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Al-Ittihad al-Islami (AIAI)

Al-Ittihad al-Islami (AIAI)

ALTERNATE NAME: Islamic Union

LEADER: Hassan Abdullah Hersi al-Turki

YEAR ESTABLISHED OR BECAME ACTIVE: 1990s

ESTIMATED SIZE: 2,000

USUAL AREA OF OPERATION: Somalia, with limited presence in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia and suspected but unproven existence in other countries of East Africa, particularly Kenya

OVERVIEW

Terrorism experts are of the opinion that Somalia's biggest Islamic extremist organization, Al-Ittihad al-Islami, rose to power after the fall of Muhammad Siad Barre regime. Al-Ittihad al-Islami (AIAI) is also known as Islamic Union or Somali Islamic Union and operates in many parts of the East African country.

Reportedly, the principal goal of Al-Ittihad al-Islami is to create an Islamic state in Somalia. Moreover, it also allegedly aims to liberate the Ogaden region of Ethiopia that the group claims is a part of Somalia and was unlawfully confiscated from the country during its colonialist period.

HISTORY

Experts often disagree on the actual period of the formation of AIAI. Some report that the AIAI was conceived after the 1991 crisis involving Siad Barre's ousting, whereas others are of the opinion that it was formed nearly a decade before the Barre crisis. According to these experts, AIAI was reportedly formed in 1983 as a result of the merger between Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya (Islamic Association, headed by Sheikh Mohamed Eissa, and based in the southern region of Somalia) and Wahdat Al-Shabab Al-Islam (Unity of Islamic Youth, commanded by Sheikh Ali-Warsame, and based in the northern region of the country). However, the majority of terrorism analysts tend to believe that AIAI was formed during the 1990s after the fall of the Barre regime.

Initially, AIAI allegedly focused its activities on influencing the Somalia population by encouraging them to support the take over of the Ogaden region of Ethiopia. Reportedly, this strategy was employed by the AIAI to intensify their power on their home territory. Monitor groups have observed that the majority of the group's preliminary activities, usually attacks on the Ethiopian government, focused on forcing the Ethiopian government to surrender control over Ogaden.

As thought by many anti-terrorism experts, during most of the 1990s AIAI was involved in similar terrorist attacks throughout Ethiopia. However, the Ethiopian military put up a fierce fight against these terrorist attacks that led to major financial and operational losses in the AIAI. Ethiopian government officials speculate that AIAI subsequently abandoned most of its original goals and allied itself with other terrorist organizations, such as al-Qaeda, and received extensive military training in several of al-Qaeda's bases in Afghanistan. AIAI also aimed many of its operations against the United States and its establishments in the region. U.S. government authorities and counter-terrorism experts have blamed Al-Ittihad al-Islami for gunning down two American helicopters and causing the deaths of 18 U.S. soldiers in 1993.

It was reported by the media and news agencies that the group allegedly carried out a series of bombings in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa in 1996 and 1997. However, 1996–1997, the Ethiopian armed forces attacked and killed several AIAI members, which allegedly resulted in weakening the AIAI power in Somalia. Again, in 1998, the U.S. State Department blamed the AIAI militia for the kidnapping of six Red Cross workers and two pilots in Somalia. Authorities also speculate that the group was involved in several attacks in November 2002 on Israelis in Kenya, including a rocket attack on an Israeli airliner.

After the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, the Bush administration demanded that the assets of AIAI be frozen and has placed AIAI on its Terrorist Exclusion List. Experts report that the organization has reduced its size and scope and is currently maintaining a low profile by engaging in small-scale terrorist activities.

PHILOSOPHY AND TACTICS

The AIAI is thought to be formed as a radical Islamic organization whose purpose is spreading the Islamic ideology in Somalia, and also to liberate the state of Ogaden from Ethiopia. U.S. intelligence agencies allege that the activities of AIAI are not just limited to Somalia, but that its mission is to establish a unified Islamic state in the Horn of Africa, which refers to the eastern African peninsula containing Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. Sometimes, Sudan and Kenya are also included.

LEADERSHIP

HASSAN ABDULLAH HERSI AL-TURKI

U.S. Government authorities claim that the AIAI has several factions and each faction reportedly has its own leader. AIAI is "factionalized" and "decentralized," according to intelligence reports. Hassan Abdullah Hersi al-Turki is allegedly a prominent leader of one of the main factions of AIAI. On June 3, 2004, the U.S. Department of State categorically blocked his assets in the United States and barred most transactions with him. Hassan Turki allegedly has close contacts with Al-Qaeda and has provided support for the acts of terrorism. Some reports also suggest that Mohamed Ali is the leader of the Togdheer faction based in Somaliland.

