Somalia's Al Qaeda-backed militant group Al-Shabab has launched an on-line "news" channel called Al Kataib, and its first propaganda newscast, in English, uses graphic footage to warn African countries to stop sending troops to Somalia. The launch comes as U.S. and Somali officials warn of Al Shabab's increased sophistication, and strengthening ties to Al Qaeda.
The 21-minute videotape, called "Mogadishu: The Crusaders Graveyard" shows Al Shabab fighters taking on Ugandan and Burundian peacekeepers. It is narrated in English and formatted like a Western news program, complete with sophisticated graphics, an on-screen Al Kataib logo, and even a traditional stand-up with a jihadist fighter standing in front of a destroyed tank. Face covered, the jihadi signs off "Al Kataib News Channel, live from the frontlines of Mogadishu."
While most of the ire in the Al Shabab broadcast is reserved for Uganda and the African Union Mission in Somalia, also known as AMISOM, there are several references directly to the United States and its support of African Union troops. The video specifically references 1993's Black Hawk Down incident where Somali warlords killed 18 U.S. soldiers and dragged their dead bodies through the streets of Mogadishu. In this video a burnt AMISOM soldier is shown and the mission is given a warning.
"Just like Americans and Ethiopians, who's bodies have been dragged in the streets of Mogadishu, the charred bodies of your soldiers have now received the well-deserved treatment," the narrator says.
Al Shabab's message is that AU troops are Christian crusaders backed by the US and other Western powers that want to occupy Muslim Somalia, and given the format of the newscast, the target audience clearly extends beyond the Somali population.
The growing sophistication of Al Shabab, and the growing presence of foreign fighters within the group's ranks, are a concern for the United States, Somalia and Africa Union officials. They warn that the recent suicide bomb attacks in Uganda are a sign that Al Shabab is growing closer with Al Qaeda and becoming a global terrorism threat.
"The bombings in Kampala on July 11th were a wake-up call for the region and also for much of the international community," Johnnie Carson, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs told reporters from Uganda, where he attended the African Union Summit that ended earlier this week. "The threat emanating from Somalia is not only a concern about refugees and illegal arms, but now one of terrorism."
Al Shabab claimed responsibility for the blasts, which killed 76 people in a crowd gathered to watch the World Cup final, saying they were retaliation for Uganda contributing peacekeepers to the African Union's Mission in Somalia, also known as AMISOM. The attacks were the first known suicide bombing s by the terror group outside of Somalia, a fact that has troubled Western and regional officials.
"We all have to take this threat seriously, knowing full well there are also, in the Mogadishu area and in Southern Somalia, individuals who have been associated and affiliated with Al Qaeda and who have also demonstrated both the will and the capacity to strike" said Carson.