A bloody rivalry has emerged between extremist groups in Somalia as the al-Qaida-linked Al-Shabaab hunts upstart fighters allied to the Islamic State group, who have begun demanding protection payments from major businesses, officials tell The Associated Press.

The rivalry supports some observers’ suspicions that Al-Shabaab, now scrambling to defend its monopoly on the mafia-style extortion racket that funds its high-profile attacks, is drifting from its long-declared goal of establishing a strict Islamic state.

The manhunt began in October with the killing of a top leader of the IS-linked group by a suspected Al-Shabaab death squad in the capital, Mogadishu, according to several Somali intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

When the body of Mahad Maalin, deputy leader of the IS-affiliated group, was found near a beach in Mogadishu, it set off a hunt for suspected IS sympathizers within al-Shabab’s ranks, officials said. Maalin had been suspected of trying to extend his group’s reach into the capital. Last month, the Islamic State group’s Al Naba newsletter noted deadly attacks on its fighters in Somalia and warned that “when the time of response comes from the Islamic State, with God’s will, we will be excused.”

The IS-affiliated group in Somalia, largely made up of Al-Shabaab defectors, first announced its presence in 2016 with attacks in the far north, far from Mogadishu and most Al-Shabaab strongholds.

Though estimated at a few hundred fighters at most, their emergence in one of the world’s most unstable countries has been alarming enough that the U.S. military began targeting it with airstrikes a year ago.

While Al-Shabaab and its thousands of fighters have hunted down suspected IS sympathizers before, they had not taken the young group’s expansion seriously until now, observers say.

“Al-Shabaab miscalculated IS’s organizational capability and ambitions to extend its reach beyond the north, having judged it by its handful of fighters there, and thus missed the bigger picture,” said Mohamed Sheikh Abdi, a Mogadishu-based political analyst.

The revelation by businessmen that IS-linked operatives had begun making extortion demands took Al-Shabaab’s leadership by surprise, prompting the manhunt that has led to assassinations and the detention of over 50 suspected IS-linked extremists, including foreign fighters, two Somali intelligence officials told AP. One suspected IS-linked fighter from Egypt was shot dead on Nov. 18 in Jilib.

Source: Daily Mail

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