Date: May 26, 2010
Source: Fox News
Abstract: The Department of Homeland Security is alerting Texas authorities to be on the lookout for a suspected member of the Somalia-based Al Shabaab terrorist group who might be attempting to travel to the U.S. through Mexico, a security expert who has seen the memo tells FOXNews.com.
The warning follows an indictment unsealed this
month in Texas federal court that accuses a Somali man in Texas of
running a “large-scale smuggling enterprise” responsible for bringing
hundreds of Somalis from Brazil through South America and eventually
across the Mexican border. Many of the illegal immigrants, who court
records say were given fake IDs, are alleged to have ties to other
now-defunct Somalian terror organizations that have merged with active
organizations like Al Shabaab, al-Barakat and Al-Ittihad Al-Islami.
In recent years, American Somalis have been recruited by Al Shabaab to travel to Somalia, where they are often radicalized by more extremist or operational anti-American terror groups, which Al Shabaab supports. The recruiters coming through the Mexican border are the ones who could be the most dangerous, according to law enforcement officials. Security experts tell FOXNews.com that the influx of hundreds of Somalis over the U.S. border who allegedly have ties to suspected terror cells is evidence of a porous and unsecured border being exploited by groups intent on wrecking deadly havoc on American soil.
The DHS alert was issued to police and sheriff’s deputies in Houston, asking them to keep their eyes open for a Somali man named Mohamed Ali who is believed to be in Mexico preparing to make the illegal crossing into Texas. Officials believe Ali has ties to Al Shabaab, a Somali terrorist organization aligned with Al Qaeda, said Joan Neuhaus Schaan, the homeland security and terrorism fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute, who has seen the alert.
An indictment was unsealed in Texas federal court earlier this month that revealed that a Somali man, Ahmed Muhammed Dhakane, led a human smuggling ring that brought East Africans, including Somalis with ties to terror groups, from Brazil and across the Mexican border and into Texas.
In a separate case, Anthony Joseph Tracy, of Virginia, who admitted to having ties to Al Shabaab, is currently being prosecuted for his alleged role in an international ring that illegally brought more than 200 Somalis across the Mexican border. Prosecutors say Tracy used his Kenya-based travel business as a cover to fraudulently obtain Cuban travel documents for the Somalis. The smuggled Somalis are believed to have spread out across the United States and remain mostly at large, court records show.
Somalis are classified by border and immigration officials as “special interest” — illegal immigrants who get caught trying to cross the Mexican border into the U.S. who come from countries that are considered a high threat to the U.S., Neuhaus Schaan explained.
DHS did not respond to multiple e-mail and phone requests for comment.
In addition to the Somali immigration issue, Mexican smugglers are coaching some Middle Eastern immigrants before they cross the border – schooling them on how to dress and giving them phrases to help them look and sound like Latinos, law enforcement sources told FoxNews.com.
“There have been a number of certain communities that
have noticed this, villages in northern Mexico where Middle Easterners
try to move into town and learn Spanish,” Neuhaus Schaan said. “People
were changing there names from Middle Eastern names to Hispanic names.”
Security experts say the push by illegal immigrants to try to fit in also could be the realization of what officials have feared for years: Latin American drug cartels are helping jihadist groups bring terrorists across the Mexican border.
J. Peter Pham, senior fellow and director of the Africa Project at the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, said that for the past ten years there’s been suspicion by U.S. law enforcement that drug cartels could align with international terrorist organizations to bring would-be-jihadists into the U.S.
That kind of collaboration is already being seen in Africa, said Dr. Walid Phares, director of the Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
“Al Qaeda could easily say, “Ok, now we want your help getting these guys into the United States,” Phares said. “Eventually the federal government will pay more attention, but there is a window of time now where they can get anyone they want to get in already.”
Experts also say the DHS alert and recent court case
highlights the threat of terrorists penetrating the Mexican/Texas border
— and the growing threat of Somali recruitment efforts to bring
Americans of Somali descent back to Somalia for jihadist training,
creating homegrown terrorists.
Pham says the DHS alert comes too late. “They’re just covering themselves for the fact that DHS has been failing to date to deal effectively with this,” he said. “They’re already here.”
Michael Weinstein, a political science professor at Purdue University and an expert on Somalia, said, “In the past year, it’s become obvious that there’s a spillover into the United States of the transnational revolutionaries in Somalia.”
“It’s something that certainly has to be watched, but I don’t think it’s an imminent threat,” he said. “This has to be put in context with people smuggling — everybody and their brother is getting into the United States through Mexico; I read last week that some Chinese were crossing, it’s just a big market.”
Pham disagrees. “The real danger is ‘something along the lines of jihadist version of ‘find a classmate,’ he said, referring to Al Shabaab’s potential to set up sleeper cells in the U.S. “Most of them rely on personal referral and association. That type of social networking is not beyond their capabilities.”
Pham says the DHS alert is too little, too late.“This is like shutting the barn door after the horses got away,” he said (Fox News, 2010).
Title: Somalia's Al-Shabab: A Global Or Local Movement?
Date: August 20, 2010
Abstract: When Somalia's al-Shabab militia claimed responsibility for the July 11 suicide bombings that killed 76 people watching soccer on TV in Uganda, the media described the event as an al-Qaeda attack on the World Cup. That's a misrepresentation, of course, but one that illustrates many of the problems with viewing and reacting to events in Somalia through a war-on-terrorism paradigm.
The Shabab certainly has a relationship with al-Qaeda, but it is an independent organization, and the Kampala bombings were motivated not by some global jihadist agenda but by the Shabab's ongoing struggle against foreign military intervention in Somalia. That primarily means Uganda, which is a key component of the African Union (A.U.) mission in Somalia. That mission props up the beleaguered remains of a government that is widely seen as corrupt, greedy, inefficient and illegitimate. The Shabab perceives that government as a foreign-imposed regime; in fact, it does not even qualify as a regime, simply the faction that controls the airport and the presidential villa — buttressed by Ugandan arms. (Read "How Did al-Shabab Emerge from the Chaos of Somalia?")
The Shabab's current credibility in Somalia is rooted in the deep unpopularity of foreign intervention, including the U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion of 2006-09 and the A.U. forces that went in after to keep the peace. Ethiopian gunships flew missions over Mogadishu, strafing civilian neighborhoods and returning to the airport, which was held and protected by A.U. troops. In the eyes of many Somalis, the two forces were one and the same. Indeed, Somalis sneer at Uganda's claim that its soldiers are peacekeepers. Those troops clearly take the side of the ruling faction in the civil war. The day after the soccer bombings in Uganda, the A.U. bombarded civilian neighborhoods in Mogadishu more fiercely than usual. In all of July, close to 200 civilians were killed in the capital by A.U. shelling. (A different perspective: TIME's Alex Perry on al-Shabab.)
The declared motive for the Uganda bombings was revenge for the thousands of Somali civilians killed by A.U. forces. Another motive was the Shabab's frustration at the stalemate in which it finds itself. While able to prevent the so-called government from being effective, the Shabab is not strong enough to take power outright or even to overrun a Ugandan position.
That is because the Shabab is militarily very weak. Nowhere close to a highly sophisticated jihadist network, the Shabab is composed of dedicated fighters as well as criminal gangs involved in kidnapping. While its forces operate in more territory than anybody else, they do not control much of it, on occasion meeting their match in rival Islamist militias. The Shabab leadership is also aware that attacking Somali targets may cost it popular support. Some clans in central Somalia recently expelled the Shabab from their territory; its presence in others shouldn't be confused with control. (See a brief history of al-Shabab.)
The Shabab may have been prompted to reach further afield for targets because it has reached the limits of its ability to extend control in Somalia. It is likely to be plotting attacks in Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya, perhaps as part of a retributive cycle in the mistreatment of expatriate Somalis. But even its capacity to export its struggle is limited and not particularly well organized. In 2008, during the peak of its struggle against the Ethiopians, one Shabab faction couldn't guarantee the security of foreign journalists from other Shabab factions.
The Shabab certainly has some foreign fighters in its midst, and some of the group's Somali leaders earned their stripes fighting as volunteers in Afghanistan. Some of its members consider themselves part of Osama bin Laden's movement, but they don't take orders from it. In fact, a major motivation for the Shabab declaring al-Qaeda allegiance is attracting funding from al-Qaeda's Arab donors, in the same way that its local enemies use the discourse of counterterrorism to win backing from the West. Even there, the Shabab faces a problem in that its Islamist rivals in Somalia are better known and respected in Salafist circles abroad.
