Somalia (MNN) — ISIS is trying to recruit members of Somalia’s al-Shabaab terror group.
It would make sense, considering the two factions use the same ideology and methodology in subjugating territory.
Despite ISIS’s territorial gains in Iraq, Syria, and parts of Afghanistan and Libya, it holds no real territory in Somalia. But it’s not for the lack of trying. After al-Shabaab drove off Kenyan troops stationed at an African Union base in Somalia, rumors swirled that al-Shabaab was preparing to join forces with ISIS.
Todd Nettleton, a spokesman with the Voice of the Martyrs USA, explains, “Last year, there was a faction of al-Shabaab–or the leader of a faction within al-Shabaab–that did pledge allegiance to ISIS. Al-Shabaab has been linked to al-Qaeda; they pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2009. That may be a part of that.” However, the al-Shabaab response to ISIS overtures was violent. Members of the al-Qaeda-related group hunted down the ISIS dissenters in a series of ambushes and attacks, revealing a previously unknown fracture in group loyalties.
Nettleton explains, “We know al-Qaeda and ISIS have not always seen eye-to-eye, so that may play a role in it.” In fact, the ISIS caliphate may not fit into what al-Shabaab wants, since the group remains predominantly focused on Somali issues. That’s not to say a merge will NEVER happen. “It seems like at some point, it is likely that these two groups will come together. It’s somewhat of a mystery why that hasn’t happened yet.”
Somalia’s problems were exacerbated in 2011 by the worst drought in 6 decades, leaving millions on the verge of starvation. “This is sort of the ‘poster child’ for what a failed state looks like. We want to pray for the country, we want to pray for our Christian brothers and sisters there. I think we can pray for the international community to have wisdom in how to help Somalia stabilize.”
In other words, with no functioning government in Somalia, the group can and has run amok with near impunity.
Little protection can be afforded for al-Shabaab targets, like Christians. Islamic religious leaders maintain publicly that there is no room for Christianity, Christians and churches in Somalia. Islamic terrorists, in the form of al-Shabaab, as well as other radical Islamic groups have intensified the persecution of Christians. There have also been several instances of al-Shabaab adherents targeting Somali Christians across borders in countries like Kenya. “They said, ‘Our fighters attacked non-believers in the occupied land.’ It was very much a religious act to say, ‘This is Muslim territory. These are Christian people who are living there. We are attacking them because of that.’”
Christian converts from Islam are estimated at fewer than 200 people. Most Somali Christians are secret believers who worship in house churches. Al-Shabaab has executed dozens of Christians in the past five years. Nettleton says because radicals have vowed to eradicate all Somali Christians, “Voice of the Martyrs is actively partnering with churches in Kenya to respond to these events, responding with help, responding with medical help for those who are injured, but also to respond spiritually.”
Somalia ranks #7 on the Open Doors World Watch list, a ranking of the top 50 countries where Christians face the most severe persecution for their faith.
Pray for encouragement and strength for the Christians remaining in Somalia. Nettleton says, “This is what it means to follow Christ in many parts of the world. [We want to say to them,] ‘You’re not alone in this suffering,’ to encourage the believers and come alongside them and build them up.” Pray for the protection of Somali believers.
One thing more, adds Nettleton, noting this may be the hardest part: “As Jesus called on us to pray for our enemies, we want to pray for al-Shabaab fighters to have dreams and visions of Jesus Christ. We want to pray that somehow they will encounter a Christian who can witness to them and plant the seeds of the Gospel.”