DUBAI: Somalia's extremist Al Shahbab fighters announced their allegiance with al Qaeda, the terror network's chief Ayman al-Zawahiri announced in a new video message posted on jihadist forums on Thursday.
"I will break the good news to our Islamic nation, which will... annoy the crusaders, and it is that the Shahbab movement in Somalia has joined al Qaeda," Zawahiri said.
"The jihadist movement is with the grace of Allah, growing and spreading within its Muslim nation despite facing the fiercest crusade campaign in history by the West," said Zawahiri in the video released by al Qaeda's media arm As-Sahab.
In the first part of the video, Shahbab's leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubair, addressed Zawahiri, saying: "We will move along with you as faithful soldiers."
"In the name of my mujahedeen brothers, leaders and soldiers... I pledge obedience," Zubair said.
"Lead us on the road of jihad and martyrdom, in the footsteps that our martyr Osama bin Laden had drawn for us," he added, referring to al Qaeda's former leader who was killed last year in a covert US raid on his hide-out in Pakistan.
"Our brothers in the Shahbab al-Mujahedeen, were the rock... that stood in the face of the joint American-Ethiopian-Kenyan-crusade attack on Islam and Muslims in Somalia," said Zawahiri.
On January 24, a Shahbab suicide bomber blew himself at an Ethiopian army base in the central Somali town of Beledweyne.
Hardline Shahbab officials said 33 Ethiopians were killed in the blast in Beledweyne, a town about 30 kilometres (20 miles) from the Ethiopian border, but the claims could not be verified.
Zawahiri urged the Shebab to treat Somalis with "leniency" and "humility" and to help them "solve their problems and fulfill their demands, especially those in need such as widows, orphans, the ill, the elderly and the poor" and to "spread justice."
He also appealed to the Islamist group "not to forget their imprisoned brothers and sisters held in the jails of the corrupt and oppressive crusaders and to capture crusaders and Zionists wherever they can to exchange them with Muslim prisoners."
Shahbab insurgents, fighting to overthrow a fragile Western-backed transitional government in the war-torn Horn of Africa country, proclaimed their allegiance to bin Laden in a video documentary distributed in 2009.
They control large parts of central and southern Somalia but are facing increasing pressure from government forces and regional armies.
Armies from neighbouring countries are converging on the Shahbab -- Kenyan forces in the south, Ethiopian soldiers in the west, and an African Union force in Mogadishu made up of 10,000 troops from Uganda, Burundi and Djibouti.
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