While some of the Shabab rank and file may think they are fighting for God and glory (much like the average U.S. Marine), their leaders are more pragmatic — and domestically focused. The leadership of the Shabab is entirely Somali, drawn from a number of different clans. Indeed, in order to survive in the chaos of Somalia, the Shabab has had to become skillful in taking advantage of clan conflicts. The primary form of identity among Somalis is the clan, and while Western policymakers might like to imagine the Somali conflict as pitting Islamist extremists against moderates, in reality it's a complex struggle of clan rivalry between merchants, traders, farmers and cattle herders, over issues including loss of property, fear of disenfranchisement, access to aid money, social inequality and political power — anything but a jihad.
Still, the Shabab has to tread carefully, even though Islam has, in some cases, begun to compete with clan identity as a trust mechanism. Clan leaders sometimes tolerate the Shabab's presence on their turf not because they identify with its goals, but to signal to the government that they're unhappy over official distribution of resources or political positions. Indeed, if all of the clan leaders turned on the Shabab, it would be reduced to a small hard-core jihadist group incapable of imposing its will on any portion of the country.
The irony is that the Shabab was originally the youth wing of a short-lived Islamist regime that promised to overcome the dominance of the warlords and the clans. Now, it has to navigate through those factional dynamics. It is quite the balancing act. Somali clans don't have one leader: influence is in the hands of numerous elders, businessmen, militia leaders and others. If too much influence adheres to one prominent clan member, the clan will split, rivalries will develop and carefully calibrated agendas come unglued. And at this point, the Shabab seems to be able to rely only on minority clans or weaker ones with grievances.These extremely local factors make it a problem to view Somalia as a conflict between moderates and jihadis. But, oh, the Shabab does have a main foreign backer. That would be Eritrea, a decidedly secular state that is in the game because it is a mortal enemy of Ethiopia. And there is another big outside source of funding. Whatever support the Shabab receives from foreign governments and organizations, its biggest overseas backers are members of the Somali diaspora, who send support not because the Shabab emulates al-Qaeda but because its members are their cousins, friends and clansmen (TIME, 2010).
Title: The Al Shabab Threat
Date: January 9, 2011
Abstract: Just before the December 20, 2010 grenade attack on a Kampala-bound bus in Nairobi, two major incidents had taken place in the Kenyan capital.
First, on the morning of December 3, 2010, attackers suspected to be ethnic Somalis threw a grenade at a police patrol vehicle in Eastleigh, a city neighbourhood. The attack killed one policeman and injured several. The police pursued and killed two people it claimed were involved in the attack.
Later in the afternoon of the same day, Kenyan traffic police stopped two people on a motorbike in Nairobi on purely traffic considerations. Instead of stopping, the riding duo shot at the police, killing two officers. The police pursued them and killed two people it claimed were involved in the attack. Both were ethnic Somalis. When their bodies were searched, intelligence sources say, police picked mobile phone handsets from them.
According to Kenyan security sources, these two incidents triggered a search and cordon operation in Nairobi that led to the arrest of 183 suspects. Apparently, when police took the handsets from the two people it had killed, they retrieved previous calls made. Upon examining telephone numbers these two handsets had been calling, they were able to break into a large network of terrorists all leading to one Al Zubairi aka Godoni, the leader of Al Shabab, the Somali militant group in Mogadishu.
According to Kenyan intelligence sources, the two people on the motor bike were also found to belong to Al Shabab. The question then was: Why was Al Shabab attacking the Kenyan police when their stated enemy was the Ugandan army and government?
According to Ugandan intelligence sources, all the planning, resourcing and strategising for the July 11, 2010 Kampala bombings, the biggest such attack ever in East Africa in which over 80 people, was done in Kenya. Once the plan was done, it was only transferred to Kampala for execution.
It is, however, suspected that since the Kenyan police was critical in helping Uganda to arrest and extradite suspects, there has been growing resentment against the government of Kenya and the police specifically in Kenya's large Muslim community generally and among ethnic Somalis specifically.
Uganda became a target of Islamic militants when it joined the US in its global war against Islamic extremism. It seems President Yoweri Museveni sought to cultivate American support by positioning himself as the promoter of US geo-strategic interests in the Great Lakes region.
It remains debatable whether the net benefits of this strategy of political consolidation on Uganda's national interest - as opposed to Museveni's personal political ambitions - exceed the gross costs to the country. Some analysts say that Uganda is paying too high a price for Museveni search for continued American support.
Burundi, the only other country to contribute troops to the African Union peace-keeping force in Somalia (AMISOM) has also been targeted by the Al Shabab. On December 31, 2010, just minutes before mid-night, a grenade suspected to be the handwork of Al Shabab exploded in the Burundi capital Bujumbura killing three people and injuring several.
In early September, Al Shabab issued a new threat against Uganda. The threat was renewed in early December but no incidents occurred over Christmas and the New Year.X-Mas, New Year Arrests
The Independent has learnt of increased activity between the Kenyan police and intelligence services that have been working closely with their Ugandan counterparts to apprehend suspects and avert attacks.
When the two attacks against the police occurred in Nairobi, Kenyan police submitted to Ugandan intelligence all the corresponding telephone communication between the suspects in Kenya with some people in Uganda.
Two days before New Year's Day on December 29, 2010, security at the Uganda-Kenya border at Busia arrested three suspected Al shabab operatives. They included two men, Abudala Karim and Abed Jamar Mohammed, and a woman, Abudinasia Mohammed.
Earlier over the Christmas season, Uganda police arrested a number of people, among them two other women and a Somali Imam of Tawfiq Mosque in Kisenyi, a low cost suburb of Kampala city. But the most important arrest was of a man only identified as Al Sahel.
Earlier still, on December 10, 2010, when a Gateway Bus Service bus bound for Kampala from Nairobi was stopped and searched by security and materials – the Koran and Somali written scripts which when read were on radicalism- the police concluded that the materials were meant for Al Sahel.
Ugandan security sources say that upon pleading from an influential Ugandan businessman of Somali descent, Ugandan police released the Imam and the two women but retained Al Sahel. When his communications were tracked, intelligence found that Al Sahel is linked to the terrorists in Kenya; especially one Hasan Yusuf Bilari and above all, to Al Zubairi aka Godoni.
Ugandan intelligence is now putting the different pieces of the puzzle together.
Hasan Yusuf Bilari had been linked to the bombing of the Kampala bound bus in Nairobi on December 20, 2010. He had been arrested by the Kenya police alongside one Abu Logo, a prominent sheik in Mombasa.
Abu Logo was also linked by Ugandan security agencies to the July 11, 2010 bombings in Kampala. However, the Kenyan government had been reluctant to arrest him largely because Logo is politically influential and the politicians did not want to risk a political backlash from their Muslim constituents.
Secondly, intelligence sources say, Kenya has a large, wealthy and well-organised Muslim and Somali community. Whenever one Muslim is attacked, they rally behind them by organising their legal defense, financial support and even mobilising their political connections to stop the process. Thus when Uganda submitted Logo's name to the Kenyan police, little happened. But when he was linked to the killings of the Kenyan police, they had no option but to arrest the powerful sheik.
Indeed, another sheik, Mohamed Sharif, considered among the most politically powerful Muslim clerics in Kenya was also arrested in connection to growing Islamic militancy in the country. This showed that the Kenyan government was beginning to find political courage to take on politically sensitive issues.The mid-December 2010 visit to Uganda by Kenyan Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, who is strong in Kenya's coastal region which is largely dominated by Muslims, appears tohave been partly due to the growing convergence of interests between him and President Yoweri Museveni in regard to combating Islamic extremism. Odinga and Museveni reportedly also discussed the International Criminal Court indictment of six senior Kenyan politicians.
The challenge for Odinga, experts say, is
whether he can afford to politically alienate the powerful Islamic
political interests in the coastal region.
Concern is high in Uganda's intelligence services that a terrorist attack is still possible in the country.
On July 11, 2010, the day of the terrorist bombing of Kampala, security agencies retrieved a phone handset from a suicide jacket that had failed to explode in Makindye. According to a classified memo from the Joint Anti-Terrorism Taskforce (JATT), the phone, a Nokia series 1208, was attached to the suicide jacket as a detonator. Security agencies retrieved the sim card and began to follow leads.
JATT has over the years of fighting terrorism developed critical phone tracking systems. This system has been successfully used to build a communication matrix for the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) terrorist group. This Matrix (see graph on page 15) allows JATT to track down the entire communication infrastructure of the rebels first, and then begin eliminating them one by one.
