Currently viewing the tag: "Shabaab"
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Omar Hammami, who is also known as Abu Mansoor al Amriki.

An American citizen who serves as a senior Shabaab military commander and propagandist is still thought to be alive, US intelligence officials told The Long War Journal, disputing a report from last week from a Somali official claiming he was dead.

“Our assessment is Hammami is not dead, at least we see no evidence of it,” a senior US intelligence official told The Long War Journal, referring to Omar Hammami, the American from Alabama who is better known as Abu Mansour al Amriki.

Hamammi was reported to have been killed sometime during the last month during heavy fighting in Mogadishu and the surrounding areas, Somalia’s defense minister told The Associated Press on March 8. But the defense minister did not present any evidence of Hammami’s death. Also, Shabaab did not announce Hammami’s death.

US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal on March 8, the date of the initial report, would not confirm Hammami’s death.

Background on Omar Hammami

Hammami is a US citizen who converted to Islam and then traveled to Somalia in 2006. Once in Somalia, he quickly rose through the ranks, and now serves as a military commander. He is one of the many foreign commanders who hold senior leadership positions in Shabaab, which is al Qaeda’s affiliate in East Africa. Hammami is one of 14 people indicted by the US Justice Department in August 2010 for providing material support to Shabaab.

Hammami also began appearing in Shabaab propaganda tapes. In one tape, released in May 2010, Hammami stressed that Shabaab’s war is not confined to Somalia but is global in nature. “From Somalia and Shiishaan (Chechnya), from Iraq and Afghanistan, gonna meet up in the Holy Lands, establishing Allah’s Law on the land,” Hammami says in a chorus repeated throughout the song. Hammami and others identify their enemy as the “salib,” or crusaders.

Two weeks ago, the Somali government, backed by Ugandan and Burundian forces in the African Union, as well as Ethiopia, launched an offensive against Shabaab. Somalia’s President, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, claimed yesterday that Shabaab “is on the verge of collapse” after the terror group has been driven out of several strongholds in the capital of Mogadishu as well as in the Gedo region on the Kenyan border.

The government claimed that Shabaab has lost more than 500 fighters during the offensive. But the African Union has suppressed information about heavy casualties to its own forces. Last week, it was reported that 53 African Union troops were killed during the fighting. No estimates on the number of Somali troops killed have been released.

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omar-hammadi.jpg

Omar Hammami, who is also known as Abu Mansoor al Amriki.

An American citizen who holds a senior military leadership position in Shabaab, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia, is thought to have been killed during the recent fighting in the warn-torn country.

Omar Hammami, the American citizen who is a commander in Shabaab and who is better know as Abu Mansour al Amriki, may have been killed during the heavy fighting in Mogadishu and the surrounding areas, Somalia’s defense minister told The Associated Press.

The defense minister said the report is unconfirmed but intelligence reports indicate he was killed.

Shabaab has not released a statement announcing his death. US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal said they were aware of the reports but could not confirm Hammami’s status.

Hammami is a US citizen from Alabama who converted to Islam and then traveled to Somalia in 2006. Once in Somalia, he quickly rose through the ranks, and now serves as a military commander. He is one of the many foreign commanders who hold senior leadership positions in Shabaab, which is al Qaeda’s affiliate in East Africa. Hammami is one of 14 people indicted by the US Justice Department in August 20101 for providing material support to Shabaab.

Hammami also began appearing in Shabaab propaganda tapes. In one tape, released in May 2010, Hammami stressed that Shabaab’s war is not confined to Somalia but is global in nature. “From Somalia and Shiishaan (Chechnya), from Iraq and Afghanistan, gonna meet up in the Holy Lands, establishing Allah’s Law on the land,” Hammami says in a chorus repeated throughout the song. Hammami and others identify their enemy as the “salib,” or crusaders.

The Somali government, backed by Ugandan and Burundi forces in the African Union, as well as Ethiopia, launched an offensive against Shabaab two weeks ago. Somali’s President, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, claimed yesterday that Shabaab “is on the verge of collapse” after the terror group has been driven out of several strongholds in the capital of Mogadishu as well as in the Gedo region on the Kenyan border.

The government claimed that Shabaab has lost more than 500 fighters during the offensive. But the African Union has suppressed information about heavy casualties to its forces. Last week, it was reported that 53 African Union troops were killed during the fighting. No estimates on the number of Somali troops have been released.

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Image of a Shabaab fighter from the terror group’s website.

Al Shabaab, the radical Islamist terror group that serves as al Qaeda’s affiliate in East Africa, claimed it carried out a deadly suicide attack that killed more than 20 Somalis yesterday, including civilians, in the capital of Mogadishu.

A Shabaab suicide bomber rammed a van packed with explosives into a police checkpoint near the main seaport in Mogadishu. Witnesses claimed that ten police officers and security guards, more than a dozen civilians were killed in the blast, Garowe reported.

Shabaab’s top spokesman, Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, who is also known as Ali Dheere, held a press conference in the Somali capital to announce the bombing. Rage claimed the target was a Somali military base, and said only soldiers were killed and wounded in the attack.

“We successfully achieved our mission that was planned by our soldiers, we killed many Somali soldier (our enemies),” Rage told the media.

Shabaab routinely holds press conferences in Mogadishu; African Union and Somali forces only control small areas of the capital and are unable to stop the terror group from operating in the open.

Shabaab has targeted African Union and Somali forces, as well as the Somali government, in several suicide attacks over the past several years. Shabaab launched four suicide attacks between Aug. 23, 2010 and Sept. 20, 2010. While two of the attacks ultimately failed to strike the intended target, the Shabaab suicide bombers were able to penetrate several layers of security.

