The simultaneous killing of four ministers of an "apostate" government was supposed to turn into a source for "victory" claims in a new battle.
But what transpired at the Shamo Hotel in Mogadishu on December 3rd was no source of pride, even to those hard line Islamist opposition members who want to bring down the Government of Transitional President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.
The hardliners, led by the Harakat al-Shabaab Mujahideen and the Party of Islam, were quick to deny the government's accusations of their involvement in the suicide bombing that left no less than 22 dead, many of them students celebrating their graduation from medical school.
But few in Somalia took the Islamist opposition's denial seriously. The crime bore the mark of President Ahmed's hard line opponents, who had carried out several similar suicide attacks targeting government ministers and officials. This time around, however, the victims of the hotel blast included young Muslim men and women who refused to surrender to the daily civil war destroying their capital, pursuing instead an academic education.
Then a suicide bomber came to them, believing he was performing an act of martyrdom. And he proceeded to rob Somalia of a group of its finest young men and women.
The Mogadishu attack is but a copy of similar attacks perpetrated almost daily by groups adhering to Al-Qaeda's ideology and claiming to be waging Jihad against "infidels" or "apostates". What plagues these groups, however, are practices that produce the opposite effect and that alienate public opinion rather than win it over.
This is precisely what happened in Mogadishu after the "doctors' massacre". Hundreds of citizens in the Somali capital took to the streets to protest against the Al-Shabab movement, accusing it of dispatching the suicide bomber, despite that group's denial.
Days after the Mogadishu incident, Baghdad witnessed a series of co-ordinated explosions which took the lives of at least 120 Iraqis. Not even the Iraqi government's opponents could argue that attacks of this kind, which mainly kill innocent citizens and are claimed by the Iraqi branch of Al-Qaeda (known as the Islamic State of Iraq), garner popular support for their perpetrators.
Perhaps Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the former leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq who was killed in 2006, illustrates best the "randomness" seen in many of the attacks perpetrated by those who consider themselves to be Jihadists, and who end up killing dozens of innocents for every foreign or Iraqi soldier they want to target.
The majority of al-Qaeda's victims are Muslim
A study published this month by the Combating Terrorism Centre of the United States' Military Academy at West Point, shows that the vast majority of the victims of attacks attributed to Al-Qaeda are Muslims, and not Westerners.
The study, based on Arab media sources to avoid accusations of bias against Muslims in Western media, says that Westerners constituted only 15% of the total 3010 deaths resulting from al-Qaeda operations between 2004 and 2008. This percentage dropped to as low as 2% (12 deaths out of 661) between 2006 and 2008, while the remaining 98% were Muslims.
This clearly demonstrates that Osama bin Laden's organisation is failing to achieve its stated aim to strike at Westerners, since the majority of its victims are Muslims.
Al-Qaeda's leaders were apparently aware of the threat this issue poses for them, given what it could cause in loss of popular support in Muslim countries. The first to openly express his concern was Dr. Ayman Al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's second-in-command, who wrote to Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi in Iraq in July 2005, warning him of the risks of carrying out acts of killing, in particular on-camera slaughter.
In his message, Al-Zawahiri discussed the importance of not alienating the other "resistance groups" and brought up the issue of the merciless war Al-Zarqawi waged against Iraqi Shias. The suicide attack carried out by Al-Zarqawi in Amman hotels in late 2005, and which claimed the lives of a large number of Muslims, was probably the straw that broke the camel's back.
Following the attacks, Al-Zarqawi received a warning letter from the leaders of Al-Qaeda in Waziristan, Pakistan, suggesting he might be replaced as the head of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
But Al-Zarqawi's death did not stop the torrent of criticism against Al-Qaeda. Much of that criticism accused the organisation that it sheds Muslim blood in its anti-apostate operations, in and outside of Iraq.
This apparently forced Al-Zawahiri to deny the organisation's intention to kill Muslims. In his famous online dialogue in 2007, he said: "We have not killed innocents, not in Baghdad, Morocco, Algeria, nor in any other place. And if any innocent has been killed in the operations of the Mujahideen, it is the result of an unintentional error, or it is a necessity as in cases of tatarrus."
The principle of tatarrus, put forth by Muslim scholars in the Middle Ages, no longer sways opinion in the Islamic world, including that of Jihadists themselves.
Even though many Jihadists do not discount the validity of the tatarrus principle, which allows the killing of Muslims to reach "infidels", they nonetheless reject the way in which it has been used in operations in many Islamic countries over the past few years.
These jihadists undoubtedly recognised that Muslims constituted the vast majority of victims in the 2003 bombings in Casablanca, the Western compound bombings in Saudi Arabia in 2003 and 2004, the Istanbul attacks in 2003, the Algeria bombings in 2007, in addition to a number of other operations in many Islamic countries.
The leaders of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), imprisoned in Libya, devoted long sections of their latest reviews, published last summer under the title "Corrective Studies on the Doctrine of Jihad, Hesba and Ruling", to opposing the concept of excess in religion and the distortion of the concept of Jihad to the point where it becomes operations of unrestricted killing.
Before the LIFG studies, other reviews were published by known Jihadi leaders such as Dr. Fadl (Sayyed Imam Al-Sharif),the former commander of the Egyptian Jihad Group before Dr. Al-Zawahri's took charge in 1993. In his review titled "Rationalizing Jihad in Egypt and the World", Dr. Fadl focused on what he considers to be a misunderstanding of the concept of Jihad, which is being used to justify acts of killing that are illegal under Sharia law. He specifically named al-Qaeda, accusing it of undertaking such activities. The leaders of the Fighting Group, on the other hand, deal with the concepts without naming those involved.
It is not clear to what extent the jihadist will criticise Al-Qaeda's practices. But what is so far apparent is the snowball effect it is having day after day, as criticism is no longer restricted to the organisation's operations in Islamic countries, but also extends to those in Western countries.
Last summer, one of the foremost leaders of the Jihadi-Salafi movement in Morocco, Sheikh Muhammad Al-Fayzazi, sent a letter from his prison cell in Morocco to his daughter in Germany, in which he announced his opposition to any terrorist attacks "in the name of Jihad" against Europe in general, and Germany in particular. He said that anyone who carries out such attacks is a "traitor" of the Islamic religion.
The position of this prominent Moroccan Sheikh, who is serving a 30-year prison sentence in his country in connection with the Casablanca bombings of 2003 (with which he denies any involvement), is of great importance, as he is considered to be a respected authority in Jihadist circles. His position stands in clear opposition to al-Qaeda's threats to carry out fresh attacks in Germany, after the March 2004 bombing in Madrid and the July 2005 bombing in London, which claimed the lives of hundreds of innocent civilians.
Camille Tawil is a Lebanese journalist who specializes in Islamist groups. He has authored two books, "The Story of the Arab Jihadists", and "The Armed Islamic Movement in Algeria - From the FIS to the GIA". He wrote this analysis for Al-Shorfa.