According to the classified memo, when the phone was retrieved, JATT went to work. They collected phone records from MTN and traced the persons whom that phone network had called. Among them was a lady called Ida Nabwami running a lock-up shop at Pioneer Mall; her phone number was found to have links with a serial number on the Makindye phone. She was the first person to be arrested and taken to JATT headquarters on Summit View, Kololo.According to security sources, JATT soon found out that Nabwami was not directly involved in terrorism activities even though the terrorists were in contact with her. Apparently, she was employed by one Haruna Luyima, brother of Isa Ahmed Luyima, the suspected leader of the 7/11 bombings. Haruna had employed her as a shop attendant. JATT asked her for the names of the people she had been communicating with on telephone. She was cooperative and revealed all of them to security.
According to sources inside the interrogation room, JATT officers realised that she actually did not know what was taking place. She was released. Meanwhile, the Federal Investigations Bureau (FBI) officers from the United States who had come to Uganda after the bombings to help in the investigations had returned home. Upon hearing of this progress, the FBI got excited and returned to Uganda immediately.
Security had already established that the lead terrorist in the bombings was not a Somali, but a Ugandan Muslim called Issa Ahmed Luyima. The people whose names Nabwami revealed to security as calling her were brothers of Luyima. JATT positioned its agents around Pioneer Mall and Wilson Street when both of them were later picked and taken for interrogation. One by one, more terrorists were arrested and interrogated.
Many suspects were arrested. During the interrogations, security had learnt that terrorists had prepared 12 bombs but used only four. Eight were still unaccounted for.
Till today, security has failed to locate them. In his confessions one of the terrorists had confirmed that he had seen the bombs and tried some of them on his chest in a terrorist safe house in Najanankumbi along Entebbe Road in Kampala. The concern of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) has since then been to find these bombs.Ugandan security is concerned that, according to the interrogation transcripts, the explosives had been brought into Uganda through Malaba and driven across the border in a Toyota Land Cruiser without being caught.
"This brings into question the effectiveness of border security to deter terrorism," an August Uganda Security assessment report says.
Apparently, security officials believe that the unused explosives are still inside Uganda; they are the major source of Al Shabab's confidence. Security officials say they are likely to be deployed with devastating effect.
Information from the interrogations shows that some of the terrorist involved in masterminding the bombings went missing and security has not tracked anyone of them down since September. Also, the vehicle that brought the explosives into the country was impounded from Kenya, showing that it had been able to drive back into the country. However, the driver of the vehicle is still missing as is one of the major coordinators of the attacks.
The real problem with border security in Uganda, security officials say, is that its officials are trained mainly to verify travel documents only. This is a major weakness given that terrorists often travel on valid travel documents.
"Tax officials at the border are purely concerned with revenue collection, not with national security threats," the assessment report said, "The explosives that killed so many people passed through the border without any question. It is possible that revenue officials looked at them and concluded that these items were none taxable. The challenge is to integrate tax administration and security vigilance."Terrorists Exposed
Those arrested also revealed how the bombings were organised and the entire chronology of the bombing plan. They also revealed a lot about what they planned to do next. According to records of the interrogation, copies of which The Independent has seen, the terrorists said they had planned to hijack planes and crash them into Kampala; specifically into Entebbe International Airport, State House Entebbe, the American Embassy, the British High Commission, security installations and other diplomatic missions especially those of Western countries in Kampala.
According to the interrogation transcripts, the terrorists had planned to hijack planes coming in from Juba enroute to Nairobi and Kampala because the airport in Juba has less rigorous security measures. They said they could not succeed to hijack a plane from Kenya, Tanzania or Rwanda because of the more elaborate and effective security measures.
In a report to President Yoweri Museveni and later in their own internal security assessments, security organs argued that the challenge in fighting an asymmetric war against terror is the difficulty of being able to establish exactly when and where the terrorists would strike.
As a result, security at the airport was heavily reinforced; cars were stopped from driving up to the departure's area for fear of terrorists driving a truck into the check-in counters at the airport. Security also began checking bags of people entering the country from abroad.
It is in this context that changes within Uganda's security organisations began in earnest. President Museveni fired the Director General of Internal security organization (ISO), Amos Mukumbi, as the first step in solving the crisis in security. In an interview with The Independent at State House Entebbe in September, the President confirmed that he had fired Mukumbi because "that man had literally killed ISO, an entire national institution was almost dead. Now our challenge is to resuscitate it."
From July, funding for security agencies increased for both operations and staff welfare. Sources inside security now say morale is high.
The interrogations also revealed that terrorists are getting money from religious extremist groups across the Muslim world. Secondly, the people responsible for transferring monies were not Ugandans, not even ethnic Somalis but Kenyans. This has added a major twist to the problem as one would have expected the terrorists to be ethnic Somalis. Has Al Shabab decided to outsource terrorists or is it supported by a widespread network of Islamic extremists?
For example, Ugandan security sources say that Isa Luyima is highly "radicalised." He fought UPDF alongside Al Shabab in Mogadishu together with one Mugisha, a Rwandese by ethnicity and one of the leading Islamic militants responsible for the 7/11 bombings in Kampala. It is Mugisha who in his confession talked about the training of pilots by Al Shabab among Somalis in the Diaspora, especially Sweden, to crash planes at targets in Entebbe and Kampala.
In June 2010, Senegalese Security in Dakar had
arrested four Moroccans going to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Later
it was found that they were headed to the eastern town of Beni where
they planned help build the capacity of the Allied Democratic Front
(ADF) rebels there. ADF rebels belong to the Salaaf sect of Islam as do
the leaders of the Al Qaeda. These pieces of information have cast
significant light on the extent of the terrorist problem Uganda faces (Independent, 2011).
Title: Al Shabaab’s Foreign Threat To Somalia
Date: Spring 2011
Source: Foreign Policy Research Institute
Abstract: This article focuses on the threat to Somalia by al Shabaab (The Youth), an extremist organization that controls most of southern and central Somalia. It learned its strategy and tactics from al Qaeda and the Taliban and relies heavily on a relatively small number of foreign fighters, most of whom are Somalis with foreign passports from the large Somali diaspora. The non-Somali contingent probably numbers only about 200 to 300, although it brings battlefield experience from Afghanistan and Iraq and provides al Shabaab with expertise in bomb making, remote-controlled explosions, suicide bombing and assassinations. Some of the foreigners occupy key positions in al Shabaab. The connection between al Shabaab and al Qaeda is growing stronger but has not yet reached the level of operational control by al Qaeda. Al Shabaab’s draconian tactics, which are imported from outside and are anathema to most Somalis, and its foreign component may be its undoing.
The employment of foreign fighters by al Shabaab is both a strength and a weakness. In some cases, they bring specialized skills such as bomb making, battlefield experience and fluency in English. On the other hand, al Shabaab attracted much of its support by condemning the engagement in Somalia of foreign troops from Ethiopia and the African Union. Somalis generally do not want foreigners involved in their political life. Somalis from the diaspora who are supporting al Shabaab are probably fully accepted by indigenous Somalis. Non-Somalis, on the other hand, are looked upon with disapproval and may become the Achilles’ heel of al Shabaab. The skills provided by foreign fighters are likely to diminish over time as al Shabaab develops these same skills within its Somali supporters. Even now, al Shabaab makes every effort to minimize the overt role of non-Somalis in the organization. When al Shabaab militia, for example, took control of Afmadow District in the Lower Juba, the visible fighters were all Somalis. Behind the scenes, however, were several non-Somalis who made the key decisions.
A huge question, for which we do not yet have an answer, is the degree to which al Shabaab’s draconian tactics such as suicide bombings, occasional beheadings, forced marriages between Somali women and foreign fighters, etc. will alienate a critical mass of Somalis. In 2010, during the holy month of Ramadan, al Shabaab even stepped up its reign of terror against the TFG and African Union forces in Mogadishu. In October 2010, al Shabaab deputy commander in chief, Sheikh Mukhtar Robow, reportedly sent his Rahanweyn clan fighters from Mogadishu to his stronghold in Baidoa in south-central Somalia over disagreements with Godane. However, speaking from a mosque in Baidoa, Robow subsequently denied any rift within al Shabaab. As of late 2010, there was no clarification of Robow’s status. If the initial report is accurate, however, it would be a major blow to al Shabaab. Although Somalis are speaking out increasingly against imported foreign tactics, the situation has not reached a point where it endangers al Shabaab’s control over nearly all of southern and central Somalia. Al Shabaab filled a political vacuum and there is not yet any equivalent, opposing force to challenge its control.
