Al-Shabaab-Al Qaeda Connection

Title: Somali Islamists Al-Shabab 'Join Al-Qaeda Fight'
Date: February 1, 2010
Source: BBC

Abstract: Somali Islamist rebel group al-Shabab has confirmed for the first time that its fighters are aligned with al-Qaeda's global militant campaign.

The group said in a statement that the "jihad of Horn of Africa must be combined with the international jihad led by the al-Qaeda network".

Meanwhile, several people have died in fighting in Mogadishu after government troops shelled militant positions.

Islamist insurgents control much of southern and central Somalia.

The government, which is backed by the UN and African Union, holds sway only in a small part of Mogadishu.

Despite repeated accusations by the US that al-Shabab is linked to al-Qaeda, the group denied the connection in a recent interview with the BBC.

The BBC Somali service's Mohamed Mohamed says it is the first time the group has officially confirmed its fight is linked to al-Qaeda.

'Financer of Terrorism'
The group's statement also announced that its militants had joined forces with a smaller insurgent group called Kamboni.

The group, based in the southern town of Ras Kamboni, was previously allied to Hizbul-Islam - another militant group fighting the government.

Kamboni is led by Hassan Turki, a militant the US accuses of being a "financer of terrorism".

Al-Shabab said it was trying to unite all Islamist forces to create a Muslim state under its hard-line interpretation of Sharia law.

The group, which controls swathes of Somalia, has carried out public beheadings and stonings.

'Human Shields'
Meanwhile in Mogadishu reports said at least eight civilians were killed in fighting overnight.

"Our team collected eight bodies of civilians who were killed in the shelling and 55 others who were injured, some of them seriously," health official Ali Musa told the AFP news agency.

Militants had launched an artillery attack on the presidential compound, and government and African Union forces responded with several mortar shells.

AFP quoted an unnamed police official accusing the rebels of hiding in civilian areas and using "human shields".

Somalia has been wracked by violence for much of the past 20 years. It has not had a functioning central government since 1991 (BBC, 2010).

Title: CIA Says Al-Shabaab Has Close Ties With Yemen Based Al-Qaeda
Date: July 18, 2011
Source: Bar Kulan

Abstract: The CIA has announced that Yemen based Al-Qaeda has closer ties with Al-Shabaab militias in Somalia.

U.S. counter-terrorism officials told Los Angeles Times that they gathered the information from a Somali militant who was captured en route from Yemen to Somalia and interrogated aboard a U.S. warship before being arraigned in New York on terrorism charges this month.

According to a newly developed American intelligence, Al-Qaeda’s powerful branch in Yemen has provided weapons, fighters and training with explosives over the last year to Al-Shabaab militia group battling for power in Somalia, urging members of the hard-line Al-Shabaab militia to attack targets outside Africa.

The CIA also gained other information when Somali authorities allowed them to interview Al-Shabaab militants held in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, saying that they asked about the militants’ ability to launch attacks outside Somalia as well as the group’s command structure (Bar Kulan, 2011).

Title: Al-Qaida Weapons Reaching Al-Shabaab
August 3, 2011

Abstract: The Somali terrorist group al-Shabaab has acquired weapons from the Yemeni-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a Somali official told VOA News.

Ten ships filled with weapons from al-Qaida set sail recently from the coast of Yemen, but the Yemeni government intercepted two of them.

Hussein Haji Ahmed, the Somali consul in Yemen, said that he thinks the remaining ships successfully sailed across the Gulf of Aden and reached part of the Somali coast controlled by al-Shabaab.

The news confirms fears of collaboration between al-Shabaab and al-Qaida's Yemeni branch expressed during a recent House hearing held by Rep. Peter King, R.-N.Y.

"There are growing concerns that al-Shabaab in Somalia is linking up with al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen to better train these radicalized young men in order to attack Americans around the world, as well as launch attacks against our homeland," King said.

"Shabaab's most senior leaders, including its founders, have longstanding ties to al Qaeda," hearing witness Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said in written testimony. Witnesses agreed that al-Shabaab poses a "direct threat to the U.S."

Al-Shabaab's foreign support isn't limited to AQAP, indicating that the group has a growing support network in the region.

A recent United Nations report found that members of the Kenyan Muslim Youth Centre (MYC) "openly engage in recruiting for al-Shabaab in Kenya and facilitate travel to Somalia for individuals to train and fight for 'jihad' in Somalia."

MYC Chairman Ahmad Iman Ali, the report said, moved to Somalia in 2009 and has recruited a force of 200-500 fighters there. The Kenyan group also publishes a weekly bulletin that includes al-Shabaab and al-Qaida support material.

