Uzbek theatre group teaches contemporary drama
Egypt announces arrest of al-Qaeda-linked terrorist cell
Afghanistan supports disaster victims
Friday prayer attacks kill 20, injure about 50
One year after bin Laden's death, al-Qaeda walks same path of self-destruction
The group continues to turn to local affiliates, such as Somalia's al-Shabaab and Yemen's Ansar al-Sharia, who do not realise killing innocent civilians will ultimately lead to their destruction
Analysis by Rajeh Said in London
One year has passed since the death of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in his hiding place in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
The current leadership of al-Qaeda in the border areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan, headed by Ayman al-Zawahiri, does not seem to be in a better position today than it was under bin Laden in the last few years of his life: a state of siege and loss of leaders.
However, this does not mean al-Qaeda was entirely defeated. The organisation is apparently still able to call on its allies, who have become its branches around the world. The most recent to answer the call was the Somali movement, Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen.
While al-Shabaab's merger with al-Qaeda was hailed as an "achievement" by the organisation's new leader, al-Zawahiri, the fact remains that the current conduct of this armed Somali movement seems to show it is travelling down the same path as other al-Qaeda affiliates and armed groups before it, whose excesses and extremist interpretation of Islamic teachings alienated people and propelled them to join opposing forces.
Al-Shabaab swimming against the current
Killings and bombings carried out by al-Shabaab give the impression the group is intent on swimming against the current.
Instead of these operations winning popular support, they are producing just the opposite effect, as evidenced by the bombings al-Shabaab carried out April 4th in Mogadishu, which claimed the lives of ten civilians, including sports officials who had no part in the on-going fighting between al-Shabaab and government forces backed by African Union peacekeepers.
Although the movement has in the past conducted numerous bombings that claimed scores of civilian lives, its latest attack in the heart of the capital gives pause for thought because it occurred after the group became an official al-Qaeda affiliate in February of this year. This means al-Shabaab's operations are now attributable to the organisation.
According to media reports, the attack was carried out by a female suicide bomber who blew herself up at the National Theatre in Mogadishu, killing ten people, including the Somali Olympic Committee chairman and the president of the Somali Football Federation. Al-Shabaab was apparently targeting Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali as he prepared to deliver a speech in the theatre -- recently re-opened for the first time in 20 years -- but he was unhurt.
In addition to the human casualties of the National Theatre bombing, it was also painfully distressing that the attack came at a time the Somali capital was showing signs that life was returning to normal after more than 20 years of strife following the fall of the Siad Barre regime in 1991.
Since al-Shabaab was forced out of Mogadishu in August 2011, Somalis' confidence had been rising noticeably, with new schools, shops and restaurants opening their doors and robust reconstruction efforts clearly visible across the devastated capital.
In addition, the first international airline route was launched in March with twice-weekly flights by Turkish Airlines.
For that, al-Shabaab's attack on the National Theatre may lead to different results than it aims to achieve, since such acts could escalate the anger of the capital's residents, who are looking to start a new life.
Even some within the Islamist movement in Somalia understand these operations do not bode well for the self-described jihadists.
Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who headed Somali Islamist insurgent group Hizbul Islam until the party merged with al-Shabaab in 2010, recently expressed this opinion.
"I warn our jihadist brothers in the al-Shabaab movement against shedding the blood of the Muslim Somali people and killing innocent civilians in the name of Islam," Aweys told a gathering of his followers on March 30.
His criticism coincided with a video posted on the Internet in March by Omar Hammami, also known as Abu Mansour al-Amriki, in which he said he feared for his life from al-Shabaab, a movement he had joined a few years ago to perform "jihad." Al-Amriki spoke in the video of doctrinal disputes between him and al-Shabaab, but it was unclear whether the disputes were over the justification of murder and bloodshed.
Although al-Shabaab responded by saying it had no intention of killing al-Amriki and that it has opened an investigation into the incident, reports circulated through the media that al-Amriki was killed and possibly beheaded at the hands of a faction of al-Shabaab.
While his death has not been confirmed and reports claiming he was still alive and under house-arrest soon appeared, al-Shabaab has not yet commented on reports of his death.
The fiasco over al-Amriki's fate, and the fissures reported in the ranks of the group, prompted many Somali analysts to declare the group "on the verge of dying."
As in Iraq and Yemen, as in Somalia
Al-Shabaab's constant justification of its killings and bombings indicates it is walking down the same path other al-Qaeda affiliates have taken in the past, which led to their destruction after public support for their activities declined.
The clearest example of this is the course of action al-Qaeda in Iraq took under the leadership of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Al-Zarqawi's operations claimed hundreds of lives in random bombings and grisly killings that ultimately compelled a number of Iraqis, including some from the so-called armed resistance against foreign and Iraqi government forces, to distance themselves from al-Qaeda and join efforts to eradicate it.
Current reports from Yemen indicate a similar anger permeates segments of the Yemeni population. Those Yemenis reject the practices of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and its affiliate, Ansar al-Sharia, which centre on the implementation of a harsh interpretation of Sharia law, including the application of hadd punishment.
This rejection is not limited to the Yemeni people, but has begun to surface among members of Ansar al-Sharia who reject al-Qaeda's practice of indiscriminate killing, as evidenced by the recent execution of seven Ansar al-Sharia members who refused to carry out suicide bombings targeting popular resistance committees in the city of Lawder in Abyan province.
The refusal of those members to carry out suicide attacks is undoubtedly a development reflecting the internal disintegration the Yemeni organisation is undergoing and indicating some members are beginning to return to their senses and have perhaps become convinced that fighting alongside al-Qaeda is wrong.
Similar popular rejection against violence occurred in Algeria in the 1990s when killings carried out by the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) elicited broad public anger, helping the central government defeat the extremists. The group's killings in remote villages drove the populations of these villages to volunteer for self-defence groups armed by the government, depriving the GIA of the ability to roam freely in rural areas and helping security forces pursue and eliminate the organisation's members.
Armed violence in Algeria has declined considerably since the GIA was eradicated, though the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), a splinter group which grew out of GIA, has persisted in using violence. In a sign that al-Qaeda failed to learn the lesson that violence does not pay off, the GSPC aligned itself with al-Qaeda and formally became its North Africa branch under the name of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in 2007.
In light of this, it is clear al-Qaeda and its affiliates need to review the feasibility of continuing killing and bombing operations that victimise innocent civilians. Al-Qaeda undoubtedly knows that with its loss of public support it has become a fish out of water ... waiting to die.
Even bin Laden, before his death, reportedly understood that his organisation had an image problem, especially when its actions were contrasted against the peaceful methods of the Arab Spring movements.
The recent actions in Somalia and Yemen, however, indicate that this fundamental lesson about the futility of violence has not yet been learned. For that, any further attempts to "rebrand" al-Qaeda by attaching it to local affiliates will likely continue to backfire.