Al-Shabaab Faces Leadership Battle As Speculation Over Emir’s Health Mounts

The secretive head of al-Shabaab is reportedly critically ill, giving rise to speculation that the Somali Islamist group is re-organizing itself ahead of his possible demise. Ahmed Umar has been emir of the al-Qaeda affiliate in East Africa for nearly four years, but now reportedly bedridden for more than six months, the installation of a new leader could be imminent .

Details of Umar’s ailment are scarce. While it is possible he was badly injured in an attack, a Mogadishu-based source familiar with the militant group’s activities told the Terrorism Monitor that Umar is suffering from a serious kidney problem that affected first one and now both kidneys, and has left him fighting for his life.

Umar’s current location is unclear, but some reports say he is in the town of Jilib, in southern Somalia, where al-Shabaab maintains a stronghold. Others indicate the ailing leader may have fled to an undisclosed hideout in Gedo region, near the Kenyan border, following intensified bombardment by international forces.

Since the advent of Umar’s illness, the group has acted to save its leader’s life, paying doctors and providing costly treatments that are depleting the group’s financial resources. A consequence of this has been a failure to release funds to pay its fighters at battlefronts in parts of southern Somalia.

Umar’s condition is allegedly causing concern among the group’s top leadership, at a time when al-Shabaab is pinned down by troops with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

Sources say the situation is so critical that Umar’s deputies in the Shura, al-Shabaab’s executive council, have been meeting to discuss his possible succession. That has led to heated exchanges, splitting the council into different factions.

At the moment, the Shura, which has a mandate to make important decisions regarding targets, finances and the group’s ideological direction, is composed of eight members, among them Umar’s deputies Mahan Karate, who heads the Amniyat, al-Shabaab’s intelligence wing, Maalim Osman, the infantry commander, and Ali Dheere, the group’s spokesman. It is believed the three do not see eye to eye on the matter of succession.
Source: Jamestown Foundation