Eritrea, which is separated from Somalia's northern border only by the small African country of Djibouti, also has been accused of aiding the Somali terrorist group.

A UN report released in July said that Eritrea has been funneling $80,000 a month to al-Shabaab through its embassy in Kenya. Ethiopian Justice Minister Berhane Hailu claimed there is concrete evidence of Eritrea's al-Shabaab support. Eritrea denies the claims (IPT, 2011)

Title: Al Shabaab/Al Qaeda Terror Plot Uncovered
Date: September 18, 2011
Source: Somalia Report

Abstract: After the kidnapping of a British tourist in Kenya, Somalia Report sent teams to investigate the details, but instead uncovered an alleged master plan by the al-Shabaab insurgent group to disrupt Kenya's tourism industry and kidnap foreigners using their own foreign fighters, all planned by Al-Qaeda's Horn of Africa mastermind.

The British tourist, Mrs. Judith Tebbutt, kidnapped by Somali gunmen from a resort in Kenya, was taken to Kismayo by speed boat and later moved to Baidoa and today she allegedly arrived in Hiin Dawa'o, a town between Harardhere and Hobyo.

A Somalia Report investigation in Lower Juba, Middle Juba and Lower Shabelle has unearthed a wider plan of terror directed against Kenya's tourism industry within the coastal region that was abruptly put on hold when the mastermind, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Al-Qaeda's point man in the Horn of Africa, was gunned in Mogadishu in June. His death forced the scouting team to abort the plan and return back to the coastal town of Marka for further orders.

This advance team within al-Shabaab was made up of only foreign fighters from Kenya and Tanzania selected for their knowledge of the area and are believed to have assisted in Mrs. Tebbutt's kidnapping to avenge Kenyan support for Somalia's government, which is battling the Islamic terror group.

Somalia Report sources indicate that the chairman of al-Shabaab in Kismayo, Sheikh Hassan Yaqub Ali who also serves as the (Amniyat) intelligence chief for the Juba regions, was given the mandate to come up with covert action against the coastal towns of Kenya by the high council of the group for consultations known as “Shura” following a meeting in Kismayo two months ago. The plan was reportedly to recruit both al-Shabaab combatants, former pirates, and relatives of some of the top officials within al-Shabaab to carry out the attacks.

Despite al-Shabaab's denial of being behind the kidnapping, this operation had the blessings and logistical support of the local administration on ground since nobody can undertake such action without the permission of al-Shabaab which controls the region.

The initial plan was to kidnap or kill as many tourists as possible but this was not to be since Mrs. Tebbutt and her husband, who was killed during the kidnapping, were the only guests at the resort. To compensate for their 'failure' by kidnapping only one foreigner, al-Shabaab fighters within the Amniyat or Al-Shabaab’s intelligence team (the dreaded al-Shabaab hit squad) were directed to kidnap more foreigners outside Somalia's border. To do this, they turned to the foreign Jihadists from Kenya and Tanzania who had been operating under Fazul.

To identify a secure location to keep their victims, the intelligence leadership sent advance teams to the towns of Jamame, Jilib and Bu’ale, specifically to the former World Vision compound in Bua'le town in Middle Juba region. The compound is currently used as a training, command and lodging base by al-Shabaab's high ranking officials, particularly foreign fighters. The final location has yet to be determined due to a disagreement between the kidnappers and the al-Shabaab point person about the next course of action.

All the top officials in the Juba regions were ordered to deny any knowledge of the kidnapping and halt any outgoing information by intimidating locals. By denying the kidnapping, al-Shabaab believes they successfully inflicted a blow to the Kenyan government and tourism industry without subjecting themselves the wrath of the international community.

Despite their tactic of denial, analysts believe this will only bring more military force against the militants which have already been targeted by drones in southern Somalia.

“Kidnapping foreigners like the British woman may finally cause more foreign military intervention into the Somalia’s rebel held areas if the radical Islamists cannot be stopped from jumping the Somalia border to neighboring nations,” Kismayo based Somali political Analyst Muse Dirir told Somalia Report (Somalia Report, 2011).

Title: Links Between Al Shabaab, Al Qaeda Threaten Americans, Witnesses Warn
September 28, 2011
HS Today

Abstract: An alliance between terrorist organizations Al Shabaab and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) threatens Americans due in part to Al Shabaab's proven ability to recruit from the US Somali American population, witnesses told the House Homeland Security Committee Wednesday.

