Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama

Formed1991
DisbandedGroup is active.
First AttackDecember 2008: ASWJ attempts to take control of the town Guri Ceel in the Galguduud province from Al-Shabab. However, Al-Shabab remains in power in the town (15 killed). [1]
Last AttackJune 15, 2011: ASWJ attacks and takes control of Al-Shabab’s posts in Dhirimaadie near Beledweyne. Two ASWJ members died while the rest of the casualties were Al-Shabab fighters (9 killed, 11 wounded). [2]
UpdatedJuly 18, 2012

Narrative Summary

Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama (ASWJ), which can be translated as "The Companions of the Prophet," is a Sufi paramilitary group created in 1991 to protect Sufis Muslims in Somalia. [3] The group felt that their version of Islam was under attack by the radical Islamist theology of groups such as Al Ittihad Al Islamia (AIAI). ASWJ fought off anti-Sufi attacks by calling for a rejuvenation of Sufism and the union of the three primary Sufi sects in Somalia: the Qadiriyya, the Salihiyya, and the Ahmadiyaa. [4] 


In 2009, ASWJ renounced its former non-violent stance, took up arms, and emerged as one of the country's key players in fighting the Islamist groups Al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam. [5]

 

ASWJ signed a power sharing agreement with the Transitional Federal Government  (TFG) of Somalia at a meeting in the Ethiopian capital in February 2010. The group agreed to help in the fight against Al-Shabab in exchange for cabinet positions. [6]  However, discord has emerged as ASWJ members claim that the government has failed to meet its promises.  


Despite bickering with the government, ASWJ is still recognized by the international community as an important ally to Somalia's TFG and thus was invited in April 2011 to attend the U.N.-organized consultation meeting in Nairobi. However, the group joined the TFG in formally declining the invitation, decrying the gathering as "meaningless" and one that will "only provide unsuccessful results because they hold a different agenda than the U.N." [7] Still, some ASWJ leaders did attend the conference, such as ASWJ spokesman, who believed the conference was an opportunity for the group to express its views and concern over the TFG and Al Shabab. The internal disagreement over attendance along with fighting over weapons and leadership caused a split in Ahlu Sunnah, a topic discussed at the conference and considered a large threat to regional stability. [8]

 

Ahlu Sunna is considered an integral factor to the political and security situation in Somalia and has thus been visited by several international delegations, including a Norwegian delegation in January 2011, and the Ethiopian Military Officers in March 2011.[9]

Leadership

ASWJ’s leadership dynamic is somewhat unclear. On February 22, 2009 the group announced that Sheikh Omar Sheikh Muhammad Farah was the head of the Administration of Central Somalia, a structure used to control the Galguduud province. However, on March 15, 2010 Sheikh Muhammad Sheikh Hassan was behind the power-sharing agreement signed with the Somali government. Thus, in mid-April 2012, ASWJ released a statement calling Hassan the leader of the organization while contending that Farah was to be the group’s spokesman.[10] 


Augustine Mahiga, the UN special envoy to Somalia, remarked on April 12, 2011 that ASWJ lacked a unified leadership and instead having "several regional leaders."[11]



  1. Sheikh Muhammad Sheikh Hassan (Unknown to Unknown): Leader[12]
  2. Sheikh Omar Sheikh Muhammad Farah (Unknown to Unknown): Spokesman[13]
  3. Sheikh Abdullahi Abdirahman Abu-Yussuf (Unknown to Unknown): Spokesman[14]
  4. Sheikh Hassan (Unknown to Unknown): Head of Education[15]
  5. Sheikh Yusuf Abu Qadi (Unknown to Unknown): Information Chief[16]
  6. Sharif Ali Ahmed (Unknown to Unknown): Information Secretary[17]
  7. Muktar Fidow (Unknown to Unknown): Field commander[18]
  8. Sheikh Adan Sheikh Abdi Nur (Unknown to Unknown): Field commander[19]
  9. Sheikh Abdiqadir Muhammad Somow (Unknown to Unknown): Spokesman[20]
  10. Sheikh Abdirazzaq Al Askari (Unknown to Unknown): Spokesman for Galguduud province[21]
  11. Abdullahi Abdu Ismail (Unknown to Unknown): Spokesman for Bay and Bakool province[22]
  12. Sheikh Hassan Sheikh Ahmed (Unknown to 2011): Chairman of Gedo region. Killed in a raid by Al Shabab forces.[23]

Ideology & Goals

Ahlu Sunna adheres to a mystical Sufi sect in Islam that appeared in the Horn of Africa in the 15th century. [24] The group's initial ideology was nonviolent and worked to unite three "tariqas," or "paths" of Sufi Islam: the Qadiriyya, Salihiyya, and Ahmadiyya. [25] The group also espouses ideology to counter the Al Ittihad Al Islamia and the Islamic Union. The group fights against Al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam because it believes that their interpretation of Islam is corrupt and illegitimate. Sheikh Omar Mohamed Farah, a leader in the group, explained that, "we are fighting in the name of God to eliminate those who are propagating a misinterpretation of this religion in the country." [26]

