A new video released by Shabaab, al Qaeda’s branch in East Africa, details one of the jihadist group’s hit squads. The unit, dubbed the Muhammad bin Maslamah Battalion, appears to mainly operate within Somalia’s capital Mogadishu and in the Lower Shabelle region.
The video begins by showing the unit’s training camp, which is named after two former Shabaab leaders, Muhammad Ismail Yusuf and Hassan “Turki” Abdullahi Hersi. Yusuf was a former ideologue within the group, while Hersi, who was closely tied to al Qaeda, was a senior leader of Shabaab before his death. The latter reportedly had a falling out with Shabaab’s previous emir, Mukhtar Abu Zubayr, but at the time of his death in 2015, he was reportedly still a senior member of the group.
The jihadists are shown practicing assassinating targets in urban environments, as well as drive by shootings in vehicles and on motorcycles. The video then cuts to a short statement from Abu Ramla Muhammad Ahmad Roble, a killed Somali jihadist, in which he decries Somali police and government as kuffar [infidels]. Some of the unit’s assassinations within Mogadishu are then shown. It is unclear when the footage was recorded.
Most of the targets are reportedly members of local governance, Somali military personnel, Somali intelligence officers, and off-duty Somali policemen. The video also shows that the battalion is also responsible for many improvised explosive devices (IEDs) directed at African Union troops, or Somali government personnel in targeted killings.
While Shabaab routinely claims assassinations within Mogadishu and elsewhere, this is one of the first times the jihadist group has detailed these types of operations. According to data compiled from six months of Shabaab strikes by FDD’s Long War Journal, targeted assassinations accounted for roughly 16% of all claimed operations.
The data, accounting for all of Shabaab’s attacks from October 2017 to April 2018, recorded 419 total operational claims. 67 of these were assassinations, while of those, 49 took place inside Mogadishu. Many of Shabaab’s assassinations in the capital are covered by local media.
Shabaab’s videos of the targeted killings are similar to the Islamic State’s sporadic videos of similar operations within Mogadishu. The latter group appears to focus more on targeted assassinations; however, these are likely more opportunistic due to the Islamic State’s small and fractured presence inside the country as well as pressure on the group from Shabaab.