Profile: Ibrahim Haji Jama Mead (Ibrahim al Afghani)

November 14, 2011

This piece is part of a series of al Shabaab leadership profiles.

Ibrahim Haji Jama Mead, also known as Ibrahim al Afghani, was reported to have been killed on June 20, 2013.[1] Afghani was a senior leader in al Shabaab and a member of the group’s Shura Council.[2] As one of the original founders of al Shabaab, Afghani held several key positions within the organization.[3] There were several reports after December 2010 that Afghani replaced Ahmed Abdi Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubair, as al Shabaab’s emir; however, these reports appear to have been unfounded.[4] Al Shabaab did not announce a leadership change, and subsequent statements by the group continued to identify Godane as the emir.  Afghani had previously served as Godane’s deputy and headed al Shabaab’s Jubba Valley administration from Kismayo.[5] The U.S. State Department authorized a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to his location on June 7, 2012.[6] Neither the United States nor the United Nations designated Afghani as a terrorist.

Afghani was from Somaliland and was a member of the Habar Awal, a sub-clan of the Isaaq clan, which has a strong presence in Somaliland.[7] Godane is also a member of the Isaaq clan. Afghani earned his moniker from his experience fighting with al Qaeda in Afghanistan during the Soviet Union invasion in 1980 and the American led invasion in 2001. He also fought in Eritrea and Kashmir lending credibility to his reputation as being a member of al Shabaab’s hard-line faction that focuses on global jihad.[8] He successfully led al Shabaab’s forces against Hizb al Islam when the two groups fought for control of the strategic port city of Kismayo in October 2009.[9] He was also responsible for many of al Shabaab’s media initiatives and reportedly recruited the group’s leader Godane.[10]

Rifts between Godane and senior members, including Afghani, surfaced in 2011 but intensified at the beginning of 2013. Tensions reached a boiling point, and Afghani was killed by pro-Godane forces in Barawe, Lower Shabelle region on June 20 during a battle between two different al Shabaab factions.[11] Before his death, Afghani wrote a letter to al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri on April 6 calling for Zawahiri’s intervention in what Afghani described as mismanagement by Godane. Afghani blamed Godane’s lack of command knowledge and his harsh treatment of foreigner fighters for the organization’s recent territorial losses and defections.[12] In April 2013, Afghani, along with other senior al Shabaab leaders Mukhtar Robow and Hassan Dahir Aweys, issued a fatwa against Godane’s attempt to kill foreign jihadists, including American fighter Omar Hammami.[13] Following Afghani’s death on June 20, Aweys defected to the Somali government and Robow is reportedly in talks with Somali government officials.[14] The death of Afghani, one of al Shabaab’s founders, a senior commander, and one-time ally of Godane, at the hands of pro-Godane fighters, may mark an irreversible rift in the organization and will very likely bring new hierarchical changes to al Shabaab.

Breuk Bass updated this profile on August 19, 2013

Jared Sorhaindo updated this profile on August 3, 2012.


[1] “Top Somali Militant, Wanted by U.S., Killed in Infighting,” BBC, July 1, 2013. Available: http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/29/world/africa/somalia-militant-killed
[2] “Somalia: The Transitional Government on Life Support,” International Crisis Group, February 21. 2011. p. 29. Available: http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/africa/horn-of-africa/somalia/170%20Somalia%20The%20Transitional%20Government%20on%20Life%20Support.ashx
[3] Ted Dagne, “Somalia: Current Conditions and Prospects for a Lasting Peace,” Congressional Research Service, April 20, 2011. p. 6. Available: http://assets.opencrs.com/rpts/RL33911_20110420.pdf
[4] “Somalia: Al-Qaeda fires Al-Shabaab leader,” Sunatimes, December 24, 2011. Available: http://www.sunatimes.com/view.php?id=644
[5] “Somalia’s Divided Islamists,” International Crisis Group, May 18, 2010. p. 9. Available: http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/africa/horn-of-africa/somalia/B74%20Somalias%20Divided%20Islamists.ashx
[6] “Rewards for Justice - al-Shabaab Leaders Reward Offers,” U.S. Department of State Press Release, June 7, 2012. Available: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2012/06/191914.htm
[7] “Somalia’s Divided Islamists,” International Crisis Group, May 18, 2010. p. 9. Available: http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/africa/horn-of-africa/somalia/B74%20Somalias%20Divided%20Islamists.ashx
[8] “Somalia’s Divided Islamists,” International Crisis Group, May 18, 2010. p. 11. Available: http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/africa/horn-of-africa/somalia/B74%20Somalias%20Divided%20Islamists.ashx “Hard-liner said to take over al-Shabaab,” UPI, August 11, 2011. Available: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/Special/2011/08/11/Hard-liner-said-to-take-over-al-Shabaab/UPI-55511313085507/ Ali Soufan, “Somali Extremists Have al Qaeda Ties,” Wall Street Journal, April 15, 2009. Available: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123976236664319677.html “IWISC Gives Biography of Prominent JIhadi Figure Abu Bakr al Zayla’i,” SITE Intel Group, April 11, 2013. Available at SITE.
[9] “Somalia’s Divided Islamists,” International Crisis Group, May 18, 2010. p. 10. Available: http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/africa/horn-of-africa/somalia/B74%20Somalias%20Divided%20Islamists.ashx
[10] “IWISC Gives Biography of Prominent JIhadi Figure Abu Bakr al Zayla’i,” SITE Intel Group, April 11, 2013. Available at SITE.
[11] An al Shabaab spokesman says Afghani was unintentionally killed but al Shabaab fighters and Afghani’s family refute the claim saying he was executed. See “Godane Loyalists Reportedly Execute al Shabaab Leader Ibrahim al Afghani,” Sabahi Online, June 28, 2013. Available: http://sabahionline.com/en_GB/articles/hoa/articles/newsbriefs/2013/06/28/newsbrief-01 “Top Somali Militant, Wanted by U.S., Killed in Infighting,” BBC, July 1, 2013. Available: http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/29/world/africa/somalia-militant-killed
[12] “Shabaab Official Speaks Out Against Leader, Appeals to Zawahiri for Help,” SITE Intel Group, April 6, 2013. Available at SITE.
[13] “Officials in Shabaab Faction Give Fatwa Against Targeting Hammami,” SITE Intel Group, April 30, 2013. Available at SITE.
[14] “Himan and Heb Held a Key al Shabaab Figure,” Bar Kulan. July 26, 2013. Available: http://www.bar-kulan.com/2013/06/26/himan-and-heb-held-a-key-al-shabaab-figure
“Senior al Shabaab Leader Robow ‘In Talks’ With Government,” Sabahi Online, July 7, 2013. Available: http://sabahionline.com/en_GB/articles/hoa/articles/newsbriefs/2013/07/07/newsbrief-01