One recent hypothesis suggests that al Shabaab wants to maintain the status quo rather than capture all of Mogadishu and then be saddled with responsibility for governing Somalia. It is true that al Shabaab has subcontracted governance to local groups in many but not all of the areas that it controls. While preferring the status quo is an interesting concept, the evidence does not support this hypothesis. Al Shabaab continues to make every effort to dislodge from Mogadishu African Union troops, the only military force that permits the TFG to maintain its presence in the capital. To underscore its intentions, al Shabaab conducted suicide bombings in Kampala in an effort to force Uganda to remove its troops from the African Union force in Mogadishu. In August and September 2010, al Shabaab initiated major attacks, without success, to seize parts of Mogadishu under the control of African Union forces. These are not the actions of an organization satisfied with the status quo. Rather, they reflect a desire to control as much of Somalia, and probably beyond, as it can seize. Perhaps a more important question is whether al Shabaab’s priority is to take political power in Somalia or transform Somali society into a strict Islamic state. Different al Shabaab leaders probably have different priorities, but for the time being the organization seems committed to achieving both goals (Foreign Policy Research Institute, 2011).
Title: House Panel: Al-Shabaab Poses "Direct Threat" To U.S.
Date: July 27, 2011
Although that violence has been limited so far to Africa, two witnesses who appeared before the committee Wednesday said the United States should consider them, and al-Shabaab, as "a direct threat to the U.S. homeland."
Al-Shabaab's recruiting success in the West is unrivaled, said committee chairman Peter King, R-N.Y. "Not al-Qaeda, nor any of its other affiliates, have come close to drawing so many Muslim-Americans and Westerners to jihad," King said in opening remarks.
The bulk of those American recruits came from the Minneapolis area. But one of the most dangerous is Omar Hammami of Daphne, Ala., a Southern Baptist convert to Islam who has promised to avenge the killing of Osama bin Laden in May. "Hammami poses a direct threat to the U.S. homeland with his ability to assist Shabaab, core Al Qaeda or AQAP with plots, but he also has become a source of inspiration for jihadis," the report said. "Two terror defendants in New York, Betim Kaziu and Saujah Hadzovic, were inspired to travel to Egypt for violent Islamic jihad by watching Hammami tapes."
It was the third hearing held by the committee on radicalization within the American Muslim community.
As with the previous two hearings, committee Democrats protested King's emphasis on radicalization of Muslims, rather than extremism in general. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Tex., for example, requested a hearing on right wing extremists who advocate violence and submitted a list of active American hate groups into the hearing record.
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Tex., said he was "mystified by the controversy" and asked the four witnesses present, including St. Paul Police Chief Thomas Smith, whether anyone doubted the security threat posed by efforts to radicalize Muslim youth. None did.
The ranking Democrat, Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, used his opening remarks to say al-Shabaab is a relatively small terrorist group. While intelligence agencies need to pay attention to it, that focus should be kept in proportion to the likelihood of the threat posed.
Al-Shabaab "does not appear to present any threat to the homeland," Thompson said.
The witnesses disagreed. Before the failed attempt to bomb a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day 2009, few American policy leaders saw al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula as a threat to attack the United States, said Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
In response to committee questions, Joscelyn noted that information found at Osama bin Laden's Abbottabad compound showed he was issuing directions to al-Shabaab. In addition, al-Shabaab members have been trained by al-Qaida operatives who were part of past attacks against American interests, including the 1998 attack on embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Because Somalia has no functioning central government, it is difficult for American security officials to track movement of the Americans and Canadians who traveled there, said W. Anders Folk, a former federal prosecutor who was part of a dozen cases in Minnesota involving Somali recruitment.
In the Abdulmutallab case, Folk noted, a relative even warned U.S. officials that the man might be part of a jihadist plot but he still was able to board the flight. The threat of al-Shabaab trying to get people back into the United States is "incredibly scary," he said.
Ahmed Hussen, president of the Canadian Somali Congress, disagreed that the hearings' focus had a stigmatizing effect on Muslims. Rather, they "empowered" his community to speak out against recruitment by al-Shabaab.
His organization has no relationship with the Canadian branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) – one of the loudest critics of the hearings –because it doesn't share the Congress' goal of combating the false narrative that the West is racist and that Islam cannot coexist with democracy.
Part of the problem, Hussen told the committee, is that many young Canadian Somalis graduate from college but find themselves unemployed or working at menial jobs.
Most of them "persevere and keep working hard" to improve their situation. "A minority of them become alienated and fall victim to a narrative that turns them against Canada and the United States – the very countries that have sustained them and also gave refuge to their parents as they fled the civil war in Somalia," he said.
This "dangerous and constant anti-Western narrative is fed to them by radicals in our community who do not hesitate to use these vulnerable youth as gun fodder in their efforts to establish a base for the al-Qaida terrorist group in Somalia," Hussen added.
Most of that radicalizing message is sent through the Internet, he said. But the recruits still need chaperones to help arrange and pay their travels. King noted that, in a guilty plea in Minnesota last week, Omer Mohamed admitted recruiting took place in mosques, among other places around Minneapolis.
Shabaab-related indictments "account for the largest number and significant upward trend in homegrown terrorism cases filed by the Department of Justice over the past two years," the staff report said, with at least 38 cases unsealed since 2009.
On July 5 in Minneapolis, "a Saudi cleric who denounced Shabaab and other Somali combatants inside the Abubakr As-Saddique Islamic Center – where most of the missing Somali-American men once congregated – was allegedly assaulted by men shouting 'Allahu Akhbar' ('God is great!')," according to the staff report.
A recording and account glorifying the assault were posted on overseas-based jihadi chat rooms before most people in Minneapolis learned of the incident. A local news report on the confrontation can be seen here.
It's possible that al-Shabaab maintains its focus on Somalia and other regional conflicts. American security officials still need to pay attention to the possibility that the group's aspirations change, and with them, its targets.
"We don't know what terrorist organizations are able to do looking forward," Folk said (IPT, 2011).
Date: July 27, 2011
Abstract: An al Qaeda-affiliated group in Somalia, al Shabaab, has recruited more than 40 Muslim Americans to its battle in the war-ravaged country and at least 15 have been killed, a congressional report said on Wednesday.
U.S. officials have become increasingly worried about the group, particularly after capturing an al Shabaab commander who had allegedly been a liaison with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an active Yemeni group that has tried to strike the United States.
So far, al Shabaab has conducted only limited attacks outside of Somalia, notably the twin bombings in Uganda that killed 79 people watching the World Cup final last year. The group has waged a long, violent battle to control Somalia.
Republican Peter King of New York, chairman of the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee, has been holding a series of hearings to probe concerns about Muslim Americans becoming radicalized and joining militant groups.
A report by his staff found that more than 40 Muslim Americans and 20 Canadians have been recruited to al Shabaab and at least 15 Americans were killed in fighting, including three suicide bombers.
"Senior U.S. counterterror officials have told the committee they are very concerned about individuals they have not identified who have fallen in with al-Shabaab during trips to Somalia, who could return to the U.S. undetected," King said during a hearing he convened on al Shabaab.
Of the more than 40 Americans who have joined the cause, as many as 21 are believed to still be at large and unaccounted for, according to the staff report.
The U.S. Justice Department has charged several people from the Somali community in Minnesota for allegedly going to Somalia to fight, as well as individuals who were accused of trying to help al Shabaab or those going to fight there.
How Serious A Threat?
Anders Folk, a former federal prosecutor from Minnesota who handled some of those cases, said that while there are doubts about the ability of al Shabaab to strike the United States, it is hard to predict whether they might do so one day.
"The difficulty is we don't know when they are going to cross the line from aspiration to operation and the reality is ... that cannot be predicted with any degree of certainty," he told the committee.
Some Democrats on the panel raised questions about how serious a threat al Shabaab was to the U.S. homeland.
"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," said Bennie Thompson, the top Democrat on the panel. "Al Shabaab does not appear to present any danger to this homeland."
On Tuesday, President Barack Obama's nominee to head the National Counterterrorism Center, Matt Olsen, warned that al Qaeda operatives in Somalia represented a significant threat.
"I would say that beyond al Qaeda senior leadership in Pakistan,
its presence in Yemen, that probably the next most significant
terrorist threat may emanate from the al Qaeda presence in Somalia in
terms of the willingness and apparent ability, or at least the intent,
to strike outside of that particular country," Olsen told a Senate
committee (Reuters, 2011).
