Omar Faruk/Reuters]

Residents carry the body of a woman killed in al-Shabaab's latest attack on Somalia's National Theatre in Mogadishu. [Omar Faruk/Reuters]

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One year has passed since the death of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in his hiding place in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

The current leadership of al-Qaeda in the border areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan, headed by Ayman al-Zawahiri, does not seem to be in a better position today than it was under bin Laden in the last few years of his life: a state of siege and loss of leaders.

However, this does not mean al-Qaeda was entirely defeated. The organisation is apparently still able to call on its allies, who have become its branches around the world. The most recent to answer the call was the Somali movement, Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen.

While al-Shabaab's merger with al-Qaeda was hailed as an "achievement" by the organisation's new leader, al-Zawahiri, the fact remains that the current conduct of this armed Somali movement seems to show it is travelling down the same path as other al-Qaeda affiliates and armed groups before it, whose excesses and extremist interpretation of Islamic teachings alienated people and propelled them to join opposing forces.

Al-Shabaab swimming against the current

Killings and bombings carried out by al-Shabaab give the impression the group is intent on swimming against the current.

Instead of these operations winning popular support, they are producing just the opposite effect, as evidenced by the bombings al-Shabaab carried out April 4th in Mogadishu, which claimed the lives of ten civilians, including sports officials who had no part in the on-going fighting between al-Shabaab and government forces backed by African Union peacekeepers.

Although the movement has in the past conducted numerous bombings that claimed scores of civilian lives, its latest attack in the heart of the capital gives pause for thought because it occurred after the group became an official al-Qaeda affiliate in February of this year. This means al-Shabaab's operations are now attributable to the organisation.

According to media reports, the attack was carried out by a female suicide bomber who blew herself up at the National Theatre in Mogadishu, killing ten people, including the Somali Olympic Committee chairman and the president of the Somali Football Federation. Al-Shabaab was apparently targeting Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali as he prepared to deliver a speech in the theatre -- recently re-opened for the first time in 20 years -- but he was unhurt.

In addition to the human casualties of the National Theatre bombing, it was also painfully distressing that the attack came at a time the Somali capital was showing signs that life was returning to normal after more than 20 years of strife following the fall of the Siad Barre regime in 1991.

Since al-Shabaab was forced out of Mogadishu in August 2011, Somalis' confidence had been rising noticeably, with new schools, shops and restaurants opening their doors and robust reconstruction efforts clearly visible across the devastated capital.

In addition, the first international airline route was launched in March with twice-weekly flights by Turkish Airlines.

For that, al-Shabaab's attack on the National Theatre may lead to different results than it aims to achieve, since such acts could escalate the anger of the capital's residents, who are looking to start a new life.

Even some within the Islamist movement in Somalia understand these operations do not bode well for the self-described jihadists.

Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who headed Somali Islamist insurgent group Hizbul Islam until the party merged with al-Shabaab in 2010, recently expressed this opinion.

"I warn our jihadist brothers in the al-Shabaab movement against shedding the blood of the Muslim Somali people and killing innocent civilians in the name of Islam," Aweys told a gathering of his followers on March 30th.

His criticism coincided with a video posted on the Internet in March by Omar Hammami, also known as Abu Mansour al-Amriki, in which he said he feared for his life from al-Shabaab, a movement he had joined a few years ago to perform "jihad". Al-Amriki spoke in the video of doctrinal disputes between him and al-Shabaab, but it was unclear whether the disputes were over the justification of murder and bloodshed.

Although al-Shabaab responded by saying it had no intention of killing al-Amriki and that it has opened an investigation into the incident, reports circulated through the media that al-Amriki was killed and possibly beheaded at the hands of a faction of al-Shabaab.

While his death has not been confirmed and reports claiming he was still alive and under house-arrest soon appeared, al-Shabaab has not yet commented on reports of his death.

The fiasco over al-Amriki's fate, and the fissures reported in the ranks of the group, prompted many Somali analysts to declare the group "on the verge of dying".

As in Iraq and Yemen, as in Somalia

Al-Shabaab's constant justification of its killings and bombings indicate it is walking down the same path other al-Qaeda affiliates have taken in the past, which led to their destruction after public support for their activities declined.

The clearest example of this is the course of action al-Qaeda in Iraq took under the leadership of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Al-Zarqawi's operations claimed hundreds of lives in random bombings and grisly killings that ultimately compelled a number of Iraqis, including some from the so-called armed resistance against foreign and Iraqi government forces, to distance themselves from al-Qaeda and join efforts to eradicate it.

