An al Qaeda-Somalia Connection?

In June, al Qaeda released a video seeking to undermine a UN-brokered peace deal that had recently been reached between the Somali transitional government and some opposition factions. Moderates rejected the call to violence, but more radical and militant groups, such as the notorious Shabab, stepped up their attacks, including toward UN personnel. They had not affirmed the connection with al Qaeda, however — until now at least. On the heels of another peace deal — the timing likely is not coincidental — Shabab is proclaiming its allegiance to bin Laden.

“We are negotiating how we can unite into one,” said Muktar Robow, a top military commander of Shabab, which the U.S. State Department designated a terrorist organization this year. “We will take our orders from Sheik Osama bin Laden because we are his students.”

A senior U.S. official tempered Shabab’s enthusiastic affirmation, which could be as much a tactic of provocative rhetoric as it is an indication of a stronger relationship between the two terrorist organizations.

U.S. Ambassador Michael E. Ranneberger acknowledged growing links between Shabab and Al Qaeda, but said ties remained in the early stages.

“There are indications of a fairly close Shabab-Al Qaeda connection, though it’s not clear to what extent they’ve been operationalized,” he said. “Is Shabab taking orders from Al Qaeda? I would say no. They are still running their own show.”

Even Shabab “running their own show,” of course, still poses a threat to Somalia’s fragile hopes for stability.