Title: Peter King's Reckless Claim Of Al-Shabaab's Menace To The US
Date: July 31, 2011
King claimed to base his findings on an investigation conducted by his staff. His conclusion was that the call of al-Shabaab has placed the American homeland in imminent peril.
Most of the criticism leveled at King has focused on his reckless use of Congress to articulate distrust and fear of Muslims in a way that upends the basic tenets of non-discrimination in the United States. But more to the point, there are numerous factual and interpretive mistakes in King's representation of the Somalia issue. These errors are worth noting, because if left uncorrected, they may propel the United States along another erroneous pathway, both at home and abroad.
First, King misrepresents the magnitude of the exodus of Americans to Somalia. King's figures are correct, but his conclusions are misleading. Since 2009, nearly 40 individuals have been indicted in the United States for providing some sort of support – or wanting to provide some sort of support – to al-Shabaab. According to the terrorism database at the Centre on Law and Security, which I direct, 20 individuals have been indicted for travelling to Somalia to fight for al-Shabaab, and an additional five have been indicted for attempting to travel there. Of these, 15 were US citizens. This is hardly a "large cadre of Americans".
Second, King confuses internationalist jihad with nationalist foreign insurgency. In the case of Somalia, the main imperative for fighting is not international jihad; it is the wresting of power from the group now in nominal control of the government, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG). The individuals who join this insurgency are most often of Somali descent and are fighting to help their former countrymen and their families in a failed state where violence, famine and chronic water shortage plague one the poorest nations on earth. In fact, contrary to King's assumptions, recent research done by Thomas Hegghammer at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment suggests that most foreign fighters do not have terrorist intentions at the outset beyond the nationalist cause they are looking to serve.
Third, King infers that tenuous links between foreign insurgency and jihadi violence will result in terrorism in the United States, once these foreign fighters return, now trained in the tactics of violence. This may, in fact, be a realistic worry for the future. But at present, the statistics show, according to the study done by Hegghammer (who is currently a fellow at the Centre on Law and Security), that "not more than one in eight foreign fighters returned to perpetrate terrorism in the west", once they have left the nationalist cause for which they were fighting abroad. As to facts on the ground in the United States, there are no Somalia returnees who have been charged with planning to attack America. On the contrary, returnees who have been indicted have been charged with attempts to recruit for the struggle abroad.
Fourth, to bolster his conflation of terrorism and
nationalist struggle, King misrepresents the strength of the ties
between al-Shabaab and al-Qaida. While there may be some connection
between some of the leaders, al-Shabaab's mission is very much its own.
According to the National Counterterrorism Centre,
al-Shabaab's links to al-Qaida have not reached the organisational
level; it can therefore in no way be classified as a strong partner in
the al-Qaida network.
To quote from the NCC's website: "While most of [Shabaab's] fighters are predominantly interested in the nationalistic battle against the TFG and not supportive of global jihad, al-Shabaab's senior leadership is affiliated with al-Qaida, and certain extremists aligned with al-Shabaab are believed to have trained and fought in Afghanistan."
A summary report by the Council on Foreign Relations concurs: "Experts say there are links between individual al-Shabaab leaders and individual members of al-Qaida, but any organizational linkage between the two groups is weak, if it exists at all."
These exaggerations and errors suggest that King has fallen prey to three fallacies that have, unfortunately, characterised American counterterrorism policy since 9/11, generating a string of counterproductive policies. King, too, fails to distinguish between the various terrorists threats – that is, the difference posed by Americans who reach out to al-Shabaab, as opposed to AQAP; he risks playing into the worldview of al-Qaida, which is constantly trying to claim inroads into foreign struggles; and finally, he succumbs to fantasy threat-inflation rather than encouraging realistic risk-avoidance – it is one thing to be vigilant about fighters returning from Somalia and quite another to prosecute individuals merely for a desire to fight in the civil conflict there. A more feet-on-the-ground approach would begin with a simple observation: the only Somali American who attempted to commit violence against US targets was Mohamed Osman Mohamud – and he appears to have no links to al-Shabaab or their cause.
The accurate analysis of homegrown terrorism in the United States is yet to be written. But its contours would look something like this: the incidence of terrorism arrests and indictments have gone down precipitously in 2011. Yet the serious nature of terrorism arrests for domestic terrorism has risen in recent years, as illustrated notably by the Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, the New York City subway bomber Najibullah Zazi and Major Hassan at Fort Hood. Somalis have not yet emerged as a group with the motivation and capacity to harm Americans at home or abroad.It is responsible to consider the possibility of what will happen as Somali fighters are exposed to al-Qaida operatives and foreign training; it is not so to make the claim, as Peter King has, that Somali Muslims represent a real and present danger to the United States. Until the United States can have a fact-based discussion of terrorism and look towards threat management, rather than prevention strategies based on guesswork and hyperbole, the excesses of the war on terror – and the harm that it has caused to America's core values – will rage on (Guardian, 2011).
Title: Al Shabaab
Date: August 10, 2011
Abstract: Al-Shabaab (aka the Harakat Al-Shabaab al-Mujahidin, al-Shabab, Al-Shabaab, the Youth, Mujahidin al-Shabaab Movement, Mujahideen Youth Movement, Mujahidin Youth Movement), is an Islamic organization that controls much of southern Somalia, excluding the capital, Mogadishu. It has waged an insurgency against Somalia's transitional government and its Ethiopian supporters since 2006. Originally the militant wing of the Islamic Courts Union, the group that controlled Somalia prior to the country's invasion by Ethiopian forces, al-Shabaab leaders have claimed affiliation with al-Qaeda since 2007.
Though most analysts believe al-Shabaab's organizational links to al-Qaeda are weak, in February 2008 the United States added the group to its list of foreign terrorist organizations. In what marked the group's first major attack outside of Somalia, al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for twin bombings that killed more than seventy people in Kampala, Uganda (NYT) during the World Cup final on July 11, 2010. The 2011 widespread famine in southern Somalia weakened the group, some analysts say. Rashid Abdi, International Crisis Group's Horn of Africa analyst, says many in Somalia, even former supporters of the group, saw them as being culpable in the crisis because they prevented aid groups from helping needy populations in time. In 2009, al-Shabaab banned some international aid agencies, including the UN World Food Program, from southern Somalia. Though they reversed this decision in July 2011 after the famine, restrictions remain (Telegraph).
Leadership and Divisions
is nominally led by Sheikh Mohamed Mukhtar Abdirahman "Abu Zubeyr,"
though experts say a core group of senior leaders guide its actions. The
group is divided into three geographical units: Bay and Bokool regions,
led by Mukhtar Roobow "Abu Mansur," the group's spokesman;
south-central Somalia and Mogadishu; and Puntland and Somaliland. A
fourth unit, which controls the Juba Valley, is led by Hassan Abdillahi
Hersi "Turki," who is not considered to be a member of al-Shabaab, but
is closely aligned with it. These regional units "appear to operate
independently of one another, and there is often evidence of friction
between them," says a December 2008 UN Monitoring Group report.
of al-Shabaab's size vary, but analysts generally agree that the group
contains several thousand fighters, many of whom are from the Hawiye
clan. The group has been able to expand its footprint in Somalia with
relatively small numbers for two reasons: Somalia hasn't had a central
government since 1991; and many of the clan warlords that filled the
power vacuum have proven willing to cooperate with al-Shabaab, at least
in Somalia's south. Al-Shabaab has engaged in forced recruitment among
Somalis, so it's unclear how many members of the group truly believe the
organization's ideology. Experts say the number of rank-and-file
members is less important than the number of hardcore ideological
believers, which could range between three hundred and eight hundred
Foreign fighters have traveled to Somalia to fight
with al-Shabaab, as have Somalis from the United Kingdom and the United
States. "We have seen an increasing number of individuals here in the
United States become captivated by extremist ideologies or causes,"
said White House National Security Adviser John Brennan in a May 2010
speech, noting, among others, five Somali-Americans that left Minnesota
to fight in Somalia. U.S.-born Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki joined al-Shabaab
in 2007 and has become the recognizable face of the group (NYT),
starring in propaganda videos that have helped recruit hundreds of
foreign fighters, according to intelligence officials. In June 2010, two U.S. citizens from New Jersey (CSMonitor)
were arrested at New York's JFK Airport after allegations that they
planned to travel to Somalia to join al-Shabaab. The arrests came amid a
growing trend in which radicalized Americans have become involved in
Some experts say there are deep divisions within al-Shabaab. In a February 2009 report
for the Enough Project, Somalia expert Ken Menkhaus writes that, "The
al-Shabaab faces multiple internal divisions--over clan, leadership,
tactics, and ideology--which a new unity government can exploit to
convince parts of the al-Shabaab to abandon the movement and gradually
outmaneuver, marginalize, and defeat the core hardliners." Each unit of
al-Shabaab is led by individuals who must combine their ideological aims
with pragmatic considerations of different clan-based agendas. It's
important to "focus on what they do, not what they say," writes
senior research fellow of the National Center for Scientific Research
in Paris, says that reports of increasing divisions within al-Shabaab
are overstated. They are "based on the assumption that they were once
united," he notes. However, he says the organization must decide "to
what extent they want to accommodate the Somali society and to what
extent they want to keep the ideology they have developed."