Current reports from Yemen indicate a similar anger permeates segments of the Yemeni population. Those Yemenis reject the practices of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and its affiliate, Ansar al-Sharia, which centre on the implementation of a harsh interpretation of Sharia law, including the application of hadd punishment.

This rejection is not limited to the Yemeni people, but has begun to surface among members of Ansar al-Sharia who reject al-Qaeda's practice of indiscriminate killing, as evidenced by the recent execution of seven Ansar al-Sharia members who refused to carry out suicide bombings targeting popular resistance committees in the city of Lawder in Abyan province.

The refusal of those members to carry out suicide attacks is undoubtedly a development reflecting the internal disintegration the Yemeni organisation is undergoing and indicating some members are beginning to return to their senses and have perhaps become convinced that fighting alongside al-Qaeda is wrong.

Similar popular rejection against violence occurred in Algeria in the 1990s when killings carried out by the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) elicited broad public anger, helping the central government defeat the extremists. The group's killings in remote villages drove the populations of these villages to volunteer for self-defence groups armed by the government, depriving the GIA of the ability to roam freely in rural areas and helping security forces pursue and eliminate the organisation's members.

Armed violence in Algeria has declined considerably since the GIA was eradicated, though the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), a splinter group which grew out of GIA, has persisted in using violence. In a sign that al-Qaeda failed to learn the lesson that violence does not pay off, the GSPC aligned itself with al-Qaeda and formally became its North Africa branch under the name of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in 2007.

In light of this, it is clear al-Qaeda and its affiliates need to review the feasibility of continuing killing and bombing operations that victimise innocent civilians. Al-Qaeda undoubtedly knows that with its loss of public support it has become a fish out of water ... waiting to die.

Even bin Laden, before his death, reportedly understood that his organisation had an image problem, especially when their actions were contrasted against the peaceful methods of the Arab Spring movements.

The recent actions in Somalia and Yemen, however, indicate that this fundamental lesson about the futility of violence has not yet been learned. For that, any further attempts to "rebrand" al-Qaeda by attaching it to local affiliates will likely continue to backfire.

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  • READER COMMENTS

    طه امين

    2012-5-26

    Al-Qaeda is suffering from many violations because of the confrontations with the security forces, which have been bothering them. They do not let them settle down in one place, and make pursuits in all parts of Iraq. Those movements have become exhausted because of the limited resources that they used to get. They have become unable to withstand the fierce attacks carried out by the security forces against them. Such movements are hiding and appearing through surprising attacks, but they can no longer carry out these attacks with the same strength that they were characterized with for many years. They are now suffering from fragility because most of its members have been killed or wounded or arrested. This reduced their chances to re-assemble their forces and they have become unable to recruit more young people who were exploited by joining them in order to increase their ranks and spread across Iraq. O Allah, separate them more and do not gather them. O Allah, destroy them like they destroyed us. O Allah, decimate them completely, O Possessor of All Strength, O Victorious. O Lord of the Mighty Throne, these movements killed your servants and their sons. O Allah, avenge from them, O Lord of the universe. O Allah, do not shed against us those who do not fear you or have mercy on us; we are weak without you, O Allah and we are in need of your help in everything, O Lord of the worshipers. O Allah, protect those whom we love and us from their deeds, O Lord of the universe. O Allah, we seek refuge in You from their evils. O Allah, show us their calamity each day and do not reject the prayers of the oppressed. O Allah, cram their companions and keep all of them away from our country, O Lord of the universe. We have suffered with our families from the ruin, destruction and corruption, which worsened our situation. O Allah, enrich us with your permitted than the ill-gotten. O Allah, cleanse our country from the terrorist movements. O Allah, give the strength to our security forces, so that they would haunt those movements and expel them out of our country. O Allah, we ask you for security and safety, and we do not want any other thing, O Lord of the universe. We want cover from you, O Most Merciful, praise be to Allah, Lord of the universe.

  • امير وجدي

    2012-5-23

    I think that before and after the murder of Bladan, the al-Qaeda organization has become fragile because we know there is a conspiracy to kill him and thus, his assassination was in the hands of his assistants before being on others, so betrayal is found among them that resulted in disharmony and division even among those who hold leadership or take any responsibility. One of the main problems is the multiplicity of nationalities within the organization or the group, as all the organizations say that they are al-Qaeda and they issue a statement that it is related to the al-Qaeda organization. They finally divided and separated after being classified as the most powerful organization in the world. Finally, I want to pray to God to guide those who want guidance and make them people who reform not destruct. Please God, destroy all the enemies of the religion and raise Islam and Muslim highly and destroy your enemies who are the enemies of the religion; those who are hypocrites, disbelievers and oppressors as they chose hell for themselves. Please destroy, divide and scatter them; we confirm that there is no God but you. You are the sole and only one who was not born and does not give birth to anyone and is not related to anyone at all. We are calling upon you as you are the creator of the sky and of the lands, the one who responds to prayers; scatter them and save us from them, Almighty God.