Rep. Peter King (R-NY), chair of the committee, convened a third hearing in a series on Muslim radicalization to examine Al Shabaab's recruitment and radicalization of Somali American youth.

"With Al Shabaab's large cadre of American jihadis and unquestionable ties to Al Qaeda, particularly its alliance with AQAP, we must face the reality that Al Shabaab is a growing threat to our homeland," King declared.

King's committee released an investigative report that found Al Shabaab has recruited more than 40 Muslim Americans and 20 Canadians to join its activities inside of Somalia. Fifteen of those Americans and three Canadians likely died fighting for the terror group, the report added.

Of those, Shirwa Ahmed from Minneapolis, Minn., became the first confirmed American suicide bomber in US history when he died in an attack overseas on behalf of Al Shabaab, King said.

APAQ's resources with Al Shabaab's reach could form a deadly combination where APAQ could train Al Shabaab terrorists to attack Americans, he added.

Those that do not believe Al Shabaab poses a threat to Americans suffer "a failure of imagination" of the sort that permitted the 9/11 attacks to occur, King insisted, citing the words of the 9/11 Commission.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), ranking member of the committee, disagreed with King.

"While I acknowledge that the intelligence community sees a need to monitor Al Shabaab's activities, I also know that vigilance must be in direct proportion to the probability and likelihood of the threat.  Al Shabaab does not appear to present any danger to this homeland," Thompson said, speaking for most Democrats on the committee.

"At the same time, we must wonder whether Americans who joined Al Shabaab would return to this country and commit acts of terrorism.  I think that is a fair question that deserves a factual answer.  A few people have been convicted in the United States for providing support and assistance to Al Shabaab," he added.

While the radicalization of Somali American youth largely occurred between 2007-2009, Thompson conceded that an examination of methods to counter that radicalization were worthwhile.

William Anders Folk, a former assistant US Attorney in Minnesota, told the committee that those radicalized by Al Shabaab definitely have the means and motivation to attack Americans.

Al Shabaab has looked to Al Qaeda for leadership and guidance in the past and perpetuates the same messages as Al Qaeda, said Folk, who worked on some of 20 cases the US Attorney's Office in Minnesota to indict 20 individuals connected to Al Shabaab in the past.

"It is impossible to predict with certainty what, if anything, and who, if anyone, will come to the United States after training and indoctrination by Al Shabaab," Folk testified. "It is obvious, however, that individuals who are trained, indoctrinated and deployed in combat by Al Shabaab have learned how to carry-out acts of lethal violence. Additionally, it is clear that the ideology espoused by Al Shabaab echoes that of Al Qaeda.

"This combination of ability and ideology illustrates the threat that is posed by even one Al Shabaab veteran residing in the United States. The ability to prevent or detect such a person from entering the United States or carrying-out any terrorist acts in the United States requires continued vigilance of the group's activities in Somalia, but also to ensure that supporters or sympathizers within the United States are targeted for investigation," he added.

Thomas Joscelyn, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said Al Shaabab and Al Qaeda already have demonstrated operational links dating back to the US embassy bombings in Africa in 1998.

Senior Shabaab leader Mukhtar Robow pledged loyalty to Osama bin Laden in August 2008, Joscelyn noted. And Somali terrorists fighting for Al Shabaab largely trained in Al Qaeda camps.

Several terrorists working for Al Shabaab were part of the group that carried out the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, participating in Al Qaeda's most deadly attack before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Joscelyn said.

Just as terror experts did not take APAQ seriously before the Christmas Day bombing attempt in 2009, so many could be discounting the threat posed by Al Shabaab, he added.

"Indeed, my worry is that some counterterrorism analysts may be falling into the same trap analysts fell into previously with respect to another Al Qaeda affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula," Joscelyn stated. "Although AQAP was well known to counterterrorism and intelligence officials prior to the failed Christmas Day 2009 attack on Flight 253, they did not consider AQAP a major threat to the United States."

The committee also heard from Tom Smith, chief of police for Saint Paul, Minn., and Ahmed Hussen, president of the Canadian Somali Congress, on Muslim outreach and counterradicalization strategies (HS Today, 2011)

Title: Al Qaeda Allies In Africa Pose New Threat
Date: October 26, 2011
Source: Global Post

: Al Qaeda has been hit hard by high-level assassinations and constant drone strikes, but the next big threat to international security may come from subsidiary Islamic extremist groups in Africa and the Middle East, according to two New York Times correspondents.

“As Al Qaeda is wounded, the affiliates become the leaders,” said Pentagon correspondent Thom Shanker during a book seminar at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center. “There’s a worrying trend of networking in Al Qaeda.”

