Mogadishu — Confidential sources say that members of Al Shabaab group have prepared a "planned infiltration" of Somali security forces in Mogadishu, in consort with Islamist elements associated with recently elected Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, Garowe Online reports.
The sources speak of a multifaceted strategy involving a number of factors, including external interference. Since withdrawing from Mogadishu in Aug. 2011, Al Shabaab fighters have lost other key towns in the face of a military offensive by TFG forces aided by AMISOM peacekeepers and troops from neighboring countries.
"Islamist elements associated with President Hassan [Sheikh Mohamud] are pursuing a policy of negotiating with Al Shabaab group, as Al Shabaab has been severely weakened in recent months and is in a desperate position," said the sources.
The sources described a group known as 'Damul Jadid' ("new blood" in Arabic) as a breakaway faction of Al Islah Islamist group. Al-Islah is the Somali branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.
In 2006, when Ethiopian troops backed by the West intervened in south-central Somalia and captured Mogadishu, Damul Jadid broke away from the moderate Al-Islah group and joined the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) insurgency against TFG forces aided by Ethiopian troops.
Officials close to President Hassan have told Somali journalists that the new president is "not a member" of Islamist groups, but indicated that the president "has friends" among Islamist community.
The sources in Mogadishu say 'Damul Jadid' elements, who helped to fund President Hassan's election campaign with contributions from Qatar, are pursuing negotiations with Al Shabaab insurgents. Previously, Qatar government officials issued public remarks indicating political support for talks between the Somali government and Al Shabaab.
Many countries, including the U.S. and Ethiopia, oppose negotiations with Al Shabaab group, which is affiliated with Al Qaeda and responsible for relentless bombings, assassinations, and other terrorist attacks in Somalia.
However, the sources say there are efforts to incorporate Al Shabaab's rank and file into the Somali security forces based in Mogadishu. Last week, Hizbul Islam armed group announced it has withdrawn its allegiance from Al Shabaab, less than two weeks after President Hassan's election. READ: Hizbul Islam withdraws allegiance, says 'Al Shabaab is weakened'
The sources raised concerns about the series of seemingly inter-connected developments in Mogadishu. The plan is for Al Shabaab fighters to "re-brand" themselves as Hizbul Islam members, according to our sources.
"Hizbul Islam would enter into negotiations with the Somali government with the ultimate outcome of a peace deal that would pave the way for Al Shabaab fighters to join and indeed infiltrate the national security forces, which have been trained over recent years with considerable Western funding and technical assistance, through the AMISOM mission in Mogadishu," said one well-informed source.
Al Shabaab is blacklisted as an international terrorist group in Western countries and its members and affiliates are prosecuted.
It is not clear how advanced this strategy is or what role other external powers such as the U.S. government will play in this critical matter, but Al Shabaab extremist group has repeatedly rejected any negotiations with the Somali government.
"Even if there were negotiations, to what extent can the Somali government and the people trust Al Shabaab agents, and secondly, what impact will the incorporation of Al Shabaab fighters have on the psyche and rebuilding of the national forces?" asked one source.