  • عمر

    2012-5-21

    Al-Qaeda, because of the division that they had especially after the death of their leader and unifier Osama bin Laden suffers from a lot of cracks that could end the future of Al-Qaeda in the near term. The international operations of Al-Qaeda have decreased and they started doing their work from inside Afghanistan against U.S. military bases and was able to achieve the killing and wounding of many of the U.S. soldiers but I think that operations brought against these bases have eased and the proof that Al-Qaeda has been suffering from fragmentation internally and this can also be because of lack of support provided to them of weapons, money and supplies and others. We pray to God from our hearts to relieve us of its criminal operations forever.

  • صادق حارث

    2012-5-19

    First of all, I praise Allah for having rid the world of this criminal, Bin Laden, that lowly individual that was the cause of all that has happened, and who was the cause of the dissension, killing, crimes, killing of civilians and innocent people, the spread of extremist ideologies and the jihadi and sufi ideologies, and the other lies that they promote. Praise Allah that we have gotten rid of him, because he has really caused harm to every Muslim on the face of the earth. If someone’s son was not implicated, he was killed, even if they were not in the Muslim countries, because they have faced many difficulties living in the European countries, especially for the Muslims there, as their image has been tarnished very badly because of this terrorist dog that claimed to be a Muslim and to be defending Muslims. Now, every Muslim has to thank and praise Allah.

  • قادر صالح

    2012-5-19

    More splits have occurred within the ranks of al-Qaeda following the death of Usama Bin Laden and the assumption of the leadership position by al-Zawahiri. We are getting a clearer picture of the situation regarding the fact that many of the leading figures of al-Qaeda are not pleased with Ayman al-Zawahiri taking the leadership position. Everyone knows that Usama Bin Laden was the spiritual father of al-Qaeda, meaning that he was the one holding them together. We should not forget that Bin Laden played an effective role despite the fact that no one but the leaders could see him, and he made few public appearances. The method adopted by al-Zawahiri has caused a change in the methods of the members of al-Qaeda, and this is what caused them to become dissatisfied regarding the change in their course of action. Many of the group leaders have split off from the mother organization, and each leader operates independently, which shows that they do not have a principle or method that they follow as they claimed. This is what their mode of operation shows, as it differs from one country in which they are present to another, to the point that their activities have become disorganized and chaotic, in a way that almost proves these hypotheses.

  • معاد

    2012-5-19

    The terrorist and criminal organization of al-Qaeda is now suffering severely from major splits within its ranks and its various organizations that are present in some areas, and it is suffering from various aspects, especially after the killing of Usama Bin Laden, the leader of this organization, and his replacement with the criminal al-Zawahiri, who is no longer capable of leading the organization as well as the criminal Bin Laden, because he does not have the control and the ability to run the operations of the organization. There are many other criminal leaders in this organization that no longer listen to what al-Zawahiri says, and many differences have emerged regarding the leadership of the organization after Bin Laden. This has affected the al-Qaeda organization in many ways, reducing it to a very weak position to the point that it can no longer carry out any crimes or bombings as it used to do in the past with the many attacks that this filthy organization was launching against civilians and innocent people, and targeting sensitive sites, etc.

  • جليل عبدالمنعم

    2012-5-13

    Signs of schism and disagreement amongst this terrorist group are starting to surface. This is the good news, that the falsehood will die and will come to an end. Riddled by all these internal conflicts, the group will be reduced to an internal war among its own factions and remnants, and this will lead to a decline in its operations. In turn, this will result in setting innocent civilians free of its evil and crimes.

  • عباس احمد

    2012-5-12

    This rotten thought of rotten people such as al-Qaeda followers is evidence of a degradation of the human being and is an evidence of his guilt and the horror of his thought and his ideas. Al-Qaeda is known today to the entire world and all peoples. But it was identified through its works and achievements. What are its works and achievements? These are the death, destruction, bombings and the targeting of citizens and their lives and lack of distinction between them. The aim of this is to spread chaos, terror and fear and to bring down the government in order to destabilize the security of the world and for the control of these bisexuals over the States and therefore ruling the world through murder and crime. This is a brief summary of their thoughts and actions. And if we wanted to talk to one of these killers about his ideas, why he does these things and what is his faith, his answer will be simply, I want to become a martyr and I want to be blessed with heaven from God. In fact, I did not see or hear anything more stupid or deadly than this answer for their acts.