Shabaab has carried out 26 major suicide attacks in Somalia since September 2006, when the Islamic Courts Union usurped control of the government (the Islamic Courts Union was ousted from power in an invasion by Ethiopian forces in December 2006). Several of the attacks have been carried out by American and British citizens who had left their home countries to join Shabaab.

Shabaab has also executed a suicide attack outside Somalia’s borders: the July 11 double suicide attack in Kampala, Uganda, that killed 74 people. The suicide cell that carried out the attack is called the Saleh ali Nabhan Brigade and is named after the al Qaeda leader who served as the military commander for Shabaab before being killed in a US special operations raid in September 2009.

Six “al Qaeda-linked foreign fighters” killed in Mogadishu

African Union forces claimed that six “al Qaeda-linked foreign fighters” were killed during clashes in Mogadishu over the past three days. The fighters are said to be “from Yemen, Pakistan, Kenya, India, and Syria,” according to DPA.

Foreign al Qaeda fighters are occasionally killed and wounded while fighting Somali and African Union forces. In December 2010, a Yemeni commander named Rajah Abu Khalid and 12 foreign fighters were killed during heavy fighting in the capital.

Background on Shabaab’s links to al Qaeda

Shabaab merged with al Qaeda in November 2008, after requesting to join the international terror group in September 2008. Top al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri, and Abu Yayha al Libi have praised Shabaab in propaganda tapes and encouraged the group to carry out attacks against the Somali government, neighboring countries, and the West. In late 2009, Osama bin Laden appointed Fazul Abdullah Mohammed to serve as al Qaeda’s operations chief in East Africa; the announcement was made at a ceremony in Mogadishu that was attended by Ahmad Godane Zubayr, Shabaab’s spiritual leader.

Over the past several years, al Qaeda commanders have taken over some of the top leadership positions in Shabaab. Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who was indicted for his involvement in the 1998 attacks in Kenya and Tanzania along with Osama bin Laden, served as Shabaab’s top intelligence official before replacing Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan as Shabaab’s top military leader.

Other foreign al Qaeda operatives hold top leadership positions in Shabaab. Shaykh Muhammad Abu Fa’id, a Saudi citizen, serves as a top financier and a “manager” for Shabaab. Abu Musa Mombasa, a Pakistani citizen, serves as Shabaab’s chief of security and training. Mahmud Mujajir, a Sudanese citizen, is Shabaab’s chief of recruitment for suicide bombers. Abu Mansour al Amriki, a US citizen, serves as a military commander, recruiter, financier, and propagandist.

Al Qaeda’s central leadership, which is based in Pakistan, recently instructed Shabaab to downplay its links to the terror group but to continue to target US interests in the region, a senior US intelligence official who closely follows al Qaeda and Shabaab in East Africa told The Long War Journal.

Shabaab is considered by some US military and intelligence officials to be one of al Qaeda’s most successful affiliates. Shabaab has defeated Hizbul Islam, a rivial Islamist terror group, and has taken control of much of southern and central Somalia after waging a terror insurgency against Ethiopian forces and the UN-backed Transitional Federal Government.

Last spring, Ethiopian forces withdrew from Somalia under fire and were replaced by some 6,000 African Union peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi. The fractured and weak central government and African Union forces currently control pockets within Mogadishu and little else.

Outside of Mogadishu, the government wields little influence. Shabaab currently controls almost all of the southern provinces and many of the central ones as well.

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Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage.

Shabaab, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia, has called for the global terror group to send more fighters to “expand the East Africa jihad.”

Shabaab’s top spokesman, Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, who is also known as Ali Dheere, issued a call for al Qaeda fighters to come to Somalia. Rage made the statement during a joint press conference held in Mogadishu on Friday with Sheikh Abdifatah Mohamed Ali, Hizbul Islam’s spokesman.

“We call on our brothers [Al Qaeda] to come to Somalia and to help us expand the East Africa jihad,” Rage told reporters, according to Garowe Online.

Rage and Ali held the press conference to formally announce Hizbul Islam’s merger with Shabaab. On Dec. 19, Hizbul Islam’s top leader, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, announced he had joined forces with Shabaab after his forces lost control over much of their traditional strongholds south of Mogadishu during a Shabaab onslaught and the subsequent defection of local Hizbul Islam leaders.

On Dec. 23, Rage also held a press conference to “inform our brothers in Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria and Uganda” of the Shabaab/Hizbul Islam merger, and he threatened the eastern African nations of Uganda and Burundi, which make up the African Union forces fighting in Mogadishu.

“We, al Shabaab and Hizbul Islam have united and we warn Uganda and Burundi forces and their people that we shall redouble our attacks,” Rage said, according to Reuters. “We also inform our brothers in Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria and Uganda, that we have united in one name — al Shabaab.”

Rage’s call for a wider jihad in East Africa echoed Aweys’s call back in 2006 for the creation of a “greater Somalia” in the Horn of Africa.

Shabaab’s takeover of Hizbul Islam puts an end to more than two years of fighting between the two terror groups. Both groups have vowed to wage jihad in eastern Africa and have sought al Qaeda’s support. The merger has freed up fighters and resources to battle the weak Somali government and African Union forces struggling to retake control of Mogadishu. Fighters formerly loyal to Hizbul Islam have poured into Mogadishu to swell the ranks of Shabaab.

For more on Shabaab’s links to al Qaeda and the takeover of Hizbul Islam, see LWJ report, Hizbul Islam joins Shabaab in Somalia.

