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Weapons of Al-Shabaab: An Analysis the Group's Arsenal from the "Sayid Muhammad Abdullah Hasan Military Training Camp"
On September 17, Al-Qaeda’s Al-Shabaab branch released a 30-minute video through its Al-Kataib propaganda outlet titled “No Doubt, Allaah’s Promise is True”. The production is a show of force and demonstrates the organization’s strategic depth, presenting its large new class of training camp graduates (Martyrdom-Seekers Brigade).
The fresh recruits were seated in front of a stage where various senior Al-Shabaab officials were seated. The video was promoted beforehand with a statement wishing the fighters well in fulfilling “their goals of raising high the Book of Allaah, implementing the Shari’ah, safeguarding the Muslims and their resources and fighting the enemy crusaders and their apostate allies who have waged war against the religion, country, and the Muslims.”
Much of the video consists of spokesman Ali Rage (Ali Dheere) giving a speech that included explicit threats toward its domestic, regional, and international foes. At one point, he warns, “we hereby call on all the Muslims who live, work, park their cars or seek leisure near the vicinities of the crusader and apostate bases, offices or headquarters of the crusader invaders and their apostate allies, to stay away and be extremely cautious from these areas.”
Given Al-Shabaab’s repeatedly proven terrorist and insurgent capabilities, these threats are to be taken seriously. Relatedly, the group’s lethality is in part due to its armed capability and expansive arsenal of weaponry. Elements of this were put on display in the video to send a clear message to Al-Shabaab’s adversaries.
Weapons of Al-Shabaab Militants
At the graduation ceremony held after the training camp, militants are seen with various weapons — most of these arms are common in the region, however, there are some quite notable weapons in the video.
The first of these is the Chinese AK-103 assault rifle. These weapons are also used by the Somali army from time to time. Although they are similar to the AK-103 rifles of Russian production, there are several differences between them.
Chinese-made AK-103 rifles, like most assault rifles used by AS militants in the region (with a few exceptions), are chambered in 7.62x39mm.
In addition to the less common rifles, at least one militant is seen carrying a G3A3-pattern assault rifle.
Al-Shabaab has been seizing G3A3-type rifles from the Somali National Army during operations. Several Turkish G3A7 rifles (the variant of the G3A3 produced in Turkey by MKE) were recently captured from the Gorgor Unit. These specific rifles may have been part of those taken from the Gorgor Unit, which was trained and armed by the Turkish Armed Forces. In this case, it is highly probable that the weapons are the Turkish MKE G3A7.
At the same time, these rifles appear to be the only weapons chambered in 7.62x51mm NATO present at the graduation ceremony.
Apart from the G3A3/A7 and the Chinese AK-103, the assault rifles used by AS militants are standard and very common AK variants.
These are AKM-type rifles; Type 2/3 AK-47 rifles and Chinese Type 56, Type 56-1 (with under-folding stock), and Type 56-2 rifles (with side-folding stock). All of the rifles noted here are chambered in 7.62x39mm.
In addition to assault rifles, some militants are seen carrying 7.62x54mmR SVD-pattern designated marksman rifles (DMRs).
It appears all or many of these weapons are Chinese Type 79/85 DMR. These DMRs are frequently used by state security units and non-state armed groups in Somalia and surrounding countries.
In terms of machine guns and RPGs, the weapons featured in this AS video are frequently found in the region.
Standard PK, PKM, and Chinese Type 80 machine guns (PK copies) are used by the militants at the graduation ceremony. Like the DMRs noted above, these are also chambered in 7.62x54mmR. These weapons are very common and frequently used in the region.
Finally, RPG-7 pattern launchers are also carried and used by militants, both in graduation ceremonies and in general combat.
PG-7V and PG-7VM-type projectiles were loaded in these launchers during the ceremony. Judging by the blue band of the PG-7V projectiles, it is probable that they are of Bulgarian production. In addition to the PG-7VM projectiles, Bulgarian RHEAT-7MA2 projectiles with a similar appearance appeared at the ceremony.
Overall, Al-Shaabab's weapons at this particular graduation seem standard. High-ranking Al-Shabaab members attending the ceremony can also be seen carrying standard AKM pattern rifles.
A Romanian-style side-folding wire stock is attached to one of these AKM pattern rifles of an Al-Shabaab official.
The organization does not seem to care much about “status weapons,” unlike other jihadist organizations including different Al-Qaeda branches. Such “status weapons” typically consist of either iconic and/or rare weapons, trophies often captured from the battlefield or purchased on illicit markets.
The weapons seen in this graduation ceremony are extremely common in east Africa, except for a few pieces.
The sizable number of new recruits shown in the video is a further indication of just how dynamic Al-Shabaab is as an organization. The group is showing its enemies that it has the men, materials, and weaponry to continue waging a protracted insurgency in East Africa.