Fighters are increasingly deserting Al-Shabaab, due to concerns about violations of Islamic law and excessive violence among the group, according to a report by the Jamestown Foundation. The youth deserters are fleeing the country and in some cases even joining the beleaguered Transitional Federal Government [TFG], as part of a trend that shows the difficulty that al-Shabaab has in keeping recruits.
On Dec. 19, 2010, the TFG presented six deserters to reporters at a press conference in Mogadishu. The group, which included senior commanders who had lead troops into battle, complained that Al-Shabaab "was not following the teaching of the Shari'a."
"In discussing the reasons for his departure from al-Shabaab, former commander Muhammad Farah Ali said he was forced to kill his deputy commander when the latter was injured in the fighting and needed treatment abroad," the report stated. "Muhammad Farah described the order as coming from Abu Mansur al-Amriki, an American al-Shabaab commander. Though Muhammad Farah regarded the order as unacceptable, he nevertheless carried it out for fear of his own safety before leaving the group."
In his own words, Farah stated, "If a fighter received a serious injury, they give an order to finish him because they would not have time to treat him. But if he received a small injury and was able to take up the gun again they will treat him."
The story echoes reports that another Shabaab commander, Shaykh Mukhtar Robow, "became infuriated with the movement's leadership when he learned one of his deputies had been killed by fighters loyal to Ahmad Abdi Godane to ensure the wounded deputy would 'die a martyr.'"
"They are all talking about killing people whether they are innocent or not. If you try to offer your comments you will face their wrath. The only option they have is killing, so I realized that their ambitions are not about religion," said Deeq Abdirahman, a 19-year-old deserter. "According to the young man, al-Shabaab policy says if a person defects after working with the group for more than six months, he must be killed because he knows the organization's secrets," the report stated.
"Al-Shabaab has implored Somali mothers to send their children for training at al-Shabaab camps. The group has also urged Somali youth to register at al-Shabaab offices for recruitment into the organization, which is involved in heavy fighting in Mogadishu and elsewhere in southern Somalia," the report said. "The movement is now training hundreds of young men to replace losses due to combat and desertion."
The report noted, however, that local recruitment has not been enough to replace Al-Shabaab's losses. "According to some deserters and government officials, such as former deputy speaker of parliament and Minister of Rehabilitation and Social Affairs Professor Muhammad Omar Dalha, a number of these foreigners, including al-Qaida operative Fazul Abdullah Muhammad (a native of the Comoros Islands) and American native Abu Mansur al-Amriki, are among those who have taken over the group's leadership," the report said.