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Hizbul Islam’s former leader, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys.

Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, the leader of Hizbul Islam, has merged his forces with Shabaab, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia, after suffering a string of military defeats at the hands of the rival Islamist terror group.

Aweys, who is also linked to al Qaeda, joined Shabaab today and turned over its bases in Mogadishu and areas south of the capital, Mareeg Online reported. It is unclear if Aways will take a senior leadership position in Shabaab’s increasingly foreign-dominated leadership cadre.

Shabaab’s takeover of Hizbul Islam will allow the terror group to put aside the intra-Islamist fighting, and will free up fighters and resources to battle the weak Somali government and African Union forces struggling to retake control of Mogadishu.

Since it was formed in January 2009, Hizbul Islam has been fighting a losing battle against Shabaab, its Islamist rival in Somalia. Throughout 2009, relations between Shabaab and Hizbul Islam worsened after the groups began to battle in Kismayo over control of the southern port city. In February 2010, The Ras Kamboni Bridge, once a Hizbul Islam faction, broke ties with Hizbul Islam and merged with Shabaab. Hizbul Islam has been losing ground to Shabaab in central and southern Somalia ever since the Ras Kamboni Brigade defected.

Hizbul Islam’s demise came to a head on Dec. 13, when Shabaab seized the vital city of Burhakaba and threatened to behead 20 Hizbul Islam commanders. Hizbul Islam abandoned several villages south of Mogadishu on Dec. 14. Despite the loss of Burhakaba and towns south of Mogadishu, and an increasingly poor tactical and strategic position, Aweys vowed on Dec. 15 to fight to the death defending Afgoi, its last remaining bastion south of Mogadishu. And yesterday, Hizbul Islam commanders in Luk broke ranks and joined Shabaab.

Background on Hizbul Islam’s ties to al Qaeda

While many counterterrorism analysts and African experts consider Hizbul Islam a domestic, nationalist insurgency with no links to foreign terror groups, its top leader has close ties to al Qaeda. Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys is wanted by the US for his links to al Qaeda. He is also on the United Nations terrorist sanctions list, again for his ties to al Qaeda.

Aweys co-led the Islamic Courts in 2006 until the group was ousted from power during the Ethiopian invasion in December 2006.

Under the leadership of Aweys the Islamic Courts Union implemented sharia law throughout southern Somalia. Islamic Courts suicide bombers attacked the weak Transitional Federal government, while the Islamic Courts ran terror training camps, courted foreign fighters, and released videos through al Qaeda’s propaganda arm. Aweys, confident in his victory, called for the creation of a “greater Somalia” in the Horn of Africa. This is a goal shared by al Qaeda’s central leadership.

“We will leave no stone unturned to integrate our Somali brothers in Kenya and Ethiopia and restore their freedom to live with their ancestors in Somalia,” Aweys said in November 2006.

Last September, Aweys advocated for more suicide attacks in the country, just days after suicide bombers struck an African Union base in Mogadishu.

Other Hizbul Islam leaders have expressed their support for al Qaeda. In April 2010, Moallim Hashi Mohamed Farah, then the top leader for Hizbul Islam in Banadir province, welcomed Osama bin Laden and other foreign fighters to visit Somalia and fight along side his forces.

Shabaab and Hizbul Islam sought to merge forces during the summer of 2009, and have been in constant talks since then. But local disputes between factions of the two terror groups prevented the merger from taking place.

Hizbul Islam was created in January 2009 with the merger of four separate Islamist groups: Aweys’ Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia-Eritrea, a wing of the Islamic Courts Union; the Ras Kamboni Brigade; Jabhatul Islamiya (the Islamic Front); and Anole.

The Ras Kamboni Brigade hosts al Qaeda camps in the south, and its leader, Sheikh Hassan Turki, was targeted by the US in a cruise missile strike in March 2008. Turki is known to train suicide bombers in camps that are dotted along Somalia’s southern border with Kenya.

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Image of a Shabaab fighter from the terror group’s website.

A Shabaab suicide assault attacked Mogadishu International Airport today, killing five people. The Shabaab fighters were beaten back by African Union troops guarding the facility after the terror team penetrated the first ring of security.

A suicide team of five Shabaab fighters, some dressed in uniforms worn by Somali soldiers, launched their attack on the at the airport entrance at around 2:00 p.m. local time, according to press release put out by African Union forces.

“The first vehicle exploded at the airport entrance, around 500 meters from the airport terminal,” the African Union stated. “The second vehicle, following immediately behind the first, was halted and did not explode.”

Two Shabaab fighters dressed in combat fatigues worn by soldiers in the Transitional Federal Government then dismounted the the second vehicle and began “firing small arms.”

“Both managed to run at speed through the gates, under fire from AMISOM soldiers.” The two Shabaab fighters came within 200 meters of the airport terminal before they were stopped by African Union troops. the suicide bombers then detonated their vests, killing an airport worker.

In all, five Shabaab fighters, two African Union troops, and three civilians were killed during the fighting. [The Somali government later said three civilians were killed in the fighting.]

Today’s suicide assault is the second in Mogadishu in two weeks. On Aug. 23, a Shabaab suicide assault team killed 28 people, including six members of parliament and five soldiers, in an attack on a hotel in the Somali capital of Mogadishu.

Today’s attack in Mogadishu is also the latest in a string of such attacks by al Qaeda and its affiliates. Suicide assaults have been carried out in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Chechnya, and India. The November 2008 terror assault in Mumbai, India, resulted in more than 170 people killed, and the attack shut down India’s financial capital for more than 60 hours.

