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Top al-Shabaab leaders reportedly held an emergency conference in Lower Shabelle region late on Sunday concerning the killing of senior al-Qaeda operative Bilal al-Barjawi, who was assassinated in a suspected American drone strike on Saturday in Elasha Biyaha.
The meeting was held in Lafoye district, which lies not far from Afgoye, 25 kilometers west of the capital Mogadishu. Other sources report that the meeting took place in Afgoye itself.
At the assembly, al-Shabaab officials including Ali Mohamud Rage, Hassan Dahir Aweys, Mukhtar Robow, as well as a number of foreign jihadists accused other al-Shabaab officials of being behind a conspiracy that resulted in al-Barjawi's death. Other al-Shabaab officials in attendance included the head of preaching and information, Sheikh Fuad Mohamed Kalaf, the head of the political office, Sheikh Ali Fidow, Sheikh Fuad Shangole, and Omar Hammami ("Al-Amriki") an American citizen raised in small-town Alabama. One of al-Shabaab’s most prominent leaders, Ahmed Godane, as well as several other foreign jihadists were absent from the meeting, for unknown reasons.
Mr. Rage, Mr. Aweys, and Mr. Robow reportedly believe Mr. al-Barjawi to have been assassinated though a conspiracy of al-Shabaab leaders allied with Mr. Godane, according to a junior al-Shabaab member who asked not be named because he had no authority to speak to the media. Somalia Report managed to reach Mr. Robow over the telephone, but he refused to comment on the meeting and referred our correspondent to al-Shabaab spokesman Ali Mohamud Rage. Calls to Mr. Rage went unanswered. Bilal al-Barjawi was said to be the deputy of the late al-Qaeda operative in East Africa, US embassy bomber Fazul Mohammed, who was killed in June of last year when he unknowingly ran into a checkpoint manned by Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) soldiers. Ahmed Godane has already been accused by other al-Shabaab officials of masterminding Mohammed's assassination, though Mr. Godane has not yet commented on the allegations.
“Their huge suspicion after the killing of Fazul, whom some of the Mujahideen believe was purposefully led into a trap, has been redoubled by the death of al-Barjawi, and is magnifying al-Shabaab's existing divisions,” an al-Shabaab junior officer in Afgoye told Somalia Report on the condition of anonymity.
Addressing several fighters gathering in the Alamada area in Elasha Biyaha on Sunday evening, al-Shabaab’s spokesman Mr. Rage questioned who was directing the missiles, and accused top officials of being involving in spying on the activities of other al-Shabaab leaders.
“Some of our colleagues may be involved in this latest killing to pursue their own goals, or there may be others outside our organization sent to spy on our activities,” Mr. Rage told his fighters. “We are still in the process of investigating how US drones managed and kill our brother,” he added.
Personal relationships between several senior al-Shabaab leaders of both foreign and Somali origin, particularly Mr. Robow and Mr. Godane, are weighed down by prolonged bitterness. The framework of future relations between these two sides may force to them split into two rival groups in the near future, according to Somali political analyst Abdi Fitah Jama. "Such problems over trust among al-Shabaab leaders really help to limit the ways the group can respond to increased military pressure from Ethiopia, Kenya and pro-TFG militias,” Mr. Jama told Somalia Report.
Several senior Islamist officials have been killed in Somalia since 2008, including former leader of al-Shabaab Aden Hashi Ayro, and senior al-Qaeda militant Salah Ali Nabhaan, both of whom were eliminated by US air strikes.