Two Somali Militant Groups, Once Adversaries, Join Forces and Promise More Attacks
Somalia’s two most powerful Islamic militant groups said Thursday that they planned to merge, which could result in the insurgency’s gaining strength.
Militants from the groups, the Shabab and Hizbul Islam, held a joint news conference at a mosque in Mogadishu, the capital, during which they threatened attacks against the African Union peacekeeping force in Mogadishu as well as attacks in Uganda and Burundi.
The merger could make it easier for the militants to overcome what an official from Hizbul Islam, Sheik Abdifitah Ali, called African mercenaries, a reference to the 8,000 peacekeepers from the African Union. The force helps protect the small slice of land controlled by the United Nations and the Somali government, which is supported by the United States and other Western nations.
“We have agreed to unite together and fight the foreign troops that back the apostate government,” Mr. Abdifitah said at the news conference.
Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage, a spokesman for the Shabab, said the groups would tell other militant fighters around the world that insurgents in Somalia had united. Officials from the groups said this month that the merger would take place.
“We are telling our mujahedeen brothers in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere in the world that we have united in one name — that is Al-Shabab,” Mr. Rage said. “From now on, we will concentrate our power on how we can redouble our attacks on foreign invaders.”
In the past, the two groups had battled each other for control of Somalia. Over the last several weeks, however, the Shabab took over areas previously held by Hizbul Islam, a development that helped bring about the merger.
Mr. Rage threatened attacks in Uganda and Burundi, the two countries that provide troops to the African Union force. The Shabab claimed responsibility for twin bombings in Uganda during the World Cup soccer final in July that killed 76 people.
The bombings were the Shabab’s first attack outside Somalia and heightened concerns about the group’s desire to expand its operations to attack other international targets.
The Shabab’s forces include several hundred foreign fighters, many of whom are veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.