Tactics and Motivations
tactics have evolved over time. When it began its insurgency in late
2006, it used classic guerrilla tactics--suicide bombings, shootings,
and targeted assassinations--to oppose the Somali government and what it
perceives as its allies, from aid groups to the Ethiopian military to
African Union peacekeepers. Much of the violence was concentrated in
Mogadishu; battles between the Ethiopian military and al-Shabaab in
August 2007 caused roughly four hundred thousand people to flee the
In 2008, al-Shabaab began to reach out to the Somali public with a series of town visits. A December 2008 International Crisis Group report
describes these outings as "well choreographed, with clerics addressing
public rallies and holding talks with local clan elders." Al-Shabaab
would hand out food and money to the poor, give criminals quick trials
with "mobile sharia courts," and attempt to settle local disputes. As
the group sought to take control of towns in southern Somalia, it began
to use political strategies as well. Before a particular town was
captured, insurgents had meetings with local clan leaders to convince
them that their intentions were good. By February 2009, al-Shabaab
controlled most of southern Somalia, as depicted in this map by the Long War Journal.
However, the group continued to launch suicide attacks. In February
2009, al-Shabaab killed eleven Burundian soldiers in the deadliest
attack on AU peacekeepers since their deployment and engaged in heavy
fighting that killed at least fifteen people in Mogadishu. Al-Shabaab
carried out twin bombings in Uganda--another country participating in
Somalia peacekeeping efforts--in July 2010. The attacks point to an
internationalization of al-Shabaab's terrorist activities, which could destabilize East Africa (Atlantic) and unleash repercussions abroad.
say al-Shabaab's methods and ideologies aren't necessarily consistent
with each another. According to Marchal of the National Center for
Scientific Research in Paris, "al-Shabaab has tried to evolve from a
group that has a purely militaristic approach to a group that pretends
to rule and wage jihad at the same time." On the one hand, the group
espouses a strict form of Islam, Salafi/Wahhabism, and websites for the
group claim to be waging jihad against infidels. On the other hand,
al-Shabaab has extended its political power in southern Somalia through
pragmatic means, not radicalism. It has imposed sharia law
in some of the towns it controls, such as Baidoa, but "imposing the
puritanical brand of Islam it espouses . . . would quickly alienate many
Somalis," says the International Crisis Group report.
Links to Al-Qaeda
the United States placed al-Shabaab on its list of foreign terrorist
organizations in February 2008, it claimed the group has an allegiance
with al-Qaeda. Specifically, it said that senior al-Shabaab leaders trained in Afghanistan
with al-Qaeda. Experts say there are links between individual
al-Shabaab leaders and individual members of al-Qaeda, but any
organizational linkage between the two groups is weak, if it exists at
all (many experts note that al-Qaeda operates in a disaggregated
manner--so linking self-proclaimed members of al-Shabaab to
self-proclaimed members of al-Qaeda would not necessarily indicate that
the two groups are coordinating with one another in a systemic way).
There is evidence that foreign fighters have trained al-Shabaab members
on the use of weapons and how to construct roadside bombs. But Marchal
says many of these foreign fighters are not part of al-Qaeda.
strongest tie between al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda seems to be ideological.
In September 2008, a senior al-Shabaab leader released a video in which
he pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden and called for Muslim youth to come to Somalia. In February 2009, Ayman al-Zawahiri, then al-Qaeda's second-in-command, released a video
that began by praising al-Shabaab's seizure of the Somali town of
Baidoa. The group will "engage in Jihad against the American-made
government in the same way they engaged in Jihad against the Ethiopians
and the warlords before them," Zawahiri said. Though al-Qaeda appears to
support al-Shabaab's jihad, it's unclear whether al-Shabaab has
ambitions beyond Somalia. According to a report by Chris Harnisch of the
American Enterprise Institute, the group's "rhetoric and behavior" have
shifted over the past two years, "reflecting an eagerness to strike internationally" (PDF).
Future of the Organization
withdrawal of Ethiopian forces from Somalia in January 2009 removed the
group's principal adversary. Yet al-Shabaab continues to launch suicide
attacks against African Union peacekeepers in Somalia that often result
in civilian casualties. As evidenced in the July 2010 Uganda bombings,
the group has also directly targeted civilians in what may have been a retaliatory attack (Bloomberg)
against Uganda for sending its troops on peacekeeping operations to
Somalia. The FBI and U.S. Department of Homeland Security have warned
that al-Shabaab's actions in Uganda could signal the group's capability
of launching a successful attack beyond Africa, and even in the United
States. Some experts see early signs of public opinion turning against
al-Shabaab. First, clan-based militias have started to oppose
al-Shabaab. In January 2009, militias repelled al-Shabaab's attempts to
assert control in the central Somalia area of Galgadud. "There is a
mobilization of various groupings of orthodox Sunni Muslims all over
Somalia to form a broad front" against al-Shabaab, the International
Crisis Group's Somalia observer told Voice of America in February 2009.
ahead, there are several measures that will indicate al-Shabaab's level
of strength and internal coherence: first, whether the group is able to
maintain its territorial control over parts of Mogadishu
and how far it can expand this control in Somalia; second, whether
Somalia's business community decides to support the group; third,
whether the Somali diaspora continues to fund al-Shabaab through the
hawala money transfer system (it is not clear how much money al-Shabaab
currently receives from the diaspora or other sources). Finally,
analysts are closely watching the extent to which the Somali government,
led by Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, negotiates with al-Shabaab.
United States has launched air strikes to target high-level members of
al-Shabaab it believes have links to al-Qaeda. In April 2010, President
Barack Obama issued an executive order (PDF)
aimed at blocking the finances of al-Shabaab's leaders and those who
are contributing to the conflict in Somalia. Following the Uganda
bombings, the Obama administration also indicated that it would boost
its efforts against al-Shabaab, most likely in the form of increased assistance (IPS)
to the African Union Mission in Somalia, which plans to send two
thousand additional troops to the country, as well as to the
Western-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Mogadishu.
But experts say these activities have only increased popular support for al-Shabaab. In a March 2010 CFR report,
Bronwyn E. Bruton argues that "the open blessing of the TFG by the
United States and other Western countries has perversely served to
isolate the government and, at the same time, to propel cooperation
among previously fractured and quarrelsome extremist groups." She
proposes a "constructive disengagement" policy that recognizes
al-Shabaab's Islamist rule in Somalia as long as it does not engage in regional violence or terrorism (CFR, 2011).
Qaeda 2.0: What The Next 10 Years Will Bring
Date: September 12, 2011
Abstract: How has al Qaeda changed in the last decade - and what does that tell the world's counter-terrorism experts about what it will look like ten years from now?
As Congress prepares to hold a joint House and Senate Intelligence Hearing on the threat Tuesday, U.S. counter-terrorism officials tell CNN that al Qaeda today would find it very difficult to repeat an attack on the scale of 9/11 - but it has become a more diffuse and complex organization. The very name has become a label and an inspiration for terror cells on three continents. Even if, as U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta asserts, Osama bin Laden's organization is mortally wounded, tracking and countering Islamist terrorism will continue to consume billions of dollars and some of the best minds in western intelligence for years to come.
And that's precisely the goal of al Qaeda new generation of leaders - in their 30s and 40s. They are focused less on the spectacular - hijackings and "dirty" nuclear bombs - and more on a war of attrition. And they see opportunities for establishing new bridgeheads as the Arab revolts undermine authoritarian rulers and their ruthless intelligence services.
Ten years ago al Qaeda was a bureaucratic organization headquartered in Taliban-run Afghanistan which had its own personnel and IT departments.
It comprised mainly Arab fighters and had loose ties to other jihadist outfits - in Chechnya and south-east Asia for example. Today groups proclaiming their affiliation to al Qaeda find a home in ungoverned spaces in Somalia, Yemen, the Russian Causcasus and the Sahara. There are even al Qaeda cells in Egypt's Sinai desert, according to Egyptian military intelligence.
