Sudan, Ethiopia are on the agenda of the Somalia-based Al-Shabaab

This situation shows a terrorist cordon in the midst of a highly troubled environment that witnesses security turmoil, instability, civil wars and armed tribal conflicts.

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Sudan, Ethiopia are on the agenda of the Somalia-based Al-Shabaab

KHARTOUM – The recent attacks by the Somali al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabab militant group in the Ethiopian depth represent a dangerous development in the Horn of Africa. Nonetheless, the group does not intend to stop there but plans to spread to several countries, including Sudan.

Al-Shabab last July attacked several positions in eastern Ethiopia, Somali Region in Ethiopia, before the Ethiopian Defence Forces hit the assailants and prevent their advance.

The Ethiopian army inflicted heavy losses on the jihadist militants in lives and equipment, killed more than 100 of its members, captured 70 others and destroyed its military mechanisms.

However, their attacks indicate the launch of an expansion strategy on the ground to establish a military system with regional and external ramifications.

This step requires building armed groups affiliated with the organization in Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia as well as other countries in the Horn of Africa to enable them to reach all the troubled and unstable areas in East and Central Africa and the Red Sea Coast.

Expansion plans

Al-Shabab, which occupies about 25% of Somalia, plans to expand into Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia before heading to South Sudan, Sudan’s troubled areas in the Blue Nile region, the Sudan – Ethiopia border areas, and the Benishangul region.

Then they plan to advance north to link up with the armed Reform Movement of Eritrea, which has a large presence in the border areas between Eritrea and Sudan.

This development reveals a deployment map for terrorist cordon in a region experiencing security turmoil, instability, civil wars and tribal conflicts, in addition to border disputes between neighbouring countries. Further, the border porosity paves the way for the infiltration of terrorist elements to build gathering sites for their forces.

There is a field for the activity of these militant groups in more than one location and direction within the countries of the region.

This situation shows a terrorist cordon in the midst of a highly troubled environment that witnesses security turmoil, instability, civil wars and armed tribal conflicts.

If the penetration of the Somali youth movement into Ethiopia is described as a dangerous development, the most dangerous is their plans to advance to other regions, including South Sudan and Sudan.

Before retiring in July 2022, General Stephen Townsend, former Commander of the U.S. Military Command in Africa (AFRICOM), warned that the terrorist threat was escalating in the African continent, in light of the expansion of the activities of militant Islamist groups such as ISIS and al-Qaeda in a number of flashpoints of conflict and violence in eastern and western Africa.

Sudan… Eternal interest

The one who was particularly interested in Sudan is the Sudanese jihadist Ibrahim al-Qussi aka ” Abu Khabib al-Sudani” who confirmed in his latest publication the “Nuggets from the History of al-Qaeda”, which was issued several months ago, the extent of the interest of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in establishing branches in Somalia that will be the centre of its activity from Khartoum. Then formed the first “armed nucleus” of Somali fighters in Sudan during Laden’s presence in Sudan in the first quarter of the nineties.

Al-Qussi, one of bin Laden’s most important companions, who is currently the second man of al-Qaeda in Yemen, revealed that bin Laden, during his stay in Khartoum, established investment projects and economic companies that contributed to increasing his wealth and property.

This helped him implement several of al-Qaeda’s programs and plans aiming to penetrate African countries and build a “global front for jihad” based in Sudan and extending eastward to cover Eritrea, and Ethiopia before heading to Somalia, Djibouti and Kenya.

The plans included coordinating and allying with the Sudanese army to liberate South Sudan from the grip of the SPLM led by John Garang to establish Islamic law.

Al-Qussi was known for his warning message to the Americans in Somalia “Prepare your coffins and increase prosthetic limbs”. It illustrates the strong link between al-Qaeda in Yemen and its branch in Somalia, as it meant to incite the Somali al Shebab militant group to strike U.S. interests in Somalia.

In 2013, he sent his close friend Rashad Qureshi Osman aka “Abu Turab Al-Sudani” on an expedition to Sudan to explore establishing military cells along the Red Sea coast and using the mountain range and caves as training centres before launching military activity along the Red Sea coastline.