After the fall of the Barre dictatorship, Somalia was reportedly in utter chaos. The AIAI allegedly took advantage of this situation and actively engaged in several terrorist activities. At the time, the AIAI had appealed to the common people as well as the provisional government. Terrorism experts report that AIAI aimed to spread their fundamentalist Islamic ideology throughout the country and to gain the confidence of the general population, AIAI members supported various social causes, such as the establishment of schools, orphanages, and religious courts.

Since the government of Somalia was seemingly unstable, this allegedly led to the establishment of a so-called parallel government by the AIAI, which had won the hearts of the common people and succeeded in spreading its ideology. It is claimed by many government authorities that, at the time, AIAI actually developed its power base and spread its fundamentalist ideology under the mask of social and humanitarian services.

In the past, some of the tactics employed by AIAI members included kidnapping, bombing, and shootings. For instance, in 1993, AIAI members were suspected to be behind the killing of eighteen elite U.S. rangers in the Somalian capital of Mogadishu. The AIAI members allegedly gunned down two U.S. helicopters, which claimed the lives of many American soldiers. The U.S. Department of State has also accused the AIAI of a past history of participating in insurgent-style attacks against Ethiopian forces as well as other Somali factions.

Intelligence reports claim that AIAI maintains its own armed force and is responsible for carrying out its operations in many parts of Somalia and Ethiopia. It is alleged that AIAI is a multinational force with political aims going beyond the borders of Somalia, and it is in fact a part of international terrorist movements. AIAI is also accused of having international links with al-Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden. U.S. defense officials have alleged that the members of extreme AIAI factions and al-Qaeda share similar radical ideologies.

However, as of 2005, evidence suggests that AIAI has weakened over the years and has reportedly changed its tactics. The authorities speculate that most prominent members of AIAI now teach in schools and religious institutions with the purpose of recruiting young Islamic students. Government officials also reason that AIAI is involved in trade activities in Somalia. Al Barakaat, Somalia's largest commercial venture, was accused by officials of providing funding to AIAI. It is alleged that the group receives the majority of its funds from Middle East financiers and western Africa, and it is suspected that some AIAI members received training in Afghanistan in the past. According to some published reports, the group has received weapons in the past through Sudan and Eritrea. Experts state that most of these funds are spent on social causes such as establishing schools and orphanages.

KEY EVENTS

1990s:
The AIAI attained notoriety on the terrorism scene of Somalia.
1993:
Al-Ittihad al-Islami was accused by U.S. government for bringing down two American helicopters, which ensued into a battle that claimed the lives of 18 U.S. soldiers.
1996–1997:
The group was allegedly responsible for the serial bombings in public places in Addis and Ababa. During the same period, Ethiopian authorities allegedly attacked and killed hundreds of AIAI militia in a fierce battle.
1998:
The group was blamed for the kidnapping of several relief workers working for the Red Cross in Somalia.
2001:
U.S. Department of State listed AIAI in the Terrorist Exclusion List.
2004:
The group was allegedly involved in the attack on several relief aid workers in Somaliland.

OTHER PERSPECTIVES

According to a report published for the Congressional Research Center in 2002, the influence and strength of Al-Ittihad al-Islami is in dispute. The report mentioned, "Many Somali watchers believe that Al-Ittihad's strength is highly exaggerated and that information about its alleged links with international terrorist organizations is unreliable." The report further stated, "There is no reliable information or pattern of behavior to suggest that Al-Ittihad has an international agenda."

According to a report published by a United Nations panel in 2003, "Somalia has served as a transit point for international terrorists but its local militant groups appear to be less of a terrorist threat than feared." The report also claimed, "While the panel has found ample evidence that AIAI continues to operate in Somalia, it appears to have few formal links with al-Qaeda, and has a largely local agenda, which includes unification with other Somalimajority areas in neighboring states."

PRIMARY SOURCE
Mombasa nightclub attacked

A popular night club in the Kenyan port of Mombasa has been destroyed in an arson attack.

Nobody was hurt in the blaze which police said was caused by a number of petrol bombs thrown into the building at 0600 local time.

The European-owned Tembo disco was popular with tourists.

German manager, Walter Reif told AFP news agency that no-one was hurt in the incident.

"I'm not so sure who did it. Some unexploded Molotov cocktails have been recovered," he added.

On Tuesday, a Kenyan restaurant manager became the 11th Kenyan to die in the attack on the Paradise Hotel.

Lead investigator into the attack, William Lang'at, told AFP news agency that Wema Mutisya, 34, died from his injuries.

INVESTIGATION

Investigators say the bomb which destroyed the hotel was built in the flat of the key suspect, Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, who is believed by police to have owned the vehicle used in the attack.

Mr Nabhan's wife Fatuma, and brother are now reported to have been released on bail by a Mombasa court after being detained by police at the weekend.