Background on Shabaab and recent attacks in Mogadishu

Shabaab has shown it can penetrate security at the heavily protected areas in the capital. In addition to the Aug. 23 suicide assault, Shabaab suicide bombers have entered some of the most sensitive installations in the capital. On Dec. 3, 2009, a Shabaab suicide bomber dressed as a woman detonated his vest at a graduation ceremony for medical students at a hotel in Mogadishu and killed 19 people, including the ministers of health, education, and higher education, and two reporters. Somalia’s minister of sports was wounded in the attack, and died on Feb. 12.

On Sept. 17, 2009, Shabaab suicide bombers penetrated security at an African Union base in Mogadishu and killed 21 people, including the deputy African Union commander and 16 other peacekeepers. Sheikh Indha’adde, a top Somali defense official and former ally of Shabaab and Hizbul Islam, is reported to have provided intelligence to the suicide bombers that allowed them to carry out the attack.

Shabaab has carried out 23 major suicide attacks in Somalia since September 2006, when the Islamic Courts Union usurped control of the government (the Islamic Courts was ousted from power in an invasion by Ethiopian forces in December 2006). Several of the attacks have been carried out by American and British citizens who had left their home countries to join Shabaab.

Shabaab has also carried out one suicide attack outside of Somalia’s borders. The July 11 double suicide attack in Kampala, Uganda, killed 74 people. The suicide cell that carried out the attack is called the Saleh ali Nabhan Brigade and is named after the al Qaeda leader who served as the military commander for Shabaab before being killed in a US special operations raid in September 2009.

Background on Shabaab’s links to al Qaeda

Shabaab merged with al Qaeda in November 2008 after requesting to join the international terror group in September 2008. Top al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri, and Abu Yayha al Libi have praised Shabaab in propaganda tapes and encouraged the group to carry out attacks against the Somali government, neighboring countries, and the West. In late 2009, Osama bin Laden appointed Fazul Abdullah Mohammed to serve as al Qaeda’s operations chief in East Africa; the announcement was made at a ceremony in Mogadishu that was attended by Ahmad Godane Zubayr, Shabaab’s spiritual leader.

Over the past several years, Al Qaeda commanders have taken over some of the top leadership positions in Shabaab. Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who was indicted for his involvement in the 1998 attacks in Kenya and Tanzania along with Osama bin Laden, served as Shabaab’s top intelligence official before replacing Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan as Shabaab’s top military leader.

Other foreign al Qaeda operatives hold top leadership positions in Shabaab. Shaykh Muhammad Abu Fa’id, a Saudi citizen, serves as a top financier and a “manager” for Shabaab. Abu Musa Mombasa, a Pakistani citizen, serves as Shabaab’s chief of security and training. Mahmud Mujajir, a Sudanese citizen, is Shabaab’s chief of recruitment for suicide bombers. Abu Mansour al Amriki, a US citizen, serves as a military commander, recruiter, financier, and propagandist.

Al Qaeda’s central leadership, which is based in Pakistan, recently instructed Shabaab to downplay its links to the terror group but to continue to target US interests in the region, a senior US intelligence official who closely follows al Qaeda and Shabaab in East Africa told The Long War Journal.

Shabaab is considered by some US military and intelligence officials to be one of al Qaeda’s most successful affiliates. Shabaab, along with its sometime ally, sometime rival Hizbul Islam, has taken control of much of southern and central Somalia after waging a terror insurgency against Ethiopian forces and the UN-backed Transitional Federal Government.

Last spring, Ethiopian forces withdrew from Somalia under fire and were replaced by some 6,000 African Union peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi. The fractured and weak central government and African Union forces currently control pockets within Mogadishu and little else.

Outside of Mogadishu, the government wields little influence. Shabaab and Hizbul Islam currently control almost all of the southern provinces and many of the central ones as well.

Sources:

Somalia: Airport suicide attack foiled by AMISOM, Garowe/African Union press release
Somali Government condemns strongly today’s Suicide Bombers Attack in Mogadishu Airport, Garowe
Shabaab fighters kill 28, including 6 lawmakers, in suicide assault in Mogadishu, The Long War Journal
Suicide bomber kills 3 Somali ministers, The Long War Journal
Shabaab suicide attack kills 9, including senior African Union commander, The Long War Journal
Shabaab claims credit for dual suicide attacks in Uganda, The Long War Journal
Uganda attack carried out by Shabaab cell named after slain al Qaeda leader, The Long War Journal
Senior al Qaeda leader killed in Somalia, The Long War Journal
Al Qaeda names Fazul Mohammed East African commander, The Long War Journal
Puntland forces claim victory against Shabaab in the ‘Tora Bora of East Africa’, The Long War Journal
Somali minister aided Shabaab suicide attack
Shabaab leader sanctioned as Zawahiri responds to group’s oath of loyalty, The Long War Journal
Excerpts from the Osama bin Laden Tape, The Long War Journal
Bin Laden urges jihad against new Somali government, The Long War Journal
Zawahiri praises Shabaab’s takeover of southern Somalia, The Long War Journal
Islamic Emirate of Somalia imminent as Shabaab races to consolidate power, The Long War Journal
Qaeda figure calls for attacks on new Somali govt, Reuters
Shabaab leader admits links to al Qaeda, The Long War Journal
7 foreign Shabaab fighters killed in explosion in Mogadishu, The Long War Journal
Al Qaeda leaders play significant role in Shabaab, The Long War Journal
Al Qaeda advises Shabaab to keep low profile on links, attack US interests, The Long War Journal

The Long War Journal

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A Shabaab suicide assault team killed 28 people, including six members of parliament and five soldiers, in an attack on a hotel in the Somali capital of Mogadishu.

