In Marka, Amriki and other foreign fighters attended the local mosque, but rarely interacted with the locals. He received income from transporting goods using donkey carts and other small businesses that paid him a share of their profits, Shahban said.
Selling himself as a jihadist
In a March video, Amriki accused the al-Shabab leadership of trying to assassinate him over differences about the implementation of Islamic law, or sharia, in areas under the militia’s control.
“It was a very desperate move on his part,” said Abdirashid Hashi, a Somalia analyst with the International Crisis Group. “Maybe he was using it to pressure other international jihadists to speak to al-Shabab and spare his life.”
In statements on jihadist Web sites, the militia’s leaders denied that they were trying to kill Amriki.
Still, within days of the denial, reports emerged that Amriki had been arrested; some even declared that he had been beheaded.
Al-Shabab has never been completely unified. It is a collection of hard-core extremists, foreign fighters and Somali nationalists. There were sharp differences within the leadership over the use of harsh sharia laws on the population and whether to support a global jihadist agenda or focus solely on turning Somalia into an Islamist emirate. The militia’s decision to formally align itself with al-Qaeda in February 2010, which Amriki supported, also triggered divisions.
Later that year, the militia orchestrated back-to-back bombings in the Ugandan capital of Kampala that killed more than 70 people watching the World Cup finals — an attack that was widely seen as the influence of the foreigners inside al-Shabab.
In May, Amriki released another video. This time, he was calling for radical Islamist groups around the world to unite under a single caliphate. Around the same time, he published his online autobiography, signing it “still alive and well.” In other videos, he depicts himself as a religious figure or as a unifier of global jihadist groups in an apparent effort to raise his stature in extremist circles.
His actions suggest that he’s concerned about his future, analysts and security officials say. Some foreign fighters are already leaving Somalia, heading to other parts of Africa and Yemen, where Islamists are actively seeking to undermine governments, U.S. and Somali officials say .
“He’s trying to sell himself to a broader world market,” said a Western diplomat in Nairobi who follows Somalia closely. “He realizes that he may want to go to Nigeria or Yemen.”
Relief and wariness
Over the summer, Amriki and other foreign fighters left Marka, and African Union and Somali government forces entered without much of a fight. Today, there’s a sense of relief among the people. As in other areas it controlled, the militia imposed brutal decrees, banning Western-style haircuts, music, soccer and other acts they consider un-
Islamic, as well as amputating the hands of alleged thieves and stoning teenage girls accused of adultery. They also exacted taxes on residents as a source of funding.