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Is Somalia’s al Shabaab popularity going down?

February 8, 2011

All Headline News, 7 Feb 2011: Three years after of taking over more than eight regions in south-central Somalia, Is the popularity of al Qaeda’s associate in Somalia falling?

clearpxlAl Shabaab, whose name means “the youth” in Arabic, became famous immediately after thousands of Ethiopian forces invaded Somalia in late 2006 and managed to dislodge the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), which had controlled much of southern and central Somalia.

No sooner did forces loyal to the transitional federal government’s former leader Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, endorsed by Ethiopian troops, take over control of the capital city and large swaths of southern Somalia than al Shabaab, using the name of the Hawiye clan, started ambush attacks against TFG and Ethiopian troops.

Al Shabaab got great support from Mogadishans when the militants claimed they were dedicating their lives for the liberation of Mogadishu and its people.

Mohyidin Abdullahi, a former strong al Shabaab henchman, argues that the popularity of al Shabaab has declined.

Abdullahi, like many other Somalis, had thought the fighting would end if Ethiopian government withdrew its troops from Somalia. But “al Shabaab is still stoking the fighting” he lamented.

What has made the situation worse for the organization is its ban on more than 20 aid agencies from operating in southern and central Somalia as severe drought hit nationwide. Hundreds of displaced families, with their livestock, are reaching Mogadishu after the trees and grasses and hay dried up because of the drought.

Hasna Bashir, an elderly woman displaced from an al Shabaab controlled district, told All Headline News that the group has no mercy and kindness, saying “I lived in lower Shabelle region, having some cows in my house. Drought struck the region causing many of domestic animals to die of hunger and thirst”

Bashir, 74, at Mogadishu’s Dharkenley district which is under the control of the TFG, said she and some of her neighbors decided to come to  Mogadishu to buy cheap maize offered by the World Feed Program to spare the lives of their livestock.

“While passing a checkpoint controlled by al Shabaab, our bus stopped and we are ordered to climb down from it. Seven young teenagers holding sticks come to us and asked where we are carrying those bags of WFP’s maize. After response, they have beaten us inhumanely and set afire all our bags,” she said, tears gushing from her eyes.

Alleged spies and Christians have been publicly executed. Thieves have had their legs and hands cut off. And women accused of adultery have been beaten and stoned. Al Shabaab militants have also reportedly forced citizens, including children, to watch the gruesome punishments being meted out.

Last month, al Shabaab imposed strict new orders on refugee women living in the Afgoye corridor. The women were ordered to wear full-length body coverings even when they are in the privacy of their own homes, adding that anyone seen violating the edict would be punished.

Residents in the Afgoye corridor expressed a deep concern about the new rule that also forces women to stay home unless escorted by an adult male.

Al-Shabaab intends to impose a strict version of Sharia Islamic law throughout war-devastated Somalia. The group routinely carries out abductions and violently punishes people for all types of crimes.

As al Shabaab intensifies its fighting and moves to muzzle Somalis displaced by ongoing war, hundreds of Mogadishu residents participated in a large demonstration against the militant group in Mogadishu late last month.

Chanting anti-al Shabaab slogans, raising placards written with “We don’t want the mad and cruel militants” and “Stop harassing and intimidating people and open access for the needy Somalis to get assistance,” demonstrators marched down roads in Mogadishu’s government-controlled districts.

Not only Mogadishu has witnessed anti-al Shabaab protests, but also dozens of local residents in the village of El-arfid in the Middle Shabelle region in southern Somalia demonstrated after fighters loyal to al Shabaab.

Late last month, in response to the rising complaints, Sheikh Mokhtar Abdurrahman Abu Zubeyr, the leader of al Shabaab, called on his fighters not to act in ways that turned Somalis against Islam.

However, the Somali people’s hate of al Shabaab is increasing as the militants continue their cruel behavior.



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