The terror group al-Shabaab, which has linked with with Al Qaeda, faces a significant new challenge in its campaign to take over Somalia. The organization's brutal efforts to enforce Sharia law have engendered a backlash from Somali Sufis - adherents of a moderate form of Islam that emphasizes spiritual growth, moral education and tolerance.
In the past week, mainstream media stories like this and this have highlighted the rise of Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama, a Sufi group. The organization has taken up arms against al-Shabaab and defeated it in a number of recent battles.
Until last fall, Somali Sufis managed to stay out of their country's civil war. But that changed after al-Shabaab branded them heretics and started killing their imams and religious students. The group burned down Sufi shrines and opened Sufi graves and removed the bodies.
"In this world, they kill you. And when you die, you still cannot escape," a Sufi commander told the Washington Post.
"We had never told the Shabab how to worship," said Siyad Mohammed Ali, who was studying Islamic philosophy at a Sufi school. "But now we were under attack."
So, moderate Sufis (a group known for practicing nonviolence) grabbed guns and went to war to defend themselves against al-Shabaab. They have entered Mogadishu, the Somali capital, and formed a loose alliance with the country's Transitional Federal Government.
"It is an Islamist versus Islamist war, and the Sufi scholars are part of a broader Islamist movement that Western nations are counting on to repel Somalia's increasingly powerful extremists," Jeffrey Gettleman of the New York Times reported Sunday from Somalia. "Whether Somalia becomes a terrorist incubator and a genuine regional threat – which is already beginning to happen, with hundreds of heavily armed foreign jihadists flocking here to fight for the Shabaab –or whether this country finally steadies itself and ends the years of hunger, misery and bloodshed may hinge on who wins these battles in the next few months."