Severe Setbacks to al-Shabaab's Intelligence Service

The surrender of the head of the Amniyat, al Shabaab's intelligence service, and the death of his successor, would be the latest in a series of setbacks for the al-Shabaab militia since the death of its former leader. However, Dr. Shaul Shay believes al-Shabaab is far from being defeated

Zakariya Ismail Ahmed Hersi, the head of the Amniyat, al Shabaab's intelligence service, with a $3m bounty on his head has surrendered to Somali police, on December 27, 2014, in the Geddo region where Somalia borders Kenya and Ethiopia.

Military official Mohamed Osmail said that Hersi was hiding in a house in a border town, and made contact with government officials in order to hand himself in. Another intelligence source said the surrender was believed to have been motivated by a series of recent bloody splits and purges within the group, with Godane, the former leader of the group, having ruthlessly eliminated many of his rivals and his successor, Ahmad Umar Abu Ubaidah, continuing to maintain strict internal security.

Although presented by the Somali officials as a senior al-Shabaab operative, it was unclear if Hersi had still been active within the al-Shabaab in recent months or weeks, or if he was among a large group of commanders who had already fallen out with Godane prior to his death — some of whom were killed in a purge.

An al-Shabaab media spokesman claimed that Hersi had left the group two years ago and that he was then a mid-level commander - not intelligence chief as claimed by Somali officials.

Three days after the arrest of Hersi, his successor, was killed in a U.S. drone attack. The National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) of Somalia confirmed on December 30, 2014, the killing of al-Shabaab's intelligence chief Tahlil aka Abdishakur in a US drone strike. Abdishakur was killed in the US drone attack on December 29, 2014, night at around 8 p.m. near Saakow town in the middle Juba region of Somalia." Cooperation between Somali National Intelligence Agency and Americans has eliminated al-Shabaab secret service Al Amniyat chief," the statement said. The agency also said that two other al-Shabaab members were killed in the airstrike, but their identities were not disclosed.

The Pentagon said the airstrike took place in the vicinity of Saakow, Somalia. The statement from the pentagon provided no details, beyond saying it did not believe the attack caused any civilian or bystander casualties.

The Amniyat is a key organization within al Shabaab. It is instrumental in executing suicide attacks inside Somalia as well as in Kenya and other African nations, conducting assassinations, providing logistics and support for operations, and integrating the group's local and regional commands. The Amniyat is also responsible for protecting al Shabaab's emir, and in the past has carried out executions for the group's leader. American al-Shabaab commander Omar Hamami, senior Shabaab leader Ibrahim al Afghani, and other leaders were executed by the intelligence service on the orders of former emir Ahmed Abdi Godane.

African Union troops supporting Somalia's weak army have pushed al-Shabaab from major strongholds, including the capital, Mogadishu, in 2011. However, al-Shabaab fighters still carry out terror attacks in Somalia's capital and in neighboring countries that have contributed troops to the African Union Mission to Somalia.

On December 25, 2014, on Christmas day, al-Shabaab gunmen attacked the main African Union (AMISOM) base in Mogadishu. The AMISOM headquarters is located within the high-security compound of Mogadishu airport and hosts U.N. offices and African Union embassies. Al-Shabaab fighters have killed three AMISOM soldiers and a civilian after staging an attack on the force's heavily fortified headquarters. AMISOM said some of the attackers were wearing Somali national army uniforms when they breached the base camp around lunch hour and attempted to gain access to critical infrastructure. A Western security source said between 15 and 20 attackers were involved in the assault. AMISOM, said troops regained control of the base after the attack that left five of the assailants dead while three others were captured.

After the attack, the Shabaab released a statement vowing that “the mujahideen can and will, by the permission of Allah, strike you anywhere in Somalia. What awaits you will be far more grievous and bitter than all preceding attacks. Expect to hear from us again,” the group said.

The surrender of Hersi and the death of Abdishakur would be the latest in a series of setbacks for the al-Shabaab militia since the death of its former leader Ahmed Abdi Godane in another U.S. attack in September 2014.

Four years ago, al-Shabaab controlled large parts of central and southern Somalia, including most of the capital, Mogadishu. AMISOM forces and the Somali security forces have since pushed the armed group out of Somalia's major cities.

While the government offered an amnesty to al-Shabaab members in September 2014, none of the key members of the group has so far taken up the offer and al-Shabaab continues to launch periodic attacks, including an assault on the presidential palace in Mogadishu last month.

Despite suffering major losses, al-Shabaab is far from being defeated and remains a significant threat to the Somali regime and the neighboring countries like Ethiopia and Kenya.

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