Under pressure, al Qaeda "central" - the remnants of bin Laden's group - has developed links with militant groups such as the Pakistani Taliban, the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Tayyiba - all of which are well entrenched in Pakistan.
The battle against al Qaeda in the next ten years will be on a much broader canvas.
The Rise of the
In the last two years, three groups - al Qaeda in Pakistan, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsular (AQAP) based in Yemen, and the Pakistani Taliban - have tried to carry out attacks in the United States, while Europe has been threatened by an even wider constellation of jihadist groups. Al Shabaab staged its first attack beyond Somalia with a double bombing in Kampala, Uganda in 2010.
"The affiliates are playing a greater role today - a more menacing role today - than in quite some time," U.S. State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism Daniel Benjamin told a recent conference of the New America Foundation. "While the AQ core has weakened operationally, the affiliates have become stronger and consequently the broader AQ threat has become more geographically and ethnically diversified."
Better intelligence and a relentless campaign of drone attacks has weakened al Qaeda central and cut off its sources of funding. In one video that emerged from his compound in Abbottabad, Osama bin Laden cut a lonely, isolated figure - hunched over a TV screen. It seemed like a metaphor for his organization. While jihadists still travel to Pakistan and Afghanistan for training and the opportunity to take part in attacks on western forces, a growing number are heading to Yemen and Somalia - just as they headed to Iraq at the height of the insurgency there.
U.S counter-terrorism officials already see AQAP in Yemen as the most immediate threat to the United States. Under the guidance of American cleric Anwar al Awlaki, the group attempted to blow up a plane over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009 and in October 2010 dispatched two printer bomb packages from Yemen's capital Sanaa that were timed to explode over the Eastern Seaboard of the United States.
The group has taken advantage of political turmoil in Yemen to expand its safe haven in the south. "Our highest priority is the United States. Anything there, even on a smaller scale compared to what we may do in the United Kingdom, would be our choice, " Anwar al Awlaki told an operative based in the UK in an encrypted internet communication in 2010.
While Osama bin Laden thought in terms of weapons of mass destruction and mass casualties, Awlaki's template recognizes that western intelligence has vastly improved its ability to detect such ambitious plots. Instead, his group looks for vulnerable niches: in air cargo, or using explosives such as PETN that are difficult to detect. It is less about the destruction such attacks might cause and more about the expense in defending against them, and the psychological effect should they succeed. It is less about establishing bin Laden's dream of a global Caliphate and more about disrupting western economies.
Above all, it's about attacks by individuals, some of them directed and mentored in the mountains of Yemen, others self-radicalized by the slick online propaganda being produced by AQAP. And it seems this approach is finding favor elsewhere. Al Qaeda central's media arm As Sahab recently released a video titled "You are Only Responsible for Yourself," encouraging followers to carry out acts of individual terrorism in the West - by buying weapons at gunshows in America for example, where background checks are not carried out. In it, American al Qaeda propagandist Adam Gadahn said: "It's simply a matter of taking precautions, working in total secrecy, and making use of all means to do damage to the enemy."
Gun attacks by terrorists are one of the scenarios that are now causing most concern to Western-counter-terrorism officials because of the relative ease with which such weapons can be acquired. Their potential lethality was demonstrated by alleged Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik in his shooting rampage outside Oslo in July, an attack that has drawn comment on jihadist forums.
Counter-terrorism sources in Europe and the United States tell CNN that their greatest concern is the vulnerability of soft targets such as hotels and shopping malls to gun attacks and hostage-taking. The Mumbai attack in November 2008 captivated global media attention for three days, as a small group of Lashkar-e-Taiyyiba terrorists held off Indian security forces in two of the city's luxury hotels. A total of 164 people were killed.
Senior al Qaeda figures have publicly called for the Mumbai model to be exported.
The New Global Al
If al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula seems the most potent affiliate today, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) may not be far behind it. It has established a presence in areas of Mali, Mauretania and Niger where government is weak - and has made millions of dollars through kidnapping westerners and working with drug smugglers. It could take advantage of chaos in Libya to obtain sophisticated weaponry including surface to air missiles. So far relatively few of its fighters appear to have entered Libya but that could change. Libya's National Transitional Council has also been grappling with the increasing assertiveness of Salafi Islamists in the east of the country, some of whom they fear are sympathetic to al Qaeda, according to a former Libyan jihadist.
AQIM may also forge links with other jihadist-terrorist groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria which has claimed responsibility for killing dozens in a suicide car bombing of a U.N. building in Abuja last month.
"What is concerning about AQIM is that it's a group that's Africanizing and is trying to extend its zone of influence - making contact with Boko Haram in the north of Nigeria and with [Somali group] Al Shabaab, says EU Counter-terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove. Its reach may not yet extend to the West, but nor did that of AQAP two years ago.
Like AQIM, al Shabaab in Somalia is beset by internal rivalries and lost one of its key operatives Fazul Abdullah Mohammed in a fire-fight in Mogadishu recently. But it also has plenty of recruits from north America and Europe in its ranks. And there are signs that it is co-operating with al Qaeda in Yemen, a short distance across the Arabian Sea.
Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, a Somali citizen captured in April and interrogated aboard a U.S. navy ship for two months before being taken to New York to face terrorism charges, had been in direct contact with Anwar al Awlaki and had attempted to broker a weapons deal between the groups according to the indictment in his case. Warsame has pleaded not guilty.
In Iraq, the U.S. strategy to turn Sunni tribal sheikhs against al Qaeda vastly degraded the group, but under the title Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) it is still able to launch co-ordinated bombing attacks, as was illustrated by a wave of deadly bombings across the country in August. If allowed to re-establish itself, the group would try again to ignite sectarian conflict between Sunni and Shiite Iraqis, and sabotage the investment Iraq badly needs to revive its economy. In a recent paper for the New America Foundation, Brian Fishman argued that ISI "will have to look outside Iraq's borders to engage directly in al-Qaeda's global strategy of bleeding and weakening the United States."
Globally, the only unambiguously positive picture in the fight against al Qaeda terrorism is in South East Asia where groups affiliated with al Qaeda - like Jamma Islamiya - have been significantly weakened by counter-terrorism operations by security services and by a hemorrhaging in local support because of the number of Muslim civilians killed in its attacks.
Al Qaeda Central –
Trying to Adapt
Al Qaeda central has suffered one blow after another this year. Besides the death of Osama bin Laden, drone strikes have taken out several top al Qaeda commanders in Pakistan, most recently Atiyah al Rahman, al Qaeda's chief of operations. A senior U.S. counter-terrorism official told CNN that from an operational standpoint the death of al Rahman was a more severe blow to the terrorist organization even than the death of bin Laden. Another senior figure, Younis al Mauretani, was detained by Pakistani authorities in August, and Ilyas Kashmiri, one of the most effective terrorists in the world, was reported killed in a drone strike in June.
But al Qaeda central remains the "policy-making" authority and has the allegiance of its regional affiliates. It has powerful associates who thrive on Pakistan's inability to control its border territory and its ambivalence towards the "new" Afghanistan. A grand bargain that led moderate the Taliban to join the political process and sever links with al Qaeda – - and at the same time injected new stability into Pakistan - would further shrink al Qaeda's space. But that seems a distant prospect.
And there are signs that al Qaeda is adapting to its new circumstances. It appears to have moved some of its operations to Pakistan's settled areas to escape drone strikes. Al Mauretani and two other operatives were captured in the teeming city of Quetta in south-western Pakistan. And both al Qaeda and the Pakistan Taliban have established a foothold in Karachi, Pakistan's violent metropolis on the Arabian Sea. In May an al Qaeda unit attacked and occupied a Pakistani naval station in the city.
In recent years al Qaeda has tried to 'turn' western jihadists intent on fighting in Afghanistan, training them to return to Europe and the United States to carry out attacks. Najibullah Zazi, a young Afghan living in Denver, was one such recruit.Bryant Neal Vinas from Long Island was another. And it's not just al Qaeda. Pakistani American Faisal Shahzad who tried to blow up a car bomb in New York's Times Square on May 1, 2010 was recruited and trained by the Pakistani Taliban, not al Qaeda. British authorities say hundreds of Western militants are currently training or operating in Pakistan.
Al Qaeda has also promoted new recruits who have a keen understanding of Western vulnerabilities. One of them is American but Saudi-born Adnan Shukrijumah, who is thought to have orchestrated Zazi's bomb plot against the New York subway system. And the organization appears to be using increasingly sophisticated encryption techniques in internet communications with operatives dispatched to the West.
