Al-Shabaab distributes Eid al-Fitr gifts in town it seized from Somali army

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Al-Shabaab militants continue to take control of strategic towns within central Somalia, in a dramatic move that could question the capacity of the country’s security forces, in restoring peace and stability ahead of exit of peacekeeping forces.

Photos posted by the militants last week show that it’s in charge of Ba’dweyne town in the Mudug region, Galmadug, a town that had been under the control of the Somali National Army [SNA]. The town fell to the militants last month according to reports.

Through proxy media houses, the Jihadists released photos where it distributed Eid al-Fitr gifts to over 300 residents as it strives to stamp authority in the country. Al-Shabaab is keen to topple the fragile UN-backed Somalia administration.

Some of the gifts that were distributed included goods, clothes, and the Holy Quran, with the group now aiming to expand authority across the country. In what could further wreck peace, clan elders, who are influential in the country’s peace process, were seen participating in the event.

This recent photoset comes just a few weeks after a previous release showed the jihadists distributing food across the town, further demonstrating the group’s continued control over the locale. The town is located in the perilous Middle Shebelle region.

In a statement, the group claimed its commanders met with elders from the local Qubeys clan, a sub-group of the much larger Dir clan, to “welcome the brothers from the clan who entered into the authority of the Islamic Shari’a and whose regions joined the Islamic Wilayats [provinces] under the control of Shabaab.”

Despite Shabaab’s positive spin on the agreement with the Qubeys, local media has reported the political deal was less than amicable. For instance, local media reported that Shabaab and clan elders penned a deal due to Qubeys militiamen taking part in several battles against Shabaab alongside the Somali military.

Prior to Shabaab taking control over Ba’adweyne last month, Somali troops fended off several prior attempts to take over the town. As a result, the recent agreement between Shabaab and the clan reportedly stipulated that the Qubeys will allow Shabaab to control the town if it does not take retribution against those who formerly fought against it.

The political arrangement with the Qubeys clan thus serves as another example of how Al-Shabaab manipulates Somalia’s intricate clan system for its own benefit and expansion. Similar deals with various clans and sub-clans throughout southern and central Somalia have allowed the group considerable operating space and popular support.

Local fighters had left the town last month, giving Al-Shabaab an opportunity to take over. The Somali government which often fights along with the militia is yet to comment on the unfolding events within the central region of the country.

In response to the latest development, Puntland and Galmadug have signed joint cooperation which will enable them to retake the border town. All states enjoy protection from organized local security forces.

Al-Shabaab previously made several attempts to capture Bacaadweyne. For instance, last June it launched a suicide assault on the local military base killing at least 6 people.

In December 2020, it briefly claimed control over the town before Somali authorities retook the locale with the help of Qubeys militiamen. And in January, at least 8 clan members were killed after another clash inside the town.

The central Mudug region has been the target of increased Al-Shabaab activity in recent years. Last year, the jihadist group assassinated the governor of Mudug in a suicide bombing while also mounting numerous attacks near Galkayo and El-Buur. Galmudug state forces have been in a contentious battle for control over several areas in the region since last summer.

While Al-Shabaab has put a considerable amount of resources into expanding in central and north-central Somalia, it continues to launch assaults in southern Somalia. Just yesterday, 6 people, including 5 police officers, were killed in a suicide bombing in Mogadishu claimed by Shabaab.

Somalia largely depends on the African Union Mission Forces and to some extent the American troops, who have since left for security sustainability. The African Union Mission Forces are expected to leave the country in the coming months.

The State Department ranked Al-Shabaab as one of the most dangerous terror groups and insisted on continued support to crush the militants. Al-Shabaab has recently suffered heavy losses following frequent airstrikes by the allied security operatives in the country.