A squad of heavily armed Shabaab fighters, estimated at ten men strong, entered the Muna Hotel and took the members of parliament and other visitors hostage. The Shabaab fighters dressed as Somali soldiers and were armed with assault rifles and suicide vests.

“Heavily armed Al-Shabaab fighters stormed the hotel early morning, and took hostage officials who were inside. Then they later killed all of them,” an eyewitness told Garowe.

The Shabaab fighters detonated their vests after Somali troops stormed the hotel in an attempt to free the hostages.

The Muna hotel is adjacent to the Presidential Palace and is frequented by members of parliament and other officials, according to Garowe. The hotel is in one of a handful of zones under the nominal control of the Somali government and African Union forces.

Today’s suicide assault in Mogadishu is the latest in a string of such attacks by al Qaeda and its affiliates. Suicide assaults have been carried out Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and in India. The November 2008 terror assault in Mumbai, India resulted in more than 170 people killed, and the attack shut down India’s financial capital for more than 60 hours.

Shabaab has shown it can penetrate security at the heavily protected areas in the capital. On Dec. 3, 2009, a Shabaab suicide bomber dressed as a woman detonated his vest at a graduation ceremony for medical students at a hotel in Mogadishu and killed 19 people, including the ministers of health, education, and higher education, and two reporters. Somalia’s minister of sports was wounded in the attack, and died on Feb. 12.

On Sept. 17, 2009, Shabaab suicide bombers penetrated security at an African Union base in Mogadishu and killed 21 people, including the deputy African Union commander and 16 other peacekeepers. Sheikh Indha’adde, a top Somali defense official and former ally of Shabaab and Hizbul Islam, is reported to have provided intelligence to the suicide bombers that allowed them to carry out the attack.

Shabaab has carried out 22 major suicide attacks in Somalia since September 2006, when the Islamic Courts Union usurped control of the government (the Islamic Courts was ousted from power in an invasion by Eithiopian forces in December 2006). Several of the attacks have been carried out by American and British citizens who had left their home countries to join Shabaab.

Shabaab has also carried out one suicide attack outside of Somalia’s borders. The July 11 double suicide attack in Kampala, Uganda, killed 74 people. The suicide cell that carried out the attack is called the Saleh ali Nabhan Brigade and is named after the al Qaeda leader who served as the military commander for Shabaab before being killed in a US special operations raid in September 2009.

Background on Shabaab’s links to al Qaeda

Shabaab merged with al Qaeda in November 2008 after requesting to join the international terror group in September 2008. Top al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri, and Abu Yayha al Libi have praised Shabaab in propaganda tapes and encouraged the group to carry out attacks against the Somali government, neighboring countries, and the West. In late 2009, Osama bin Laden appointed Fazul Abdullah Mohammed to serve as al Qaeda’s operations chief in East Africa; the announcement was made at a ceremony in Mogadishu that was attended by Ahmad Godane Zubayr, Shabaab’s spiritual leader.

Over the past several years, Al Qaeda commanders have taken over some of the top leadership positions in Shabaab. Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who was indicted for his involvement in the 1998 attacks in Kenya and Tanzania along with Osama bin Laden, served as Shabaab’s top intelligence official before replacing Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan as Shabaab’s top military leader.

Other foreign al Qaeda operatives hold top leadership positions in Shabaab. Shaykh Muhammad Abu Fa’id, a Saudi citizen, serves as a top financier and a “manager” for Shabaab. Abu Musa Mombasa, a Pakistani citizen, serves as Shabaab’s chief of security and training. Mahmud Mujajir, a Sudanese citizen, is Shabaab’s chief of recruitment for suicide bombers. Abu Mansour al Amriki, a US citizen, serves as a military commander, recruiter, financier, and propagandist.

Al Qaeda’s central leadership, which is based in Pakistan, recently instructed Shabaab to downplay its links to the terror group but to continue to target US interests in the region, a senior US intelligence official who closely follows al Qaeda and Shabaab in East Africa told The Long War Journal.

Shabaab is considered by some US military and intelligence officials to be one of al Qaeda’s most successful affiliates. Shabaab, along with its sometime ally, sometime rival Hizbul Islam, has taken control of much of southern and central Somalia after waging a terror insurgency against Ethiopian forces and the UN-backed Transitional Federal Government.

Last spring, Ethiopian forces withdrew from Somalia under fire and were replaced by some 6,000 African Union peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi. The fractured and weak central government and African Union forces currently control pockets within Mogadishu and little else..

Outside of Mogadishu, the central government wields little control. Shabaab and Hizbul Islam currently control almost all of the southern and many of the central provinces.

The Long War Journal

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Image of a Shabaab fighter from the terror group’s website.

Seven foreign fighters were among 10 Shabaab operatives killed in a blast at a safe house in the Somali capital of Mogadishu.

The explosion took place on Aug. 21 at a compound owned by Sheikh Mukhtar Robow Abu Mansour, one of Shabaab’s top leaders, a member of the al Qaeda-linked terror group told Garowe.

“Several top fighters, both foreigners and Somalis died after two explosive-laden vehicles exploded in the middle of the house,” the Shabaab fighter said.

The Somali government claimed seven foreign fighters, a Somali Commander, and two local fighters were killed. It is unclear of Robow was among those killed.

“They are three Pakistanis, two Indians, one Afghani, one Algerian, and two Somalis, (and) a leader who was in charge of praying for suicide bombers before they were dispatched,” Somalia’s Information Ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters.

