Al Ittihad Al Islamiya

Formed1984
DisbandedGroup is active.
First Attack1993: The AIAI allegedly aided Al Qaeda in an attack on U.S. soldiers in Operation Restore Hope. AIAI's Aden Hashi Ayrow was considered responsible for sparking the "Battle of Mogadishu," yet these claims are unverified (18 killed).[1]
Last AttackMay 3, 2005: Suspected members of AIAI and Takfir W’al Hijra bombed a stadium in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, where then Prime Minister Mohamed Ali Gedi was giving a speech. No group, however, has yet claimed responsibility (15 killed, 40 wounded). [2]
UpdatedJuly 18, 2012

Narrative Summary

Al Ittihad al Islamiya (AIAI) began as a nationalist movement to rid Somalia of the dictator Siad Barre and create an Islamic state. [3] The Ogaden War (1977-78), in which Somalia fought to emancipate the Ogaden region from Ethiopia, helped galvanize Islamist groups and increased recruitment of those who supported the war and believed that Ogaden was wrongly taken from Somalia during Somalia's colonialist period. [4] The two most prominent Islamist groups that were active in the war united in 1984 to form AIAI: Wahdat Al Shabab  (Unity of Islamic Youth) and Al Jama'a Al Islamiya (Islamic Association). [5] Whadat Al Shabab Al Islam was created by religious leaders in repulsion to Western values and worked to attract Muslim youth. [6] Similarly al-Jama was formed as a reaction to the West and was comprised of numerous Islamic organizations in Northern Somalia. [7]

Barre’s policies inadvertently helped radicalize Somali Islamists, creating a basin of religious opposition from which AIAI leaders could form the group and draw support. [8]  AIAI leadership and members disapproved of Siad Barre's attempt to introduce Karl Marx's scientific socialism in government and disliked his turn to Western powers for economic aid. [9] 

In 1991, the AIAI overthrew Siad Barre. Upon the ousting of Barre from power, the AIAI concentrated its efforts on emancipating Ogaden from Ethiopia. The group established training camps and launched attacks against Ethiopia with the help of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), an organization comprised of Somalis in Ogaden Ethiopia. This alliance, along with the AIAI's move of their capital to the Gedo region, which borders Ethiopia, signaled a threat to the Ethiopians who then acted to dismember the group. [10]

The timeframe in which the group declined is unclear. Overall the AIAI lacked internal cohesion and suffered from fighting between factions.[11] Moreover, the AIAI had attacked Ethiopia several times, which led Ethiopian forces to enter Somalia and retaliate against the AIAI. The AIAI was also weakened in fighting against the Somalia Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF), a separatist group based in the autonomous Puntland in the Northern region of Somaliland. [12]  Such confrontations drained the AIAI.  By 1997 the group's operational capabilities were greatly impaired and AIAI members resettled back into their former Somali clans or joined the nascent Islamic Courts Union.[13] [14]

However, some have accused the AIAI of attacks post 1997.  The UN claims that after September 11, 2001, the AIAI became further decentralized and dispersed to avoid being targeting by the US for its connections to Al Qaeda. [15]

Leadership

Warsame was the first leader of the AIAI. He is assumed to have recruited Sheikh Hassan Aweys around 1991 and was ironically opposed to war. [16] Sheikh Hassan Aweys recruited members of his Hawiye sub-clan to join AIAI, including Aden Hashi Farah Ayrow. [17] 

Hassan Abdullah Hersi al-Turki was accused of having strong ties with Al Qaeda. His affiliation to Al Qaeda included sending twenty men from his command to make arrangements for the United States Embassy attacks in Nairobi, Kenya, executed in August 1998. [18] In addition, Al Afghani also had strong ties to Al Qaeda and was one of the first founders of Al Qaeda affiliated cells within the AIAI.

  1. Hassan Abdullah Hersi al-Turki (Unknown to Unknown): Faction leader and prominent figure.[19]
  2. Al Afghani, aka Ibrahim Hajj Jama and Abubakar al Seyli'I (Unknown to Unknown): AIAI military commander.[20]
  3. Sheikh Ali Warsame (1984 to Unknown): Founder and leader of AIAI.[21]
  4. Sheikh Hassan Aweys (1991 to Unknown): Head of AIAI's military wing.[22]

Ideology & Goals

As Somalis migrated to the Middle East to study at universities in Egypt and work in Saudi Arabia in the 1960’s and 70’s, they were introduced to Wahabism. Upon returning to Somalia, these men imported this strict interpretation of Islam into Somali life, later leading to the formation of movements such as the AIAI. The AIAI contended that Islam could solve all of Somalia's problems and aimed to create an Islamic state in East Africa ruled by Shariah law. [23] Al-Jama'a al-Islamiyya strove to recreate a Salafist society, emulating Islam during the time of Mohammed the Prophet and striving towards the "purification" of Islam. [24] The AIAI amalgamated these views and presented itself as a political Islamic group that desired to oust the Barre regime and create a Shariah-based government that strongly condemned Sufi practices. [25]

