Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, the leader of Hizbul Islam, has merged his forces with Shabaab, al Qaeda's affiliate in Somalia, after suffering a string of military defeats at the hands of the rival Islamist terror group.
Aweys, who is also linked to al Qaeda, joined Shabaab today and turned over Hizbul Islam's bases in Mogadishu and areas south of the capital, Mareeg Online reported. It is unclear if Aweys will take a senior leadership position in Shabaab's increasingly foreign-dominated leadership cadre.
Shabaab's takeover of Hizbul Islam will allow the terror group to put aside the intra-Islamist fighting, and will free up fighters and resources to battle the weak Somali government and African Union forces struggling to retake control of Mogadishu.
Since it was formed in January 2009, Hizbul Islam has been fighting a losing battle against Shabaab, its Islamist rival in Somalia. Throughout 2009, relations between Shabaab and Hizbul Islam worsened after the groups began to battle in Kismayo over control of the southern port city. In February 2010, the Ras Kamboni Brigade, once a Hizbul Islam faction, broke ties with Hizbul Islam and merged with Shabaab. Hizbul Islam has been losing ground to Shabaab in central and southern Somalia ever since the Ras Kamboni Brigade defected.
While many counterterrorism analysts and African experts consider Hizbul Islam a domestic, nationalist insurgency with no links to foreign terror groups, its top leader has close ties to al Qaeda. Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys is wanted by the US for his links to al Qaeda. He is also on the United Nations' terrorist sanctions list, again for his ties to al Qaeda.
ther Hizbul Islam leaders have expressed their support for al Qaeda. In April 2010, Moallim Hashi Mohamed Farah, then the top leader for Hizbul Islam in Banadir province, welcomed Osama bin Laden and other foreign fighters to visit Somalia and fight alongside his forces.
Shabaab and Hizbul Islam sought to merge forces during the summer of 2009, and have been in constant talks since then. But local disputes between factions of the two terror groups prevented the merger from taking place.
Hizbul Islam was created in January 2009 with the merger of four separate Islamist groups: Aweys' Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia-Eritrea, a wing of the Islamic Courts Union; the Ras Kamboni Brigade; Jabhatul Islamiya (the Islamic Front); and Anole.
STRATFOR Dispatch: Al Shabaab's Increasing Power
The three main factions of jihadists, or Islamists, in Somalia: there is the dominant faction of al Shabaab that is globalist and jihadist in its aim led by an individual known as Godane Abu Zubayr. The second faction of al Shabaab is the nationalist wing of al Shabaab, led by a commander known as Muktar Robow, also known as Abu Mansur. Now this Hizbul Islam faction is led by an old-time warlord and Somali nationalist leader whose name is Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys. Now the Godane wing of al Shabaab essentially issued a threat to Aweys’ group of Hizbul Islam basically saying “join us or die,” and after a series of clashes over the last couple of weeks, Aweys’ group basically conceded. Now this significance is less in the number of troops that the Awey’s faction of Hizbul Islam brings to al Shabaab, but the significance is rather of the Godane-led dominant faction of al Shabaab, eliminating internal dissents which ultimately would lead to its defeat if it festered. While these internal tensions are never going to be fully eliminated, Godane must fight these. He has no choice but to eliminate internal tensions that are on the radar of his enemies, such as the Somali government and its backers.