Rivalry turns violent: Al-Shabab and ISIS clash in Somalia

MOGADISHU, Somalia (Caasimada online) – Rival factions of the Somali extremist group Al-Shabab engaged in violent clashes in Puntland State over the weekend as the quest for territorial supremacy continued to fuel conflict. 

According to sources, the fighting began on Saturday night. It continued until early Sunday between militants affiliated with al-Qaeda and those linked to the Islamic State (ISIS) in the Bari region of eastern Somalia. 

The confrontations took place at wadi, or dry riverbeds, known as Dadamale and Qura’da in Ja’ayl, located more than 1,500 kilometers northeast of the capital city, Mogadishu. 

The disputed area lies in Balli Dhidin, where both Al-Shabab and ISIS are present.  

Notably, the district of Qandala in Bari, situated between Qandala and Bosaso, the main port town and commercial capital of Puntland, has seen heightened activity from extremist groups. 

Qandala District Commissioner Ahmed Yusuf confirmed the clashes to Caasimada Online, stating that the mountainous region’s residents had reported the conflict.  

“The two extremist groups have coexisted in the area, but it seems they are fighting for territorial control,” said Yusuf, adding that the situation remained tense. However, the area’s topography made it challenging to gather information. 

The mountainous terrain, dry riverbeds, and water streams have traditionally provided cover for the militants, enabling them to coexist.  

However, the latest outbreak of violence suggests that tensions between the rival factions have escalated, with the two groups seeking to expand their influence and control. 

How did IS break away from Al-Shabab?

In 2015, loyalists of Sheikh Abdulkadir Mumin, a high-ranking Al-Shabab official, declared their allegiance to ISIS, leading to an internal split within Al-Shabab. 

Since then, the two groups have engaged in sporadic clashes, challenging the Puntland administration and the Somali National Army.

Al-Shabab, estimated to have several thousand fighters, is considered the more dangerous of the two groups and has carried out multiple high-profile attacks in Somalia, killing civilians and security personnel.  

The group has also been responsible for attacks on neighboring countries such as Kenya, where it has targeted civilians, particularly in areas near the border with Somalia.  

In contrast, ISIS in Somalia is believed to have a relatively small presence, with several hundred militants. It has mainly targeted Al-Shabab and the Somali security forces.

The current situation 

The recent outbreak of violence between the two groups could potentially provide an advantage to the Somali National Army, which has been battling both Al-Shabab and ISIS for several months.  

The clashes, which reportedly lasted for hours, may have resulted in multiple deaths and injuries.  

However, the exact number of casualties remains unclear due to the area’s challenging terrain and the limited flow of information. 

The situation in Somalia has been challenging, with Al-Shabab and ISIS controlling large rural central and southern Somalia swathes. 

In response, the government has intensified its operations against the militant groups, receiving support from the US Africa Command, the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS), and local militia groups. 

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud declared total war against the militants on all fronts seven months ago. However, progress has been limited, and extremist groups remain a significant threat. 

The bottom line 

The violent clashes between rival factions of Al-Shabab and ISIS in Puntland State represent a concerning escalation in the conflict between these extremist groups.

 The territorial control dispute highlights Somalia’s complexity, with multiple actors vying for power and influence.  

While the latest outbreak of violence may allow the Somali National Army to gain ground, the ongoing threat from Al-Shabab and ISIS remains significant.