The death on 7 June, 2011 of Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, al Qaeda’s leader in East Africa, has led not surprisingly to heavy media coverage of its impact on the situation in Somalia and future of al-Shabaab. In conversations with BBC World Service on 11 June and Radio France International on 12 June, I made the following points.
While the death of Fazul is a setback for al-Shabaab, it is not a fatal one.
Al-Shabaab has close links with al-Qaeda but operates with a significant degree of independence. It probably receives some limited financial and material support and perhaps some training through the al-Qaeda in East Africa branch.
Its links with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) are, however, more important than those with al-Qaeda central. It is not clear what kind of contact Fazul had with AQAP.
Al-Shabaab is also likely to attempt to step up its dramatic attacks against the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and African Union forces in Mogadishu. Following the death of Fazul, al-Shabaab carried out, for example, a successful suicide bombing attack against the TFG interior minister.
While the death of Fazul and recent success of TFG and African Union forces in Mogadishu have been a boost to morale and offer the TFG something to build upon, it still must resolve its internal political differences and present a program that is broadly attractive to most Somalis.
This goal is still far from the reach of the TFG. The international community has given the TFG another year to pull itself together. If it does not do so within a year, I believe international support for the TFG will disappear.