The Aug. 21 blast in Mogadishu mimics another unexplained explosion that took place in May 2009 that nearly killed Shabaab’s spiritual leader, Sheikh Muktar Abdelrahman Abu Zubeyr. Eleven Shabaab fighters and three or four “foreign fighters” were killed in the incident, which was reported to have been caused by the detonation of a car bomb in the compound. But observers claimed “missiles” struck the compound. The explosion was never linked to US special operations forces, which has conducted at least six strikes inside Somalia against top Shabaab and al Qaeda leaders.

US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal would not comment on the Aug. 21 explosion in Mogadishu.

Al Qaeda commanders have taken over some of the top leadership positions in Shabaab. Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who was indicted for his involvement in the 1998 attacks in Kenya and Tanzania along with Osama bin Laden, served as Shabaab’s top intelligence official before replacing Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan as Shabaab’s top military leader. Al Qaeda also appointed Fazul as its operations chief for East Africa. Nabhan, who was also indicted with bin Laden and Fazul, served as Shabaab’s military commander before US special operations forces killed him in September 2009.

Other foreign al Qaeda operatives hold top leaderhip positions in Shabaab. Shaykh Muhammad Abu Fa’id, a Saudi citizen, serves as a top financier and a “manager” for Shabaab. Abu Musa Mombasa, a Pakistani citizen, serves as Shabaab’s chief of security and training. Mahmud Mujajir, a Sudanese citizen, is Shabaab’s chief of recruitment for suicide bombers. Abu Mansour al Amriki, a US citizen, serves as a military commander, recruiter, financier, and propagandist.

Al Qaeda’s central leadership, which is based in Pakistan, recently instructed Shabaab to downplay its links to the terror group but to continue to target US interests in the region, a senior US intelligence official who closely follows al Qaeda and Shabaab in East Africa told The Long War Journal.

Shabaab is considered by some US military and intelligence officials to be one of al Qaeda most successful affiliates. Shabaab, along with sometimes ally, sometimes rival Hizbul Islam, has taken control of much of southern and central Somalia after waging a terror insurgency against Ethiopian forces and the UN-backed Transitional Federal Government.

Ethiopian forces withdrew from Somalia under fire and were replaced by some 6,000 African Union peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi. The fractured and weak central government and African Union forces control pockets within Mogadishu and little else.

The Long War Journal

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Omar Hammami, who is also known as Abu Mansoor al Amriki.

The US government announced yesterday that it has charged 14 people with materially supporting the terrorist group al Shabaab (along with other offenses), and that four new indictments in Minneapolis, San Diego, and Mobile, Ala., have been unsealed. [See Threat Matrix report, US indicts 14 people for supporting Shabaab.]

Not all of the names that came out yesterday are new: as Attorney General Eric Holder stated at a press conference, seven of 10 defendants charged in Minnesota “had been previously charged by either indictment or criminal complaint.” Two of the indictments are rather sparse: Omar Hammami’s indictment is quite generalized, containing no new information that cannot already be gleaned from Andrea Elliott’s superb New York Times profile of him, and the indictment of Jehad Serwan Mostafa (who, like Hammami, is believed to be in Somalia) provides only a thin sketch of his activities.

More interesting are the two indictments issued in Minnesota — one based on recruiting for al Shabaab, and the other based on fundraising for the group. The indictment for recruiting (United States v. Omar) does not go into detail about the mechanics of the Shabaab recruiting network, but makes clear that there are connections between the current indictment and previous Shabaab recruiting cases. For example, one of the individuals indicted is Cabdulaahi Ahmed Faarax, who was indicted last year. Though this has not yet been noted in public commentary, the Omar indictment links defendants associated with that recruiting network to the first American suicide bomber, Shirwa Ahmed. Paragraph 13 of the indictment states that the defendants’ actions caused (enabled?) Shirwa Ahmed to board a flight out of Minneapolis on Dec. 4, 2007, heading to Somalia as his final destination. There has thus far been no detailed analysis of the overlap and intersections between this case and the two previous major Shabaab recruiting cases (in 2008 and 2009), but some enterprising researcher could make a significant contribution by looking into this overlap.

The most interesting indictment, of Amina Farah Ali and Hawo Mohamed Hassan, provides a window into some of the terrorist financing activity undertaken for Shabaab. Ali and Hassan were working on behalf of an unnamed individual whom the indictment describes as “a member of al-Shabaab who was an al-Shabaab financial representative and then became the al-Shabaab administrative governor for the Bay and Bakool regions in Southern Somalia, after al-Shabaab seized control of those regions in February 2009.” If this identifying information is correct, this individual was Sheikh Hassan Mohamed Ali, aka Abu Ayman, former Shabaab governor for the Bay and Bakool regions.

The indictment outlines means through which fundraising took place. Today the media has been emphasizing that some of this was deceptive: that, as the indictment says, some funds were raised “under the false pretense that the funds were for the poor and needy.” But this was not the case for all the funds raised. The indictment describes teleconferences in which the two defendants, and other speakers, encouraged contributions to support jihad in Somalia. In one teleconference, on Oct. 26, 2008, Ali told the listeners that “it was not the time to help the poor and needy in Somalia; rather, the priority was to give to the mujahidin.” And in another, on Feb. 10, 2009, Ali told listeners to “forget about the other charities” and focus on “the jihad.”