Size Estimates

Designated/Listed

The US designated Al Ittihad as a terrorist organization on September 23, 2001. The UN also listed the organization on October 6th, 2001 under resolution 1333 for being associated with Al Qaeda and for "participating in the financing, planning, facilitating, preparing, or perpetrating of acts or activities by, in conjunction with, under the name of, on behalf or in support of supplying selling or transferring arms and related material or otherwise supporting acts or activities of Al Qaeda." [28] In October 2005, the British government also included the AIAI on its list of outlawed foreign groups whose assets would be frozen. [29]

Resources

AIAI acquired funds through criminal and business activities in and outside of Somalia. While AIAI earned profits from taxing the port of Bosasso, the group gained the majority of its revenue from abroad. [30]  In 1993, Al Qaeda was reportedly giving the group training, organizational, and logistical support. [31] 


External Influences

AIAI is believed to have been financially supported by Saudi-based organizations such as the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation (AHIF). [32] AHIF is a private, charitable, and educational organization based in Saudi Arabia working to promote Islamic teaching globally. The organization has been accused of supporting terrorism, employing AIAI members, and sending their salaries through the Al-Barakaat Bank, a bank designated in 2001 for its monetary services for Osama Bin Laden. [33] Even after the US and the UN designated the organization as a terrorist group in 2011, the AHIF continued to support AIAI, helping members with transportation to Saudi Arabia and aiding the group in obtaining Saudi residency permits. [34] 

Other Saudi charities such as Muslim World League and the International Islamic Relief Organization have allegedly funded the AIAI. [35]

Geographical Locations

AIAI did not exert wide-reaching international capabilities and mainly focused on activities within Somalia. [36] The AIAI's attacks on Ethiopian soil, including bombings and attempted assassinations of Ethiopian cabinet ministers  in 1996, were the only exception to this. [37]

After the fall of the Barre regime in the early 1990’s, the AIAI took control over northeast Somalia, including Bosasso port and hospital. This was the site of many strategic facilities. The group set up a large base near Qaw, west of Bosasso. The base was called Nasradin and became the regional center point of AIAI activity. [38] However, the group was largely destroyed by the Somali Salvation Democratic Front in the summer of 1992, which occupied the same region, forcing AIAI to move its operational base to Gedo, a region close to the Ethiopian border. [39] The AIAI also resurrected a base in Ras Kamboni, led by al-Turki. [40]

Targets & Tactics

Not all members of the AIAI agreed that the group should pursue a military path. The topic remained contentious, as certain leaders were supportive of armed jihad, while other conservative leaders were against it. However, after the United Somali Congress, an armed Hawiya clan group, attacked and defeated the AIAI in Kismaayo, the AIAI leadership was convinced that it needed to adopt violent tactics. [41]

After the Barre government deposed, the AIAI allegedly exploited the famine and instability plaguing Somalia by using social services to spread Islamic fundamentalism. As the Center for Defense Information explains, "the AIAI was able to fulfill the role of the government and win the hearts and minds of the people it 'served' while augmenting its power base and further spreading its ideology."[42] The AIAI has also been engaged in violent tactics that include the kidnapping and murder of aid workers, assassination attempts, and bombings. [43]

As for group structure, the AIAI is organized in units that operate freely. Though units share contact and can influence each other's actions, each unit acts independently in the absence of a unified AIAI command structure. [44]

Political Activities

While the group has maintained the political motive of creating an Islamic state since its inception, the AIAI declared itself an official Islamic party on September 22, 1991. It released a document called, "The Manifesto of an Islamic Party," and declared its refusal to form political alliances with non-Islamist parties. [45]

The AIAI acted as a political organization, compensating for the dearth of strong governmental institutions. The group entrenched itself in the business sector by promoting the formation of small businesses. The group undertook the development of Islamic Courts and the task of arming its military wing with weapons from the crippled Somali military. [46]

Major Attacks

  1. 1993: The AIAI allegedly aided Al Qaeda in an attack on U.S. soldiers in Operation Restore Hope. AIAI's Aden Hashi Ayrow was considered responsible for sparking the "Battle of Mogadishu," yet these claims are unverified. (18 killed).[47]
  2. 1996: AIAI claimed responsibility for bomb attacks in hotels in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and in Dire Dawa. (4 killed, 20 wounded).[48]
  3. July 1996: AIAI attempted to assassinate Ethiopia's Minister of Transport, a Somali and the Chairman of ESDL. (0 killed).[49]
  4. 1998: AIAI was responsible for the kidnapping of eight Red Cross workers and two pilots. The group demanded a ransom and then released the aid workers and pilots. (0 killed).[50]
  5. August 7, 1998: AIAI supported Al Qaeda in the bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. (230 killed, 4000 wounded).[51]
  6. August 21, 1999: US Embassy officials reported that AIAI detonated a mine under a train carrying 400 Dijibouti passengers. The blasts destroyed a locomotive, caused great damage to the railway line, shutting it down for four days. (0 killed, 2 wounded).[52]
  7. November 30, 2002: AIAI suspected of carrying out twin attacks on Israeli targets in Mombasa, Kenya. An Israeli-owned hotel was attacked along with two missiles fired at an Israeli jet that took off from the airport. (15 killed, 80 wounded).[53]
  8. May 3, 2005: Suspected members of AIAI and Takfir W’al Hijra bombed a stadium in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, where then Prime Minister Mohamed Ali Gedi was giving a speech. No group, however, has yet claimed responsibility. (15 killed, 40 wounded ).[54]

