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In a meeting yesterday in the southern al-Shabaab-controlled port of Kismayo, leaders from the Islamist organization reportedly disagreed over last month's declaration of unity with al-Qaeda. The al-Shabaab nationalist faction, led by Mukhtar Robow (Abu Mansur) was not happy to be placed under the al-Qaeda banner, sources said on Wednesday.
Mukhtar Robow and Hussein Fidow (al-Shabaab's political chief) both arrived in Kismayo on Tuesday, where yesterday they held closed meetings with other al-Shabaab leaders, including Ahmed Godane and his deputy Ibrahim Afghani, as well as al-Shabaab head spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage (Ali Dheere).
A source close to al-Shabaab spoke to Somalia Report on the condition of anonymity.
"The ongoing conflict came about after Hussein Fidow fired Hassan Yakub as governor of Kismayo, which caused division after Fidow gave his position to a Hawiye man. Hassan Yakub said that he will continue holding the position and will not step down. This conflict has its roots in clan politics, because Robow and Yakub (who are both Rahanweyne) feel that they are being denied Kismayo based on their clan."
"The current issue is that Robow is not satisfied with the merging of al-Shabaab into al-Qaeda," he added.
"Since times have turned hard for al-Shabaab, there has been great disagreement between the top leaders. The dispute was over claiming that the group has merged with al-Qaeda, while others are not happy to use that name," a Kismayo resident, who asked to be called Abdirahman, told Somalia Report.
The declaration that al-Shabaab had become a branch of al-Qaeda was announced last month in a joint statement by al-Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahiri and Ahmed Godane. It was largely interpreted as a public relations move on the part of al-Shabaab's internationalist faction, headed by Godane, intended to shore up support in the face of the organization's flagging financial support and fleeing foreign fighters.
As is the case with many such declarations from al-Shabaab, a statement from one leader often does not represent the views of other factions.
Mukhtar Robow, who commands his Rahanweyne clan forces in the al-Shabaab heartland of Bay and Bakool, has traditionally pushed for al-Shabaab to set up an Islamic government in Somalia, with little interest in the wider agenda of global jihad.
Since the leaders arrived Kismayo and their disagreements became known, local residents have begun fearing that infighting will break out among the group, as it did when Ras Kamboni Brigades commander Ahmed Madobe broke with al-Shabaab in October 2009, leading to the Battle of Kismayo and the expulsion of Madobe's forces from the city.