  • روؤف عبدالحي

    2012-5-10

    Al-Qaeda is facing failure in everything in Iraq, thank God. We all know the age of injustice is short and is not long, we all know that a day will come ,and it is close -God willing- on which no terrorist will remain on the land of Iraq. Certainly, it is no secret at all that the ambitions of al-Qaeda and its goals of recruiting Iraqi fighters to work for their terrorist organizations and its attempts to influence some lost young people and wash their brains and make them puppets, controlling them and their bodies and detonating them by remote control to kill the innocent and bloodshed, this is its only fuel. Al-Qaeda and its members live on injustice and are fed on blood, but thank God everything looks open now. Their plans and operations and religious cover, waving it as a pretext for their dirty work, have been exposed to all Iraqis and the world. There is no fear of terrorism or the terrorists after today, and we will stand with all our strength and faith to fight, to combat and to extract its roots forever from the map of Iraq.

  • سندس

    2012-5-8

    Islam stands for brotherhood and mutual compassion, and since its inception, it has never been harsh or arrogant, and it never knew about racial wars or ethnic chauvinism. The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, believed in equality between all the races, as they are all the sons of Adam and Eve. He said that the people of the East are not better than those of the West, and that the Arab is not better than the non-Arab, and that the non-Arab is not better than the Arab, except by their good deeds and piety. In the farewell address during the hajj, when Muslims from everywhere on earth gathered, and in front of the masses of Muslims, the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said: “O people, your Lord is one, your father is one. An Arab has no superiority over an non-Arab, and a non-Arab has no superiority over an Arab, and a red has no superiority over a black, and a black has no superiority over a red, except by piety. Have I conveyed the message? They said: The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, has conveyed.” These are the traits that the first Muslims were brought up with, and though they were able to conquer the world – and gain control of its affairs – they did not take pride in ethnicity, color or kinship. Instead, they discouraged this name-calling and bickering. They were engaged in spreading brotherhood and mutual compassion among people. Their mission was to convey this revelation to the whole of mankind without the feeling of superiority. Their religion taught them that the status of each person is determined by his action, good deeds and loyalty. This is why they welcomed all those that entered the new religion and gave them preference. There is much historical evidence for this. Islam, just like knowledge, has no homeland, and as such there is no race or ethnic group that can exert exclusive control over it, and it has no territory that limits it, as its vast homeland is the free mind, and the kind human heart. As such, the new Islamic call was a new mercy that enveloped the whole world, and not a terror coming down from the sky.

  • عباس ستار العكيلي

    2012-5-8

    Wherever al-Qaeda goes, chaos, death and destruction follow, and this only helps the enemies of Islam. The terrorists have to be eradicated, as this is what these murderers deserve!! These terrorists have to be confronted with force, because al-Qaeda is really involved in drugs and arms trafficking, and this is the looming danger that Yemen and the Gulf countries are awaiting, because terrorists proliferate where there is chaos, as this allows them to escape and hide away, and consequently this cancer will proliferate even more.

  • ذياب احمد

    2012-5-7

    O Allah, we ask you to protect all the Muslims, and to shield them from the activities of the evil ones and the murderers that wage war against the Islamic religion, and who attempt to spread their extremist ideologies in the name of this pure religion, which is higher and nobler than to be represented by such stupid and murderous criminals and followers of extremist gangs and terrorist organizations, which are notorious for bloodshed, which is forbidden by the Islamic religion, as it has forbidden the violation of sanctities. We have suffered so much from terrorism and its demonic organizations that harbor an all-out animosity for the Islamic religion, and they have forcefully engaged in the killing of Muslims and the targeting of Muslim countries in this savage manner. So, O Lord of the Worlds, we have no resort but you, and you know best about the condition that Iraq is in, and that of the Muslims across the world, so, defend them O Allah, and protect Iraq, and let security and stability prevail in our country and in all the Islamic countries. O Allah, protect the Muslims, and strengthen this religion, and bestow upon us your mercy, and keep the evil ones away from us, and do not put us and our country at the mercy of those that do not fear you or pity us, and annihilate terrorism and the murderous and criminal followers of evil.

  • احمد

    2012-5-5

    We will never do Sheikh Bin Laden justice, no matter what we say or do. For your information, the martyrdom and killing of Sheikh Osama Bin Laden is not true. It has been more than a year since his martyrdom, yet the details about his killing are vague and unknown. The narrations and evidence that we have seen and heard are not credible, and they show hesitation. May God have mercy on you, Osama, and let you dwell in His broadest gardens!