Relationships with Other Groups

The AIAI was accused of having a strong affiliation with Al Qaeda. This connection was established in 1993 when Osama Bin Laden financially supported AIAI, with the aim of creating an Al Qaeda base for operations in Somalia. [55] Some contend that Bin Laden donated up to three million dollars to support the formation of an AIAI administration. [56] The money also went to fund the AIAI military, while Al Qaeda gave the AIAI advice on establishing social services to win over the local population. [57] According to the UN, "the AIAI shares ideological, financial and training links with Al-Qaida and has fostered contacts with Al-Qaida-associated entities in North Africa and the Middle East, including Algeria's Armed Islamic Group; Egyptian Islamic Jihad; Le Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat (GSPC), listed as the Organization of Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb; the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group; the Islamic Army of Aden; the International Islamic Relief Organization (some offices of which are listed on the Consolidated List); and Revival of Islamic Heritage Society [58]

The AIAI allegedly helped Al Qaeda carry out the 1998 US embassy bombings in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi. [59] The AIAI also had strong ties with the ONLF. 

After achieving their goal of ousting Barre in the early 1990’s, the AIAI began to support the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) in their fight to liberate Ogaden, a region of eastern Ethiopia with a large Somali population. The two groups became linked as the AIAI housed fleeing ONLF members from Ethiopia and sent funds to the ONLF for training camps. The two groups coordinated attacks against Ethiopia, a move that prompted Ethiopia to invade Somalia and obliterate the AIAI.  [60] 

Although the AIAI did not officially split into another group after it was largely crushed by Ethiopian forces, many former AIAI helped form and run the Islamic Courts Union (ICU). [61] Some sources speculate that the AIAI birthed the ICU, but then lost control of the group as an increasing number of courts were established. The ICU absorbed a sizeable number of former AIAI members, such as Sheikh Dahir Aweys who also became a prominent leader of the ICU. [62]

Community Relationships

 AIAI built community relationships by providing for local Somalis' needs in the face of a weak government, making the group very popular between 1984 and 1991. The group established schools, orphanages, supported local religious magistrates, and provided security. [63] AIAI opened and supported small businesses in major cities to win favor from the population and subtly infuse Wahabi doctrine into the fabric of Somali society. [64] The group opened profitable businesses such as banks, import-export trading companies, bakeries, shopping centers, small industries, telecommunication, credit schemes, transport networks, relief organizations, and religious schools like the madrassas in Pakistan. [65] Furthermore, with the collapse of the Somali government in 1991, the AIAI was a source of employment for many Somalis.  However, due to AIAI's rejection of Sufism, clashes erupted in the mid 1980s, involving fatal stabbings and beatings on Mogadishu's streets. [66]

The population in the Gedo region also disliked the AIAI.  The AIAI moved to the Gedo region in 1992, creating a military and political entity in a region that was insecure and unstable. The group banned citizens from carrying weapons, provided security, and convinced several international NGO's and donors to conduct relief work in the area. However, Gedo residents were displeased with the AIA's forceful version of Shariah law and the banning of ghat. [67]


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    AIAI's ideology was a fusion of the goals of its previously merged groups. Wahdat al-Shabab al-Islaamiyya formed its core tenants around Wahhabism, calling for the strict interpretation of Islam, the oneness of God, and opposition to Sufism. {{Loewenstein, Lara. "Al-Ittihad al-Islamiyya and Political Islam in Somalia," Bologna Center Journal of International Affairs. Web. Accessed 9 July 2013. <http://bcjournal.org/volume-13/al-ittihad-al-islamiyya-and-political-islam-in-somalia.htm>l

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    In addition, the AIAI asserted that to create an Islamic state in Somalia, the country must be unified. The group asserted that Ogaden was part of the Somali state and thus attempted to force Ethiopia to relinquish control of the region. {{In the Spotlight: al-Ittihad al-Islami (AIAI)." CDI Center For Defense Information, 26 May, 2005. Web. Accessed 9 July 2013. <http://www.cdi.org/program/document.cfm?documentid=3026&amp;programID=39&amp;from_page=../about/cdifunding.cfm>

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