Gun-toting Shabaab insurgents staged rallies across Somalia Monday to celebrate their group’s recognition by Osama bin Laden’s successor as a member of the Islamist al-Qaeda network.
“The unification of al-Shabaab with al-Qaeda breaks the hearts of the enemy,” Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage told a crowd of several hundred in rebel-held Afgoye, just outside Somalia’s war-torn capital Mogadishu.
Extremists chanting anti-Western slogans ordered people to attend the rallies, witnesses said.
“At least 600 people gathered carrying placards supporting the unification of the two groups ─ people chanted Allahu Akbar (God is great)” said Abdikarin Adan, a witness.
“Businesses were shut after Shabaab fighters in cars with loudspeakers ordered people to attend the demonstration,” said Mohammed Sufi, another witness.
Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahri announced in a video message posted on jihadist forums last week that Shebab fighters had joined ranks with the Islamist network.
Shebab insurgents, fighting to overthrow the weak Western-backed government in the war-torn Horn of Africa country, proclaimed their allegiance to then al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in 2009.
“Mujahideen fighters worldwide, I promise you that the unification is a sign of the return of the Islamic caliphate worldwide,” Rage added.
Several demonstrations also took place across Shabaab-held southern Somalia including the port city of Merka, where the extremist gunmen ordered people to shut down businesses to attend the rally.