NAIROBI: A hail of US. missiles aimed at the leader of Somalia’s al Shabaab militants may have left a gaping hole in the group’s leadership, potentially the biggest challenge to its unity since it emerged as a fighting force eight years ago.
Washington believes its laser-guided attack on Monday killed Ahmed Godane, who aligned al Shabaab with al Qaeda and authorized the group’s deadly raid on a Nairobi shopping mall last year.
Al Shabaab, usually vocal on social media and other channels of communication, has yet to comment. There may be good reason for its silence as it seeks a successor.
With no obvious candidate to replace the man who ruled al Shabaab with an iron fist and killed off many of his rivals, experts say there is a real chance his death would trigger in-fighting or the formation of smaller, potentially more dangerous, splinter movements. “If it is confirmed that he is in fact dead, it is a game changer in many ways for al Shabaab,” said Abdi Aynte, director of the Heritage Institute for Policy Studies in Mogadishu.
“What is likely to happen is a struggle for power,” he said. Fragmentation was also possible in the absence of a leader with Godane’s experience and ruthless approach to dissent, he added.
Somalia’s government, with support from African peacekeepers and Western intelligence, has battled to curb al Shabaab’s influence and drive the group from areas it has continued to control since it was expelled from Mogadishu in 2011.
Western governments and neighbors want to neutralize a group which they say has exploited Somalia’s chaos to train foreign fighters.
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