Oct 9, 2010

Serious doubts over Time magazine's claim to have interviewed Al-Shabab leader

Speculation is rife about a helicopter attack that targeted Al Shabab in Marka, a city near Mogadishu. There are several versions of what happened, but there are few things we know: 1) there was such attack 2) there was high level Al shabab member closeby 3) the attack failed and that's why no one is claiming (though the US carried similar attacks before).

But the story that caught my attention was Time magazine's improbable claim that they have interviewed Mukhtar Godane, the Amir or leader of Al-Shabab. This is a man who is reclusive and secretive even by Al Shabab standards, has never given media interviews - a  Mullah Omar of sorts. So the claim he he not to only gave an interview but chose to speak to Time magazine is very difficult to believe.

I would say with certaintly it's a hoax, a shameful fabrication.

Last week a Somali website, Somaliweyn.com, published a photo they claimed to be Al Shabab's leader but again people who had met him say it's a fake.

It's understandable journalists' obsession with reaching reclusive figures like Mukhtar Godane, Mullah Omar or OBL but if you can't get to them, then don't make up interviews.

It's dangerous to report from Somalia so Western media outlets like Time rely on fixers, often young men with little journalism training or experience but still Time Magazine has a responsibility to check these claims.

Update 1:
There are other reasons for my skepticism about the interview. For example, the article repeats speculations about Al-Shabab internal struggle almost word for word from other sources. For example, the government published a propaganda statement about how it's pushing back Al Shabab because of their in-fighting. There were a lot of similar speculations in the Somali media but little substance.
This is another reason for my doubts: The Time's interview claims that Al Shabab leader told them they were meeting to solve a dispute between him and his deputy. Al Shabab are very secrative about their internal affairs so for the top leader to volunteer such information is hard to believe.

Update 2:
Abu Mansour, the deputy leader of Al Shabab denied that there is any dispute between him and Godane. The clip of his denial is in VOA Somali (in Somali). More on this in English from Mogadishu Man blog.  In the sermon Abu Mansour says there is no dispute at all within the ranks of Al Shabab. I think Time needs to retract and apologize for this fabricated interview.

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