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

Nairobi

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.

Reuters

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration Engineer

£24000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: These refrigeration specialists...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Logistics and Supply Chain

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an operational role and...

Recruitment Genius: CNC Sheet Metal Worker / Fabricator

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working within the workshop of ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st / 2nd Line IT Support Engineer

£20000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This specialist high tech compa...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral