Months after al-Shabaab pledged allegiance to al Qaeda, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is holding the Somali Islamist movement to its word. In an audiotape released Tuesday AQAP called on al-Shabaab to help the group gain control of the Strait of Bab-al-Mandab, the southern entrance to the Red Sea.
An important shipping route, gaining control of this waterway would mark a "great victory and global influence" for the two Islamist groups, according to al Qaeda in Yemen leader Said Ali al-Shihri. More importantly, according to one former Guantanamo detainee, the goal is to stop U.S. shipments of goods bound for Israel.
Al-Shabaab may try to accommodate al Qaeda's wishes, but the group may be stretched thin to do so as it battles the Somali government. The Western-backed government has recently vowed to take back full control of the country from Islamist rebels by launching a full scale offensive.
Wednesday, hundreds of armed al-Shabaab members poured into Mogadishu, causing many to flee. Witnesses reported seeing "a couple dozen armored vehicles full of al-Shabaab forces armed with machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47 rifles" traveling into the war-torn capital.
Friday, al Shabaab declared holy war on the Somali government. Al-Shabaab Official Sheikh Mukhtar Robow Abu Mansur told hundreds of supporters gathered at Nasrul-din Mosque for Friday prayers:
"We have prepared our Mujahidins for this war and we are urging you to join us in this religious undertaking because it's your religious responsibility, are you ready?"
The crowd reportedly replied, "Yes."
At least five people were killed and more than 35 were injured Friday evening as clashes erupted between al-Shabaab and government forces. Several mortar shells were fired and landed in residential areas.
While the African Union and several other African Nations, such as Djibouti and Kenya, have pledged support to the Somali government to help fight the Islamist rebels, it is a disturbing reminder of al-Shabaab's reach that some Western youth may be fighting on the opposite side, including 20 U.S. youths allegedly recruited from Minnesota.