Size Estimates

According to ASWJ commanders and locals, 1,500 troops are located in the central region of Somalia while about 500 fighters are in the Gedo region. [27] 

Resources

Ahlu Sunna receives funding from locals within Somalia in exchange for their protective services. For example, in June 2010, tribal elders of the Galgudud region urged their populations to hand over weapons to  ASWJ, which occurred in a decorated ceremony attended by ASWJ officials and village leaders. In return, Ahlu Sunna promised to secure the Galgudud region. [29]

External Influences

Ahlu Sunna has received support from Ethiopia in the form of training and weapons since December 2008. [30] It is estimated that around 1,000 fighters trained inside Ethiopia for four months and then moved to operate in central Somalia. [31] However, ASWJ has also complained of Ethiopian troops forcing ASWJ group members to disarm [32] after an ASWJ group officer was charged with smuggling weapons over the Ethiopian and Kenyan borders into Somalia. [33]  

Geographical Locations

ASWJ primarily operates in the central regions of Galgadud, Gedo, and Mudug as well as parts of the capital Mogadishu. [34] A large number of ASWJ clerics are based in Mogadishu where they preach and give sermons. Yet the group's main region of operation is in the Galgadud province in central Somalia, where the group has fought off Hizbul Islam and Al-Shabab and formed an administrative center called the Administration of Central Somalia.[35] 

The group is also active in the Southern Al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam controlled regions of Bay, Bakool, and Gedo. [36]

Targets & Tactics

ASWJ formed to protect Sufi Muslims from groups that espouse radical Islamic ideology. The group strongly opposed Al Ijtihad Al Islamia (AIA), but relied on non-violent tactics including clerical preaching for the revitalization of Sufi sects and the unification of Sufi religious orders. [37] However in 2009, ASWJ began using force in response to the emergence of extremist, Islamic groups such as Al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam, who have directly targeted Sufis. {[38] Overall, the group's main tactic involves attacking Al-Shabab bases and overtaking villages from the control of rival groups.[39]

Political Activities

ASWJ signed an alliance with the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia (TFG) in 2010, but conflict between the two has emerged. A preliminary agreement was signed on February 18, 2010 which allocated to ASWJ five ministerial posts, five deputy-ministerial posts (out of the present 39 positions), as well as positions as directors, general of ministries, ambassadors, consular officers, and military and cultural attaches. [40]  

Yet, the degree of incorporation of ASWJ within the government is unclear. TFG minister of planning and international cooperation, Abdiwali Mohamed Ali, told BBC that the name "Ahlu Sunna Walijama" was just a label for the government militia, as "a number of senior ministers and military officials within the TFG and are well represented." [41] However, ASWJ contends that the group has only one senior figure in the TFG cabinet. 

ASWJ has made an effort to organize in the center of Somalia, which is perceived by some as a potential threat to the TFG. The group established an administration for the central region of Somalia independent of the TFG.  [42] Some sources contend that ASWJ "presents a political, military, and ideological challenge to the TFG," while others claim the group has no intention of competing with the TFG. In a meeting on June 13, 2009 commander Sheikh Omar Sheikh Mohammed Farah explained that ASWJ had "no political interest or agendas," and that its primary goal was to "help the government restore national security after eighteen years of war."[43]

In January 2013, ASWJ and the Galmudug administration signed an agreement to form a joint administration in certain regions in Central Somalia. [44] Galmudug is an independent region in Somalia founded in 2006 and known internationally for its high rates of kidnapping and piracy. [45] Control of the state is divided up between warlords and different clans, with the ASWJ controlling significant parts of the region. [46]




