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DUBAI (Reuters) - Al Qaeda's leader Ayman al-Zawahri said Somalia's militant group al Shabaab had joined the global network, in a video posted on Islamist forums on Thursday.
"Today, I have glad tidings for the Muslim ummah (nation) that will please the believers and disturb the disbelievers, which is the joining of the Shabaab al-Mujahideen Movement in Somalia to Qaedat al-Jihad to support the jihadi unity against the Zionist-Crusader campaign and their assistants amongst the treacherous agent rulers," said a bespectacled Zawahri in the video.
The clip included an audio recording by al-Shabaab's leader Sheikh Abu Zubeyr, in which he pledged allegiance to Zawahiri, who took over the reins of al Qaeda last year following the killing of Osama bin Laden in a U.S. attack in Pakistan.
Al Shabaab, which controls large areas of Somalia, voiced support for Zawahri soon after he took over al Qaeda.
The ties between al Qaeda and al Shabaab have in the past been mainly ideological. While counter-terrorism experts say al Shabaab has received advice and training from some members of the transnational network, it has tended to see itself more as an ally of al Qaeda than a direct outpost of the core organisation.
Security analysts say the move could be a public relations gambit by an al Qaeda leadership severely weakened by drone strikes in its Pakistan mountain bastions and its failure to carry out a major successful attack in the West since 2005.
"Al Qaeda needs to project power and influence, particularly given its own operational impotence. A merger with al Shabaab gives it the means to do so and it is a low risk, resource cheap solution for al Qaeda's central leadership," Australian al Qaeda scholar Leah Farrall told Reuters.
"It stamps Zawahiri's authority on al Qaeda and allows him to reinforce al Qaeda's preeminence at a time when it has been waning. Al Shabaab's acceptance under the al Qaeda umbrella probably came with permission from Zawahiri for the group to launch external operations against the West," he added.
By associating itself more closely to a militant groups involved in combat against Western allies, security analysts say the group may hope to shore up its sagging credibility and inspire a fresh wave of recruitment.
Al Shabaab is fighting the Western-backed government in Somalia, a country which descended into chaos in 1991 after dictator Siad Barre was overthrown.