After money was raised, it was sent to Shabaab through the hawala remittance system: the indictment names Dar al Tawakul General Trading, Kaah Express, Dahabshiil, Qaran Express US, Amaana Money Transfer, and Mustaqbal Express as means of transmitting funds. The money sent to Shabaab, according to the indictment, was not large: the indictment lists all such transactions in paragraph 40, and they total $ 8,608. The largest single transfer, occurring on March 14, 2009, was for $ 1,195; the smallest was $ 250. Of course, money will go a longer way in Somalia.

In addition to the terrorism charges, both Minnesota cases included “false statements” charges. For more on this legal mechanism, see this article.

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Security forces under the command of the semi-autonomous region of Puntland in northern Somalia claimed to have defeated Shabaab and driven the al Qaeda-linked group from an area that has been described as the Tora Bora of East Africa.

Puntland forces launched the operation against Shabaab fighters under the command of Mohammed Said Atom in the Galgala Mountains region in late July.

“We have attacked their bases and chase them away,” Puntland Security Minister Yusuf Ahmed Qeyr told Garowe two days ago. “Our forces are now in full control of the Galgala Mountains and the enemy suffered heavy casualties.”

Qeyr did not give an estimate of Shabaab casualties, but one commander claimed that the bodies of 11 terrorists were found, while three soldiers were killed. Another report claimed that “dozens” of Shabaab fighters were killed. Shabaab commander Atom has not been reported as killed or captured in the fighting.

Local Puntland officials said Atom’s bases in the mountainous region in the province of Sanaag are “like Tora Bora in Afghanistan,” with cave complexes and training camps [see AFP report, Fears of a new Tora Bora in northern Somalia]. In 2002, al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden battled against US Special Forces and Afghan militias in the Tora Bora mountain complex in Nangarhar in eastern Afghanistan.

Atom denies links to Shabaab

Both Shabaab and Atom have denied that fighting in Puntland is related to the al Qaeda-linked group.

“Al Shabaab is not connected to them [Atom's forces] and it’s the local people in Galgala that are fighting against the Puntland government and PIS [Puntland's intelligence service],” Sheikh Ali Mohammed Rage, Shabaab’s top spokesman, told Voice of America Somalia.

“There is no Al Shabaab involved,” Atom said. “Themselves [Shabaab] are saying they are not involved.”

But as Garowe reported, Atom and Rage provided nearly identical answers in coordinated statements to the press. Atom evaded direct questions on whether he was a member of Shabaab. He also echoed Shabaab talking points on the establishment of an Islamic state.

“We are Muslims and we wish to build an Islamic state and to remove the Ashahado la Dirir from Somalia,” Atom told reporters. The Ashahado la Dirir is a phrase used by Shabaab and its predecessor, the Islamic Courts Union, to describe Somali and foreign enemies, Garowe reported.

UN links Atom to Shabaab

Earlier this year, the United Nations identifed Atom as “one of the principal suppliers of arms and ammunition for Al Shabaab operations in the Puntland region.”

“Atom is aligned with Al Shabaab and may receive instructions from Al Shabaab leader Fu’aad Mohamed Khalaf,” the UN report continued. The UN linked Atom to the Feb. 5, 2008, bombing in Bosaso that killed 20 Ethiopian migrant workers and wounded more than 100. Shabaab has declared war on Ethiopia and has attacked Ethiopian troops and interests throughout the country.

Shabaab has successfully carried out terror attacks in the relatively peaceful Somali north in the past. On Oct. 29, 2008, five Shabaab suicide bombers struck four compounds in Somaliland and Puntland, killing 28 and wounding scores. Three suicide car bombers struck the presidential palace, the UN Development Program compound, and the Ethiopian Consulate in the city of Hargeisa in Somaliland. And in Bosaso, two bombers targeted an intelligence facility.

On July 11 of this year, Shabaab carried out its first suicide attack outside Somalia, when two bombers detonated at restaurants in Kampala, Uganda, as soccer fans watched the World Cup. In that attack, 74 civilians were killed and more than 60 were wounded.

The Shabaab cell that carried out the Kampala attack is called the Saleh Ali Nabhan Brigade, which is named after the slain al Qaeda leader who also served as a senior Shabaab leader. Nabhan was one of the most sought out al Qaeda operatives in Africa. He was wanted for involvement in the 1998 suicide attacks against US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Shabaab’s top leadership positions are dominated by foreign commanders, according to an intelligence assessment by the African Union Mission for Somalia. The foreign Shabaab commanders have trained in al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan or Pakistan, and many have entered Somalia over the past year to assume top leadership roles in Shabaab. The al Qaeda commanders come from Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Sudan, and the United States.

Sources:

Somalia: Puntland Security Forces Register Victory at the Galgala Frontier, Garowe
Somalia: Puntland forces conquer militants hideout “Galgala”, Garowe
Shabaab, Puntland forces clash in northern Somalia, The Long War Journal
Fears of a new Tora Bora in northern Somalia, AFP
Somalia: Al Shabaab and Galgala militants deny each other, Garowe
Violators of the designated arms embargo on Somalia, United Nations [PDF file]
Five suicide bombers strike in northern Somalia, The Long War Journal
Uganda attack carried out by Shabaab cell named after slain al Qaeda leader, The Long War Journal
Al Qaeda leaders play significant role in Shabaab, The Long War Journal

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Al Qaeda’s senior leadership has advised Shabaab, its affiliate in Somalia, to downplay links between the two terror groups and suggested that future attacks be directed at US interests in East Africa.

“Al Qaeda’s top leadership has instructed Shabaab to maintain a low profile on al Qaeda links,” a senior US intelligence official who closely follows al Qaeda and Shabaab in East Africa told The Long War Journal. The official, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject, said the information was passed between the top leadership of both groups.

