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Somalia Report recently interviewed one of the heads of al Shabaab's intelligence gathering unit in the south.
The subject, desiring to remain nameless, describes himself as the commander of the Mukhabarat (intelligence) group that collects reports and information from inside the major cities in southern Somalia. His men work both independently as well as in teams. They also collect reports from fighters in the field. Many of the statistics and claims he made are not verified, but are given as presented to offer one perspective on the conflict.
What is your job?
We collect data and reports on others. For example, sometimes you receive useful information about someone who works with the TFG (Somali government), banned agencies or there is a good chance that you can attack AMISOM and other non-muslim workers directly. We call on our armed brothers so that they can hit them. We have 45 mukhabaraat (intelligence) teams, including the security known as Amniyaat.
My team is called al-Ansaar (the Helpers), we mostly work in Lower Shabelle, Bay, Mogadishu and we live amongst the people.
Is Al-Shabaab going to change its name?
I can say yes, because some of the mujahideen leaders have already expressed the importance of building an Islamic government or Islamic Imarah (Emirate), as you see in the Holy Quran in the verses that call all Muslims to unite. In this case, establishing an Imarah makes for better unity among brothers. When you are in meetings you hear different groups like Ictisaam (Implementation), Itihaaad (Unity), Takfiir (Apostasy) and so others.
How many al-Shabaab fighters are in Somalia now?
Honestly, I have no idea of the real number of Mujahideen. They are not more than eight thousand, because some of them died and achieved paradise during the last clashes in Mogadishu and other regions.
What about before these clashes? How many were there then?
I think it was about 12-14 thousand, because we received hundreds of volunteer fighters coming from both inside and outside of the country, including businessmen, scholars and students.
How many are foreigners?
Mujahadin brothers? They are many. They come from Kenya, Nigeria, Sudan, Libya, the United States and Zanzibar.
Allah be praised, mostly they are well educated. Some of them brought their computers and are very happy to stay with us, but we see them very rarely. Last Monday I saw four mujahadin in Afgoye. They move and cross all al-Shabab areas.
So they are not in one position?
You are talking about military issues, and I don’t want to talk much about the mujahadin, fearing Allah.
Can you keep Kismayo from the Kenyans?
To put it simply: Yes. We will defend all towns, including Kismayo, Gedo, Bay and others. All the disbelieving countries have allied to fight against us. We will kick out, inshallah, all their air forces, infantry and all other military elements. We are prepared and our teams have done well, we taught them lessons.
Which enemy is the hardest to fight: TFG, Kenyans, ASWJ, Ras Kamboni or Ethiopians?
Number one Ethiopia, number two Kenya because they invaded the country illegally. I know that they are against this Muslim community and our independence.
Are you trying to re-take Mogadishu or just do hit and run attacks?
Kamiinah (Guerilla attacks) damages the enemy because now they are spread out. So it’s easy to kill. This is what we are expecting to escalate.
How do I know you are really al-Shabaab?
You know me. I saw you in Mogadishu's stadium last year.
Do you work with pirates?
No, but they are also against other alliances of the disbelievers in the sea, just as we are doing in the land.
It sounds like al Shabaab has a relation, however minor, with pirates?
We are different, they are after money and we are defending our faith.
Are you holding any foreign hostages?
I don't have their numbers but yes, some.
Where are you keeping them?
I heard you are keeping two foreign female aid workers?
The only thing that I can tell you is that “they were kept in a flat in Afgoye and now they are in custody.”
When will you let them go?
How are you getting funding now that the Mogadishu seaport is closed, Bakara is gone and Kismayo is blockaded?
We are in our community, if Kismayo is blocked or Mogadishu seized, we will fight.
Reports say you collect money asking people to pay Zakat and use it to fight. What is your idea about that?
Totally wrong. I believe that we are doing right.
Others say you have been getting funds from Libya and some of the Khaleej (Gulf) countries, including the Somali Diaspora?
If your brother gave you money, can we say you are getting funds from that?
What are your goals in Somalia?
It’s clear we want to live under the flag of Islam. We also want to spread Islam to all the world.
Do you intent to target neighboring countries?
They invaded us and we will target them. Just as we have brothers in Kenya, how many bombs and attacks you heard from Kenya? It is brand new. Also we sent some of my teams two months ago, a rain will come.
How many women do you have as fighters?
Approximately seven hundred to five hundred, they are not more than that.
What exactly do the women fighters do?
They are not separate, they are with their husbands and their brothers.
Where are your main bases now?
We are mainly based in southern Somalia, but we have bases in Lower Shabelle region, Lower Juba, Bay and Gedo.
Who is the leader of al-Shabaab now? Do Godane and Robow get along?
Sheikh Abu Zubeir, known as Ahmed Godane, is the leader. Sheikh Mukhtar Robow is the top military commander of al-Shabaab and he has the support of most fighters. Thirdly was Ibrahim Afghan, whom we call Moalim Ali; but I heard recently that Afghan, Sheikh Fuad Shangole and Moalim Burhan, chairman of al Shabab’s defense committee, have all resigned.