Possible death of brutal Al-Shabaab leader in US missile attack may see group splinter into bigger terror threat, say experts
Ahmed Abdi Godane ruled with an iron fist and has no obvious successors
A hail of US missiles aimed at the leader of Somalia’s al-Shabaab militants may have left a gaping hole in the group’s leadership, and potentially the biggest challenge to its unity since it emerged as a fighting force eight years ago.
Washington said it was still checking to see whether its laser-guided attack on Monday killed Ahmed Abdi Godane, who aligned al-Shabaab with al-Qa’ida and authorised the group’s deadly raid on a Nairobi shopping mall last year.
A US government source said that it is looking into a tweet from what it believed was a legitimate al-Shabaab account confirming the death.
If confirmed, experts say there is a real chance the death of the man who ruled the group with an iron fist and left no obvious successors would trigger infighting or the formation of smaller, potentially more dangerous splinter movements.
“If... he is in fact dead, it is a game changer in many ways for al-Shabaab,” said Abdi Aynte, director of the Heritage Institute for Policy Studies in Mogadishu, the Somali capital.
“What is likely to happen is a struggle for power,” he said. Fragmentation was also possible in the absence of a leader with Godane’s experience and ruthless approach to dissent.
In 2008, Godane’s predecessor, Aden Hashi Ayro, was killed in a similar US raid.
“This is a strategic ideology which cannot be destroyed by the elimination of an individual,” said Hussein Biihi, an elder in the Lower Shabelle region south of Mogadishu, where al-Shabaab remain a potent force despite a military offensive by African and Somali troops to recapture towns and territory.
But a new leader may not emerge so swiftly this time.
That is partly because Godane scrapped the shura council which picked him, seeing it as an apparent threat. Using tactics more akin to an African warlord, he also killed rivals or dissenting voices.
“There is not a clear, designated crown prince inside al-Shabaab,” said Stig Jarle Hansen, a Norwegian expert who has written a book on African jihadists, saying Godane’s “solo game” has made the group’s task of finding a new leader more difficult.
“If [Godane] is dead, that is serious for al-Shabaab, partly because of his leadership structure,” he said.
- 1 Exodus Gods and Kings: Ridley Scott never considered casting 'Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such' in lead role
- 2 This letter from a reader explains why women can’t play football
- 3 'You should come to my house and eat cheeses with me': 4-year-old sends adorable love letter to girl at school
- 4 Scientists predict green energy revolution after incredible new graphene discoveries
- 5 Michael Buerk wishes he'd killed Jimmy Savile when he had the chance - by pushing him overboard a cruise ship
Black Friday 2014: Opening times for Asda, John Lewis, GAME, PC World and Argos
Miss Honduras Maria Jose Alvarado's stylist Luis Alfredo Garcia is found stabbed to death
Sean Abbott: Messages of support flood in for bowler following death of batsman Phil Hughes
Dr Lam Hoe Yeoh: Voyeur doctor jailed for eight years after using network of hidden cameras to film patients, colleagues and friends on the toilet
'You should come to my house and eat cheeses with me': 4-year-old sends adorable love letter to girl at school
Ukip says babies born to immigrants in the UK should be classed as migrants – which would include Nigel Farage’s own children
The young are the new poor: Sharp increase in number of under-25s living in poverty, while over-65s are better off than ever
Tamir Rice: 12-year-old boy playing with fake gun dies after being shot by Ohio police
Obama: The only people with the right to object to immigration are Native Americans
Rochester aftermath: Sacking of Emily Thornberry will make work of Labour MPs '10 times harder'
Ed Miliband's 'north London set' must be demolished to save Labour, say critics
Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...