Major Attacks

  1. December 2008: Ahlu Sunna attempts to take control of the town Guri Ceel in the Galguduud province from Al Shabab. However, Al Shabab remains in power in the town (15 killed).[47]
  2. February 2009: Ahlu Sunna captures Al Shabab-controlled towns of Guri Ceel, Caabud Waaq, Dhusa Mareeb, Masagawa, and Cadaado in retaliation for Al Shabab desecrating Sufi shrines (Unknown).[48]
  3. March 16, 2009: ASWJ forces launch an attack to extricate Al Shabab from the Dusamreb area, displacing 300,000 people. (146 killed, 231 wounded).[49]
  4. June 5, 2009: ASWJ fighters clash with Al Shabab in Webho, central Somalia. One hundred and twenty combatants were killed along with three civilians (123 killed).[50]
  5. January 2010: Ahlu Sunna successfully fights off Hizbul Islam in Beledweyne while Hizbul Islam is fighting Al Shabab in Dobley. (Unknown).[51]
  6. January 2, 2010: Ahlu Sunna clashes with Al Shabab forces near Dusamareb, a town north of Mogadishu. This was the first time the two groups fought in this town since Ahlu Sunna ousted Al Shabab in 2008 (10 killed).[52]
  7. April 5, 2010: Ahlu Sunna claims to have attacked Al Shabab in the Rage Ele area in Middle Shabelle, driving them away. (17 killed, 20 wounded).[53]
  8. March 11, 2011: Ahlu Sunna and Ethiopian troops launched an attack against several Al Shabab holdings, such as Galgudud, in central Somalia. Ahlu Sunna suffered several casualties and thus retreated (15 killed).[54]
  9. April 24, 2011: Ahlu Sunnah won back the town of Dhusamareb, the group's stronghold in central Somalia, battling Al Shabab forces that had occupied the town the day before (11 killed, 18 wounded).[55]
  10. April 27, 2011: ASWJ worked with the TFG to surprise attack Al Shabab forces in the village of Tulo Barqaqo, in the Gedo region. The group was able to seize a large amount of Al Shabab's weapons including assault rifles, pistols, and explosive devices. Twenty Al Shabab men were killed (20 killed).[56]
  11. June 15, 2011: ASWJ attacked Al Shabab's posts in Dhirimaadie near Beledweyne and took them. Two ASWJ members died while the rest of the casualties were Al Shabab fighters (9 killed, 11 wounded).[57]

Relationships with Other Groups

Ahlu Sunna was founded to protect Sufis from Islamic extremists, and is therefore a rival to Hizbul Islam and Al-Shabab. ASWJ fights Al-Shabab for control of central Somalia and criticizes the group for using tactics that will hurt civilians. For example, in June 2013, ASWJ accused Al-Shabab of recruiting child soldiers from the region of Galgadud. [58]


Disagreements within ASWJ erupted in early April 2011 over senior leadership and weapons. The group was invited to attend U.N.-organized conference in Kenya, but the group leadership formally declined the invitation. [59] Some ASWJ leaders, however, decided to attend the conference, since they believed it was an opportunity for the group to express its views concerning the TFG and Al-Shabab. The internal disagreement over attendance, along with fighting over weapons and leadership, led to a split in Ahlu Sunnah. [60] This split weakened the TFG and ASWJ, as the Sade/Marehan clan members were instrumental in fighting Al-Shabab. 


In addition to internal conflicts, ASWJ has faced a threat from the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF). ASWJ has an antagonistic relationship with ONLF. In January 2012 a fight broke out between ONLF and ASWJ troops. According to an ASWJ official, tension with the ONLF has been continuous as “any time the ONLF crosses the border they carry out brutal attacks and torture the residents accusing them of spying for ASWJ and the Ethiopian government.” [61]


Community Relationships

ASWJ has taken up the role of monitoring the rise of extremism in central Somalia. The group has closed several mosques after accusing clerics of being too extreme. In addition, the group shut down Koranic schools the Galgudud region, which has been controversial among locals. This decision was made after the group's head of education, Sheikh Hassan, deemed that the curriculum these schools were teaching contained Al Qaeda ideology, and thus contradicted proper Islamic beliefs. Some residents agree with this decision, while others wished the group would have expelled teachers and replaced them with less radical ones so that their children can still receive Islamic educations.[62] The group also has monitored militia checkpoints and general abuse towards civilians at the hands of extremists.

ASWJ works to protect civilians from mistreatment at the hands of Al-Shabab. An ASWJ cleric of the Hiran region accused Al-Shabab of committing crimes against women, children, and elders in Beledweyn. [63] ASWJ has also criticized-Al Shabab for planting land mines and explosives in the Gedo region. Though the mines are meant only to target Ahlu Sunna and government forces, Ahlu Sunna has stated that the explosives could hurt many innocent people and their domestic animals. [64]

Several community leaders view Ahlu Sunna as a necessary barrier to protect their areas from Islamist extremists, and thus have supplied Ahlu Sunna with weapons. When elders in the Galgudud central region encouraged their populations to hand over weapons to Ahlu Sunna, they affirmed that the group is integral in "assuring the security of the region and protecting the region from problems," for the local people.[65] Ahlu Sunna is also seen as a mediating force in the region between rival clans.

Yet much like other militia groups in Somalia, ASWJ has banned several radio stations from operating in central Somalia.  Radio Abudwak and Radio Badbado were banned in November 2010. Shabelle Radio was banned for broadcasting anti-Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama reports.[66]



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  65. ^ "Somalia: Traditional Elders Call Local Tribes to Hand Over Their Weapons to Ahlu Sunna," allAfrica.com, 24 June, 2010. Web. Accessed 9 July 2013. <http://allafrica.com/stories/201006290245.html>
  66. ^ "Somalia: Ahlu Sunna bans Shabelle Radio from operating in central Somalia," gantdaily.com, 10 February, 2011. Web. Accessed 3 August 2012. <http://gantdaily.com/2011/02/10/somalia-ahlu-sunna-bans-shabelle-radio-from-operating-in-central-somalia/>

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