Last week police released computer-generated images of two men they suspect carried out the failed simultaneous attack in Mombasa on an Israeli airliner.

The police also announced a $6,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of each man.

A statement dated 6 December, purportedly from the al-Qaeda network, claimed responsibility for the twin attacks and threatened more attacks on Israeli and U.S. targets.

But U.S. and Israeli officials have said al-Ittihad al-Islami, a Somali-based group with links to al-Qaeda, could be responsible.

If Mr Nabhan is hiding in Somalia, investigators believe it will be difficult to find him.

Somalia has not had a central government for more than a decade, and there are no law-enforcement agencies that could help track him down.

Source: BBC News, 2002

A report published by the Counter Terrorism Division of the FBI mentions that, "at various times from about 1992 until about 1993, Osama bin Laden, working together with members of the fatwa (a religious or judicial sentence pronounced by an Islamic religious leader) committee of al-Qaeda, disseminated fatwas to other members and associates of al-Qaeda which directed that the United States forces stationed in the Horn of Africa, including Somalia, should be attacked." The report went on to state that bin Laden has claimed responsibility for the deaths of 18 U.S. servicemen killed in "Operation Restore Hope" in Somalia in 1994.

SUMMARY

After the military defeat at the hands of Ethiopian armed forces, the AIAI stronghold allegedly dispersed into many smaller groups. As of 2005, little is known about the strength and prominent members of AIAI or the extent of their links with other terrorist organizations, including al-Qaeda.

An FBI counterterrorism report from March 2003 alleged that AIAI and al-Qaeda members were being trained for scuba diving to prepare them for attacks from the sea from ships that are passing around the Horn of Africa. Officials worry that the AIAI seems to be highly capable of such attacks and, since they keep a low profile, it is very difficult to gauge their capability.

PRIMARY SOURCE
Al-Ittihad al-Islami (AIAI)

DESCRIPTION

AIAI rose to prominence in the Horn of Africa in the early 1990s, following the downfall of the Siad Barre regime and the subsequent collapse of the Somali nation state into anarchy. AIAI was not internally cohesive and suffered divisions between factions supporting moderate Islam and more puritanical Islamic ideology. Following military defeats in 1996 and 1997, AIAI evolved into a loose network of highly compartmentalized cells, factions, and individuals with no central control or coordination. AIAI elements pursue a variety of agendas ranging from social services and education to insurgency activities in the Ogaden. Some AIAI-associated sheikhs espouse a radical fundamentalist version of Islam, with particular emphasis on a strict adherence to Sharia (Islamic law), a view often at odds with Somali emphasis on clan identity. A small number of AIAI-associated individuals have provided logistical support to and maintain ties with al-Qaeda; however, the network's central focus remains the establishment of an Islamic government in Somalia.

ACTIVITIES

Elements of AIAI may have been responsible for the kidnapping and murder of relief workers in Somalia and Somaliland in 2003 and 2004, and during the late 1990s. Factions of AIAI may also have been responsible for a series of bomb attacks in public places in Addis Ababa in 1996 and 1997. Most AIAI factions have recently concentrated on broadening their religious base, renewed emphasis on building businesses, and undertaking "hearts and minds" actions, such as sponsoring orphanages and schools and providing security that uses an Islamic legal structure in the areas where it is active.

STRENGTH

The actual membership strength is unknown.

LOCATION/AREA OF OPERATIONS

Primarily in Somalia, with a presence in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia, Kenya, and possibly Djibouti.

EXTERNAL AID

Receives funds from Middle East financiers and Somali diaspora communities in Europe, North America, and the Arabian Peninsula.

Source: U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Terrorism. Washington, D.C., 2004.

SOURCES

Web sites

CNN.com. "Islamic Group Suspected in Kenya Attacks." 〈http://cnnstudentnews.cnn.com/2002/WORLD/africa/11/29/somali.group/〉 (accessed September 21, 2005).

Center for Defense Information. "In the Spotlight: Al-Ittihad al-Islami (AIAI)." 〈http://www.cdi.org/program/document.cfm?DocumentID=3026&from_page=../index.cfm〉 (accessed September 21, 2005).

Federal Bureau of Investigation. "Testimony of J. T. Caruso, Acting Assistant Director, CounterTerrorism Division, FBI." 〈http://www.fbi.gov/congress/congress01/caruso121801.htm〉 (accessed September 21, 2005).

The Somaliland Times. "Terrorists Use Somalia As Hub." 〈http://www.somalilandtimes.net/2003/63/6304.htm〉 (accessed September 21, 2005).

U.S. Department of State, Department Of Defense Background Briefing. "Terrorist Threat in Horn of Africa." 〈http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/rm/8801.htm〉 (accessed August 9,2005).

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