Sudan, the spearhead of the al-Shabab group

So far, there are no accurate statistics for the number of Kenyan, Ethiopian and Sudanese elements in the Somali al-Shabab group, but initial estimates indicate that the number of Kenyan fighters is second after the Somalis, then the Ethiopians in third place, followed by fighters from Arab countries and the Sudanese. However, the militant group has been intimately linked to the Sudanese jihadists.

Tariq Mohamed Nur, aka “Talha al-Sudani”, is the first to attempt to establish a branch of al-Qaeda in Somalia, when he was commissioned directly by Osama bin Laden. The relationship of al-Shabab with Sudan is stronger than with Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda, through networking that began with the establishment of the group in the second half of the year 2000 and before that with the Union of Islamic Courts.

In addition, large numbers of the leaders of the Somali movement studied in Sudanese universities and were connected to the former regime of President Omer al-Bashir. Among the most prominent of those who studied in Sudan and were associated with the former regime in Sudan were Ahmed Abdi Godan and the former deputy head of al-Shebab group Mukhtar Robow aka “Abu Mansour”, who was “recently appointed Minister of Religious Affairs and Combating Terrorism” in the new government after his defection from the militant group in 2015.

Also, large numbers of young Sudanese joined al-Shabab. The first vanguards to join the Somali group were Suhaib Salem and Abdel-Aziz Hassan Mubarak, both were killed in Mogadishu several years ago. Before them, there were Musab Bashir, Osama Salah and Mohamed Saleh, all three were killed during air strikes carried out by the U.S. Air Force on the headquarters of the group’s forces in southern Somalia.

In 2009, Sudanese security authorities arrested youth groups that tried to travel from Khartoum to join al-Shabaab's forces in Somalia. Also, facilitators who organised the travel of  Sudanese militants to Somalia were arrested. At the time, Somalia was a favourite attraction for Sudanese extremists who dubbed it “Afghanistan II”.

Among them is Abu Mohamed al-Sudani, the most prominent leader of The Guardians of Religion Organization affiliated with al-Qaeda in Syria. He was in Somalia before being killed in an air strike by the international coalition aircraft in the Syrian region of Idlib in 2020.

Sudan also served as a corridor and transit country for international terrorists who heading to Somalia to join al-Shabab through Khartoum. The Sudanese capital represented a starting point for the Islamist fighters from around the world to reach Somalia during the past two decades.

The escape of members of the terrorist cell involved in the assassination of U.S. diplomat John Granville in early 2008 to Somalia showed the strong relationship between the al-Shabab group and the Sudanese militants affiliated with al-Qaeda.

Muhannad Osman Youssif, Mohamed Makkawi Ibrahim, and Abdel Basit Haj al-Hassan appeared in the ranks of the al-Shabab group after their escape from Kober prison in Khartoum North in 2011.

A short time later, Youssif was killed during armed clashes against the American forces in the courtyard of the presidential palace in Mogadishu, while al-Shabab assassinated Ibrahim after his defection and allegiance to ISIS in 2015. Al-Hassan is still in the ranks of the al-Shebab group.

The departure of this trio from Sudan and their arrival in Somalia confirm the ease of infiltration of fighters from the country to Somalia through routes starting from the east of Sudan, passing through Eritrea, then Ethiopia, before reaching the final destination in Somalia. Vice versa, these militants can easily advance from Somalia to the same countries.

Execution of bin Laden’s will

The transition of the al-Shabab militant group from a Somali armed movement to an armed movement with multinational cells in Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan during the next stage poses the greatest threat to these countries, which are facing security and economic challenges.

The fragile stability of the four countries makes them fertile environments for the growth and rise of violent religious extremism and terrorism. In addition, the rise of polarization of the world community fuels further the expansion of terrorism and increases the warm-up of the terrorist groups.

Ethiopia recently dispatched more troops to Somalia to fight the militants of the al-Qaeda-affiliated group in response to cross-border attacks in Ethiopia in July.

According to Somali media, Ethiopian soldiers arrived in Gedo and the central Hiiraan regions.

On August 7, Ethiopian forces killed over 800 jihadist militants during days of heavy fighting near the border between the two countries and captured about 100 others, according to Mustafa Muhumed Omer, President of the Somali Region in Ethiopia.

Source:/Sudan Tribune

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