The Untold Story of ash-Shabāb’s Bay`ah to al-Qā`idah
As documented in the Abbottabad documents, we know that Mukhtār Abū Zubayr (the former leader of ash-Shabāb) attempted to pledge allegiance to al-Qā`idah however this move was rejected by Usāmah bin Lādin.
What many don’t know is that the main driving force behind this was actually Abū Bakr az-Zayla`ī who’d constantly insist that ash-Shabāb pledges allegiance to al-Qā’idah in the hopes of bringing about what he considered reforms to ash-Shabāb.
Abū Bakr az-Zayla`ī began pressing Abū Zubayr to pledge allegiance to al-Qā`idah once again after Dr. Ayman ath-Thawāhirī assumed the reins of leadership, however Abū Zubayr was adamant on avoiding the issue and kept presenting excuses such as the time being not right and so forth. The truth is - and Allāh knows best - that Abū Zubayr feared for his position and was afraid somebody else would be appointed to the position of leadership as we will see.
With that said, we have to go back to events before the pledge took place to understand the whole story.
Since the inception of ash-Shabāb Abū Zubayr had a small circle consisting of three individuals who co-founded the group: Abū Bakr az-Zayla`ī, Abū Mansūr Mukhtār Robow and Fu`ād Muhammad Khalaf (more commonly know Fu`ād Shongole).
This circle was known as “The Sharī`ah Committee” which was part of the broader “Shūrā Committee”. Part of the authority “The Sharī`ah Committee” had was that Abū Zubayr would not take any decision or carry out an operation until he consulted this committee.
To the surprise of the three men Abū Zubayr began taking decisions and carrying out operations without their knowledge or consent, and so they began reprimanding him and reminding him of the agreement between them.
However, being obstinate Abū Zubayr continued in his ways and continued ignoring their advice, and this is when heinous crimes began to occur. Not much later, the three men presented their resignation from “The Sharī`ah Committee” after seeing they had no authority or say in any of the affairs.
After the resignation of the three men Abū Zubayr appointed three different men, who were neither people of knowledge nor had they prior jihād experience (one of them being ash-Shabāb’s current spokesman, `Ali Dheere). Additionally he founded another committee consisting of ten men, which was called “The Committee of Arbitration” and Zubayr al-Muhājir was appointed as head of this new committee.
A short while later Abū Zubayr held a meeting with the newly founded “Committee of Arbitration”, however those present at the meeting were surprised at the absence of az-Zayla`ī, Fu`ad and Roobow. Upon being asked regarding their absence Abū Zubayr replied that they had “abandoned jihād” and went on to accuse them of “not listening and obeying”.
The attendees were not convinced by Abū Zubayr`s answers and decided to hold a separate meeting with the former “Sharī`ah Committee” to ask them what was at hand. Abū Zubayr approved of this and reassured them that they were the “Committee of Arbitration” and that the matter was in their hands, even if it lead to removing him (Abū Zubayr) from power.
Upon meeting the former “Sharī`ah Committee” they were shocked to find that they had produced a statement stating that Abū Zubayr has opposed the Sharī`ah in almost a dozen cases, such as usurping people’s wealth, recruiting child soldiers, exiling foreign fighters (who'd be taken to the Kenyan border & then arrested), secret prisons and other cases they’d mentioned.
The “Committee of Arbitration” then went through their statement and after that went to Abū Zubayr to hear his side. Upon hearing both sides the committee passed the following verdicts:
- Abū Bakr az-Zayla`ī, Mukhtār Roobow and Fū`ād Shongole were to reassume their previous positions.
- Their statement accusing Abū Zubayr of opposing the sharī`ah was to be sent Sh. Hassān Husayn Ādam (in Kenya) to review the accusations. Mu`allim Burhān was tasked with corresponding with Sh. Hassān.
- A new leader would be appointed after six months.
The response came from Sh. Hassān after reviewing the cases, and it was in the favor of the three men and it was proven that Abū Zubayr had opposed the Sharī’ah in most cases that were mentioned.
One of the issues held against Abū Zubayr was that he claimed shūrā (seeking counsel) wasn’t binding upon him and that it was merely a preference. The answer given by Sh. Hassān was that it was religiously binding and not a mere preference. When Mu`allim Burhān presented this and the rest of the answers to Abū Zubayr he threatened him and said: “If you proclaim this on the day of our scheduled meeting I’ll behead you, and if you reveal some of the other answers I’ll behead you as well”. He allowed him to reveal two or three answers which were in his favor. Unfortunately Mu`allim Burhān kept many of the answers and this incident a secret fearing for his life, however he revealed everything shortly before he was assassinated by ash-Shabāb.
So, what happened after that?
After a while ash-Shabāb retreated their forces from Mogadishu and settled in the nearby outskirts of `Eelasha, the clock was ticking and the six month period was almost over. But suddenly Abū Zubayr did the unimaginable, he did what he had been avoiding all this time, and that was pledging allegiance to al-Qā`idah.
Everybody was shocked to find out that ash-Shabāb had pledged allegiance to al-Qā`idah after hearing it broadcasted over ash-Shabāb’s Radio Andalus.
What’s interesting is how Abū Zubayr shamelessly lied in his audio statement in which he proclaimed his allegiance and said: “On behalf of my brothers in the ash-Shabāb movement, be they leaders or soldiers, I pledge allegiance to you…”.
While in reality his “brothers” and the “leaders” who he claimed had entrusted him this knew nothing of this pledge of allegiance except after hearing about through various media outlets!
After the six months were due everybody involved in the case gathered together as was agreed upon. The ”Committee of Arbitration” headed by Zubayr al-Muhājir announced on the spot that Abū Zubayr was to be removed from power and somebody else was to be appointed. This decision was opposed by the new “Sharī`ah Committee” (who obviously were also going to be removed from power along with Abū Zubayr) and argued that he can't be removed from power after he had pledged to al-Qā`idah, nor has he been imprisoned or disbelieved. The ”Committee of Arbitration” responded that this was all baseless and that they had passed their verdicts prior to that. Commotion erupted and voices were raised, all of this as Abū Zubayr sat there silently in his usual cunning fashion.
In the end it was agreed to gather together in an upcoming meeting and to vote on wether to sack Abū Zubayr or to keep him in power. When the time came Abū Zubayr arrived at the scene with many of his supporters to outnumber his opponents, when the votes were counted needless to say those of his supporters outweighed those of his opponents.
And thus, using such deception and plotting Abū Zubayr managed to preserve his authority. Now that he’d done that, it was time for him to settle the scores with those who opposed him to affirm his authority further. He killed Abū Bakr az-Zayla`ī and Mu`allim Burhān in one night, and soon after that he killed Abū Mansūr al-Amrīkī. He forced Mukhtār Roobow to live in exile among his clan in a remote village, he imprisoned Zubayr al-Muhājir in one of his secret dungeons for three years, he kept Hasan Turkī under house arrest in the village of Hargeisa Yareey until he died of high blood pressure, and he caused Hasan Dahir Uways to flee for his life who’s now under house arrest in Mogadishu (it’s noteworthy that Abū Zubayr assigned a monthly stipend of $10,000 to buy his loyalty, however Hasan refused his attempts).
Whether az-Zayla`ī’s insistence on pledging to al-Qā`idah was the right thing to do or whether al-Qā`idah is even effective on the ground is a whole different subject. But what’s certain is that ash-Shabāb’s pledge to al-Qā`idah was nothing more than a pledge of convenience and continues to be so.