The core of Al Qaeda has been eroded since the Sept. 11 attacks, said Shanker and terrorism reporter Eric Schmitt, co-authors of the book “Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America’s Secret Campaign Against Al Qaeda.”

Better intelligence and a more nuanced understanding of the terrorist groups have resulted in the successful U.S. military mission to kill Osama bin Laden and an influx of drone strikes targeted at senior leaders — incidents that could not have happened 10 years ago, they said.

But the threat is now shifting from the central command to Al Qaeda affiliates elsewhere in the world who are not under the U.S.’s magnifying glass.

While the Al Qaeda branch is Yemen is considered the most dangerous threat to the U.S. — the “underwear bomber” and the cargo-plane bomb attempt both originated in Yemen — militant groups in North and East Africa also have the U.S. “rife with concern,” said Schmitt.

Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al Shabaab in Somalia and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in North Africa have all become more sophisticated and more capable of attacks that move beyond the local arena and have international reverberations.

But the allied extremist groups in Africa differ from Al Qaeda in the kind of attacks they pursue, Schmitt said.

One of Al Qaeda's main pursuits continues to be obtaining weapons of mass destruction for major attacks.  The militants in Somalia and Nigeria focus on smaller, less expensive blasts directed toward both Westerners and citizens of their home country.

Nigeria’s radical Islamist group Boko Haram escalated its violence when it attacked the U.N. headquarters in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, in August. At least 18 people were killed and dozens more injured in the suicide car bombing outside the heavily guarded building where international officials worked.

In Somalia, another group allied to Al Qaeda, Al Shabaab, has wreaked havoc in a country that hasn’t seen an effective central government in two decades.

The African Union has sent 9,000 troops, mostly Ugandans, to support the transitional government in Mogadishu against Al Shabaab. This month Kenya has sent troops into Somalia, too, in pursuit of the kidnappers of four foreigners from Kenya. The Kenyan authorities blame Al Shabaab.

The militant group denies the kidnappings and has threatened Kenya with a campaign of violent terror in retaliation for sending its troops into Somalia.

“Your attack to us means your skyscrapers will be destroyed, your tourism will disappear,” a spokesperson for Al Shabaab warned Kenya.

France announced Monday that it would help support Kenyan troops in their offensive by sending supplies to the region, and the U.S. has planted new drone bases in the Seychelles and Ethiopia.  Those bases will be used to attack the group in Somalia, according to anonymous U.S. officials and leaked diplomatic cables.

“Somalia has plenty of ungoverned space right now,” Schmitt said, adding that some are worried of a possible teaming up between Al Shabaab and Al Qaeda for joint operations.

But don’t expect U.S. boots on the ground in Somalia any time soon, Shanker said.

It isn’t out of the realm of possibility for the U.S. to send military advisers to Somalia, much like President Barack Obama’s recent move to send troops to Uganda to combat the Lord’s Resistance Army, he said. But he added that anything more than working in an advising role would not be politically possible in the U.S.

But U.S. policy toward militant groups like Al Shabaab is divided and complicated, according to Shanker and Schmitt. Some U.S. officials believe targeting militia leaders in Somalia “does more harm than good,” and others worry that going after Shabaab may radicalize the Somali population in the U.S.  

A group like Al Shabaab attacking the U.S. from within is a real threat because of their "safe haven" in cyberspace, where recruiters have the chance to inspire a network of homegrown terrorists, Schmitt said.  Already some young Somalis who are U.S. citizens have returned to Somalia to join Al Shabaab.

Shanker and Schmitt also warned the U.S. to be ready for another attack on its soil.

"There will be another attack here in the United States," Schmitt said.  The rise of militant groups in Africa and their move to fill the power void left by Al Qaeda has made the possibility very probable, according to the pair of reporters. 

But they said they can't predict when the attack will occur or whether it will originate from a militant group like Al Shabaab or from a radicalized community within the U.S. 

The current goal, instead, is to “drive [terrorism] down to a more manageable level,” or to the criminal level, Shanker said. In his view the best choice the U.S. can make in combatting terrorism is "by beating away at the ferocity and frequency of attacks" because it will probably never go away completely.

"The good news is that organization is very much on its heels," Schmitt said, referring to Al Qaeda's ability to coordinate attacks.  He said that the U.S. intelligence community has developed into a group adept at deterring potential terrorist attacks.

But Shanker added, "Other affiliates and networks have come up with brilliant ideas" (Global Post, 2011).