02 February 2010

Terrorists Dream About The Islamic State: Al Qaeda, Al Shabaab, & Beyond

*This is the first section of a two-part post, the second of which I plan to publish later today. Here, I focus my efforts on identifying the expansion of terrorist operational environments as represented in the relationship between the Al Shabaab Mujahideen Movement and al-Qaeda's morphing strategy.

Yes, terrorists groups dream about establishing an Islamic State; for it is not only a fantasy but a mission they seek to achieve through endless jihad, The Long War. If the US and its allies understand clearly how terrorists groups like Al Shabaab understand themselves as a part of the self-perceived "infidel" conflict, then there is valid reason to think that analyts and professionals can accurately project their strategic intentions and operational objectives.

Bill Roggio of the Long War Journal reported that the Ras Kamboni Camp (Raas Kaambooni), led by Hassan Turki, of Hizbul Islam was absorbed by Al Shabaab . (It comes as no surprise that the information was reported in Sweden from Al Qimmah Forum, as financier Ali Yassin Mohamed reportedly resided in Stockholm. See how the country is experiencing a "little Mogadishu"). The announcement declared two things; that,
(a) Al Shabaab is a part of the international jihad led the the network of Al Qaeda [and]
(b) The Al Shabaab Mujahideen Movement and the mujahideen of Ras Kamboni Camp today merged under one name: Al Shabaab Mujahideen Movement (ASMM).

The two organizations have been fighting one another throughout the ending months of 2009 over the control of the Port of Kismayo in southern Somalia. The successful merger now splits Hizbul Islam, leaving three remaining original members to fight for themselves;
(1) Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS);
(2) Jabhadda Islamiya Somalia, a.k.a. Islamic Front of Somalia (JIS);
(3) Mu'askar Anole;
all of who are connected to the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) which I mentioned in my analysis on the US/UN Operation Restore Hope.

With a blended unification of ideology, the overarching goal is two-fold: To rid the region of "enemies of their religion," who ASMM believes to be both Ethiopian forces aided by the US, and institute an Islamic State in Somalia. Moreover, it identifies their forthcoming ability to join operational tactics and expand operational environments, both within Somalia and transnationally vis-a-vis supporting campaigns with, for, and by AQCL. Of great concern also is the newly-formed organization's prospective capacity to manipulate regional resources, such as Uganda’s oil reserves or Lake Victoria near-by, and/or utilize geographical avenues for trafficking activities as they have done in the Gulf of Aden.

Despite the internal conflicts between Al Shabaab and Hizbul Islam historically, their recent formation testifies to the dangerous, morphing method of expansion by AQ-affiliated terrorist groups in the region. A recent RAND report entitled, "Radical Islam in East Africa 2009," acknowledges this growing trend and the emerging implications, stating;
"East Africa has been a sanctuary and base for Islamist terrorist operations since the early 1990's and remains a priority area in al-Qaeda's global strategy...Although al-Qaeda represents the primary terrorist threat to US interests in East Africa, it is only one component of a much larger universe of radical Islamist groups and organizations in the region. There are numerous indigenous radical Islamist groups in East Africa with varying degrees of affinity to al-Qaeda's agenda. In addition, missionary groups...are actively propagating a radical, fundamentalist, Salafi interpretation of Islam that, while not necessarily violent, function as gateways to terrorism...The weakness of African governments and the internal fighting and corruption of these regimes facilitate the ability of terrorists to move, plan, and organize."

The larger picture sets ASMM and AQAP as singular but interconnecting movements across the chessboard, the entire AQCL operational environment. Each entity of the bigger organization is morphing into con-joining units like a serpent tongue: The main portion belongs to the snake but the ends are separated like a fork. As I stated on 15 January, a "fork" is a chess tactic using one piece to attack two or more pieces. It is a critical to AQ's forked tactical ability - how they "move, plan, and organize" - to expand rapidly. Al Shabaab and Hizbul Islam's merger showcase AQ's ability to spread eastward toward AQAP in Yemen and westward toward AQIM in North Africa, as these geographic locations are key to the "exchange."

It is a strategic necessity for the US to take aim at middle-tier personalities [while they exist] in order to disrupt and dismantle affiliate operations. History's lesson of the mujahideen throughout Africa and the Arabian Peninsula offers some intriguing evidence of what "dream-like" expansion seems to be on the horizon in terms of the jihadi operational environment.


  1. My colleague, JD, offers insights into what I think the unfolding paradigm in Africa and Arabian Penisula looks like: http://al-sahwa.blogspot.com/2010/01/unity-of-command-who-is-calling-shots.html.

    With mergers, who will be the leader in command? The US can capitalize on targeting middle-tier during the transition. For further strategic research, see "Stealing Al Qaeda's Playbook" (Jarret M. Brachman; William F. McCants
    Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 1521-0731, Volume 29, Issue 4, 2006, Pages 309 – 321).

    I fully support the use of business-modeled SWOT analysis to defeat AQ-affiliated movements:
    For example, (a) what are their strengths so we can disrupt and dismantle (i.e. criminal, shariah financing); (b) what are their weaknesses so we can manipulate through internal and external pressures (i.e. regional public approval); (c) what are their opportunities so we can counter (i.e. propaganda for recruitment); (d) what threats do they pose so we can hinder or thwart their execution (i.e. chemical/biological weapons).

    This described process is conducted from a positive perspective, meaning we are examining what methods are good for the enemy. It can be reversed and be conducted negatively against them, meaning we examine how we can capitalize on what is good for US campaigns:
    (a) how have US and allies succeeded (i.e. COIN); (b) how has US falied/missed marked (i.e. intel sharing); (c) how can US quantify quality (i.e. regional-specific COIN); (d) how can we protect and prevent (i.e. domestic lone wolf, cells).

    These are just examples. Please share your insights.

  2. SWOT is quite a confused and dangerous concept as we have shown several European analytical agencies.
    See Here:


    and look halfway down this page


    If after reading this, you still think SWOT concepts have value, please call me. I would be very interested in how you think about this.

    Mike Cahill
    408 504 8378

  3. Mike, thank you for your comment - especially for providing the links. I am in the process of reviewing them and analyzing further the important use of PEST analysis before SWOT analysis.

    I think you may be at least interested to here what else I have to say from my perspective. I think our dialogue can help us arrive at a workable solution.

  4. To all who read this, I wish to inform you that I am working on the second half of the this piece...it is forthcoming in the next day or two.

    Just got a little side-tracked with my day job, as well as the importance of the emerging threat of female suicide bombers.

  5. Hi, excuse the near total ignorance, but was pulled here by an off-site link. Where's the second installment?

  6. Anonymous: You can read the second installment here -

    The al-Sahwa Team looks forward to your comments, questions, etc.