“Al Qaeda has accepted Shabaab into the fold and, and any additional statements would only serve to draw international scrutiny,” the intelligence official said. “Al Qaeda is applying lessons learned from Iraq, that an overexposure of the links between al Qaeda central leadership and its affiliates can cause some unwanted attention.”

Shabaab’s double suicide attack in Uganda on July 11 was well received by al Qaeda’s top leadership, who want Shabaab to continue to hitting US interests in Africa.

“Al Qaeda is pleased with the double suicide attack in Uganda, but suggested Shabaab reserve future strikes at US interests in the region,” the official said.

The July 11 double suicide attack in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, killed 74 civilians as they watched the World Cup’s final soccer match. The mastermind of the Kampala attacks, Isah Ahmed Luyima, said he executed the bombings with the intent of maximizing US deaths.

“I targeted places where many Americans go,” Luyima said in a press conference hosted by Ugandan police on Aug. 12. “I was made to believe that Americans were responsible for the suffering of Muslims all over the world.”

The Shabaab cell that carried out the Uganda attack called itself the Saleh Ali Nabhan Brigade. Saleh Ali Slaeh Nabhan was a top al Qaeda and Shabaab leader who has been indicted by the US for his involvement in the 1998 bombings at the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Nabhan was indicted with several top al Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri. Nabhan served as Shabaab’s top military commander before US special operations forces both downplayed any ties after security forces attacked terror training camps operated by Atom in the Galgala Mountains in late July.

Shabaab’s links to al Qaeda

Al Qaeda has praised Shabaab and its predecessor, the Islamic Courts Union, for years prior to accepting Shabaab into the fold. For years al Qaeda has helped produced propaganda for the Islamic Courts and Shabaab and has addressed the group in its own propaganda tapes. Osama bin Laden endorsed the Islamic Courts during a speech back in 2006.

“We will continue, God willing, to fight you and your allies everywhere, in Iraq and Afghanistan and in Somalia and Sudan until we waste all your money and kill your men and you will return to your country in defeat as we defeated you before in Somalia,” bin Laden said. Al Qaeda leaders Ayman al Zawahiri and Abu Yahya al Libi have also directly addressed Shabaab and voiced their support for the terror group’s activities.

During the summer of 2008, Shabaab sought to formally join al Qaeda. By the end of that year, al Qaeda had accepted Shabaab as its official affiliate in East Africa.

Shabaab’s former spokesman and top military commander, Sheikh Mukhtar Robow, admitted that many Shabaab leaders have trained with and take instruction from al Qaeda. “Most of our leaders were trained in Al Qaeda camps,” Robow told The Los Angeles Times in August 2008. “We get our tactics and guidelines from them,” he continued. “Many have spent time with Osama bin Laden.” Other Shabaab leaders have also admitted to links with al Qaeda.

“We will take our orders from Sheikh Osama bin Laden because we are his students,” Robow continued. “Al Qaeda is the mother of the holy war in Somalia.”

In September of 2008, Shabaab formally reached out to al Qaeda’s senior leadership in an effort to better integrate with the network and its strategic nodes across Africa and the Middle East. The effort came in the form of a 24-minute video that featured Nabhan.

In the tape, Nabhan declared an oath of bayat (loyalty) on behalf of Shabaab to bin Laden and al Qaeda and encouraged fighters to train in Shabaab-run camps and participate in the fight against the transitional federal government, Ethiopian forces, and African Union peacekeepers.

The response to Shabaab’s declaration came two months later, on Nov. 19, 2008, when al Qaeda operations chief Ayman al-Zawahiri acknowledged the group in a propaganda video by calling them “my brothers, the lions of Islam in Somalia.”

“[R]ejoice in victory and conquest,” Zawahiri said in an official transcript acquired by The Long War Journal, “and hold tightly to the truth for which you have given your lives, and don’t put down your weapons before the Mujahid state of Islam and Tawheed [oneness with god] has been set up in Somalia.”

Most of Shabaab’s top leaders are foreign al Qaeda operatives. Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who also was indicted for his involvement in the 1998 attacks in Kenya and Tanzania, served as Shabaab’s top intelligence official before replacing Nabhan as Shabaab’s top military leader. Al Qaeda also appointed Fazul as its operations chief for East Africa.

Shaykh Muhammad Abu Fa’id, a Saudi citizen, serves as a top financier and a “manager” for Shabaab. Abu Musa Mombasa, a Pakistani citizen, serves as Shabaab’s chief of security and training. Mahmud Mujajir, a Sudanese citizen, is Shabaab’s chief of recruitment for suicide bombers. Abu Mansour al Amriki, a US citizen, serves as a military commander, recruiter, financier, and propagandist.

Sources:

Uganda suicide plot meant to kill more Americans, The Associated Press
Shabaab claims credit for dual suicide attacks in Uganda, The Long War Journal
Uganda attack carried out by Shabaab cell named after slain al Qaeda leader, The Long War Journal
Senior al Qaeda leader killed in Somalia, The Long War Journal
Al Qaeda names Fazul Mohammed East African commander, The Long War Journal
Puntland forces claim victory against Shabaab in the ‘Tora Bora of East Africa’, The Long War Journal
Excerpts from the Osama bin Laden Tape, The Long War Journal
Zawahiri praises Shabaab’s takeover of southern Somalia, The Long War Journal
Qaeda figure calls for attacks on new Somali govt, Reuters
Shabaab leader admits links to al Qaeda, The Long War Journal
Al Qaeda leaders play significant role in Shabaab, The Long War Journal

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