, MOGADISHU, Jun 30 – Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab extremists have killed two of their own top commanders, one with a $5 million United States bounty on his head, the insurgents said on Saturday.
“We have informed their widows of their deaths, as they must now wear the clothes of mourning,” Shabaab spokesman Abdulaziz Abu Musab told AFP.
The pair killed are two co-founders of the Islamist group, including US-wanted Ibrahim Haji Jama Mead, better known by his nickname Al-Afghani – “the Afghan” – due to his training and fighting with Islamist guerrillas there.
Washington offered the $5 million bounty for Afghani, who opposed the command of top Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane.
Godane, who the US have offered $7 million for, earlier this month ordered the arrest of Afghani and at least a dozen other leaders, according to security sources.
Shabaab gunmen also killed Abul Hamid Hashi Olhayi, named as another senior commander and co-founder of the group.
The deaths show the splits in the long-running insurgency to topple the internationally-backed government, but also signal Godane’s efforts to sweep away opposition to his command and cement his more radical leadership.
Family members – including Afghani’s sister – said they were arrested and then executed, but the Shabaab said they were killed during a gun battle.
“We deny reports that the men were killed after capture,” Musab told AFP.
“The two men were killed in a shoot out when they were resisting arrest on court orders.”
Somalia’s al Shabaab is fractured into multiple rival factions, some based along clan lines and others ideological.
Some are more attracted by a nationalist agenda to oust foreign forces from Somalia, while others – including Godane – have more international jihadi ambitions.
However, despite its divisions, analysts say it remains a dangerous and powerful force.
Earlier this month the Shabaab showed their strength with a brazen daylight attack on a fortified United Nations compound in Mogadishu, with a seven-man suicide commando blasting into the complex and starting a gun battle to the death.
The coordinated attack on the UN killed 11, tactics already tried in April when they attacked a Mogadishu court house.