Even so, it is now a more fragmented organization. Rami Makanesi, a militant from the German city of Hamburg who spent time in al Qaeda camps in Waziristan in 2009-2010, and was subsequently convicted of involvement in plans to attack European targets, told German interrogators that al Qaeda had split up into 30-40 subgroups. He said al Qaeda was now a "title" for a constellation of jihadist groups in the area, including militants from the Arab world, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and "even the Taliban." Vinas, the American al Qaeda recruit, convicted of helping to plot an attack on the Long Island Railroad in 2008, said cooperation was so close between al Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban, and other Pakistani militant groups that lines blurred between them.
U.S. counter-terrorism officials say it is this blurring between different jihadist groups - together with the danger posed by completely homegrown "al Qaeda inspired" terrorists - that makes the terrorist threat to the United States so complex today.
"The fact that the threat can now come at us from so many directions means that our work is more challenging than ever," a senior U.S. counter-terrorism official told CNN.
The New Al Qaeda
New al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri's strategy is to harness the energies of al Qaeda's affiliates but to exert greater direction over them, according to Noman Benotman, a former Libyan jihadist once acquainted with bin Laden, Zawahiri, and several other al Qaeda leaders.
While every al Qaeda affiliate has recognized Zawahiri as al Qaeda's new leader, counter-terrorism analysts believe it will be difficult for Zawahiri - long a polarizing figure in the jihadist movement - to exert strategic direction over them. The death of Libyan operative Al Rahman appears to have been a further blow in this regard. "Atiyah was the one affiliates knew and trusted, "a U.S. official told CNN.
According to Benotman, now a senior analyst at the Quilliam Foundation, a UK counter-terrorism think-tank, Zawahiri is determined to take advantage of political turmoil in the Arab world. "Their top priority right now is not Afghanistan or Pakistan or launching attacks against the United States, but re-organizing themselves in the Arab world," Benotman told CNN.
Benotman says he has detected a noticeable softening in Zawahiri's ultra-hardline rhetoric in recent months, and believes he may be trying to revive support for the organization in the Arab world after a backlash against it because of the barbaric violence of its Iraqi affiliate.
In the short term Benotman predicts that al Qaeda will devote significant energy to building up a capability to strike Israel from the Sinai, Gaza, and neighboring countries because of the group's ideological view that Israel props up what it views as a secular Arab political order that it seeks to topple. Launching attacks against Israel would also be a calculated attempt by the group to re-energize its support base, according to Benotman.
The Importance of the
Most counter-terrorism analysts agree that key to al Qaeda's fortunes will be the evolution of the Arab Spring. The dismantling of oppressive security and intelligence police in several Arab countries has given it an opportunity to re-organize and more easily transit operatives though the region.
"Some of their comrades from the Afghan days are now commanding rebel units in Libya. They see Islamist-only rebel brigades being formed there. They see what is going on in Yemen - of course they feel they have a huge opportunity," Benotman told CNN.
While the origins of the protests made al Qaeda seem irrelevant for a period, the well-organized young professionals who led those protests are vastly outnumbered by poor, conservative Muslims who - in Egypt at least - are beginning to display their political muscle. For al Qaeda the Arab revolts are a double-edged sword. Prolonged instability and a deepening economic crisis would work in its favor. But a new political model in the Arab world, where popular Islamist parties play a constitutional role, would undercut al Qaeda's appeal.
U.S. State Department Counter-terrorism Coordinator Benjamin says that should events in the Arab world lead to "durable, democratic, elected, non-autocratic governments then AQ's single-minded focus on violence as an instrument of political change will be severely, and I think irretrievably delegitimized."
But the Arab Spring
is like a ladder whose rungs are far from secure, and the events of 2011 are
just a couple of steps up that ladder (CNN, 2011).
Title: Al-Shabaab: A Jihadist Threat To America Abstract: The Somali jihadist organization al-Shabaab
did not exist a decade ago. Today, its success in recruiting and
radicalizing Muslims inside the United States has made al-Shabaab "a
direct threat to the U.S. homeland," according to an investigative report by the House Homeland Security Committee.
Date: September 13, 2011
Al-Shabaab, which is affiliated with al-Qaida, is fighting to oust the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), an "interim" regime that has served as the nominal government of Somalia since 2004. The TFG is supported by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) military force, comprised of approximately 8,000 troops from Uganda and Burundi.
Until recently, the Somali government controlled little more than a few parts of Mogadishu, the capital, while al-Shabaab exercised control over much of southern and eastern Somalia and part of Mogadishu. But al-Shabaab has been plagued by defeats and desertions, and last month the terror group withdrew from territory it occupied in Mogadishu.
Al-Shabaab evolved out of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), an Islamist group that went to war against the Somali government five years ago. The ICU captured Mogadishu in June 2006. By late October, the ICU had effectively encircled the TFG in Baidoa, located in south-central Somalia. The only thing preventing the city's destruction were Ethiopian soldiers defending the city.
Shortly after the ICU emerged, "hundreds of terrorists from Afghanistan, Chechnya, Iraq, Pakistan and the Arabian Peninsula arrived to train in or staff these camps," wrote Daveed Gartenstein-Ross of the Foundation for the Defense or Democracies. A United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia warned that the ICU "is fully capable" of turning the country into "an Iraq type scenario, replete with roadside and suicide bombers, assassinations and other forms of terrorist and insurgent-type activities."
That warning would soon appear prophetic.
Al-Shabaab's priority in 2006-07 was driving the Ethiopians out of Somalia, and its military campaign took a heavy toll on the invaders. In 2008, the foreign forces faded into obscurity, as al-Shabaab established a Sharia-based regime in Somalia.
Several months later, the Associated Press reported on "growing evidence" that battle-hardened jihadists had migrated from Afghanistan and Pakistan, and had begun moving into Somalia and other locations in southern Africa. The report came one month after al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden called for a jihad against the Somali interim government.
After driving out the Ethiopian Army, al-Shabaab conducted terrorist operations outside Somalia's borders. In August 2009, police in Melbourne, Australia arrested five Australian nationals of Somali and Lebanese origin who were allegedly planning to attack an Australian army base with automatic weapons. The arrests came following seven months of surveillance on the suspects, who the government says were connected with al-Shabaab.
Another Shabaab-linked plot involved a Jan. 1, 2010 attack on Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, who has been targeted by Islamists over his depictions of the prophet Muhammad. A Somali man linked to the terror group was convicted of attempted murder for attempting to break into Westergaard's home with an axe.
Al-Shabaab has threatened Uganda and Burundi for contributing troops for the AMISOM force, and on July 11, 2010, it bombed two locations in Kampala, Uganda where crowds had gathered to watch the World Cup soccer tournament. Seventy-six people died in the Kampala bombings, which targeted a rugby complex and an Ethiopian restaurant.
"This is only the beginning," al-Shabaab warned following the attack. The jihadist group vowed to "unleash a new tide of terror" against its enemies.
Could al-Shabaab Attack the United States?
Al-Shabaab's first threats against the United States came in 2008. In February, the group responded to reports that the United States had launched covert airstrikes against terror targets in Somalia. It vowed to give the United States "a taste of hardship in all the regions where they are present in the east and west of Somalia."
One month later, it vowed once again to attack the United States, but hinted the next attack would come outside of Somalia. Al Shabaab declared that it would take action that would make America "forget the blessed attacks in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam" referring to the August 7, 1998 bombings in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people including 12 Americans.
On June 1, 2008, Abu Zubeyr, the group's current leader, declared al-Qaida's intention to attack the United States.
He warned "cursed America" that future attacks would occur against America, which was conspiring to retard Muslims "economically and politically and (sic) technologically and religiously and morally."
When the House Homeland Security Committee held a hearing on al-Shabaab in July, ranking Democrat, Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, argued that the group "does not appear to present any threat to the homeland."
Hearing witnesses disagreed.
Information found at Osama bin Laden's Abbottabad, Pakistan compound showed he was issuing orders to al-Shabaab, said Thomas Joscelyn of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Also, al-Shabaab members have been trained by al-Qaida operatives involved in past attacks targeting Americans. Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, architect of the 1998 embassy bombing and a founder of al-Shabaab, was shot to death in June by soldiers near a Mogadishu military checkpoint.
Somalia's lack of a functioning government makes it difficult for U.S. security officials to monitor the movement of Americans and Canadians who travel to Somalia. At a 2009 hearing, then-FBI Associate Executive Assistant Director Philip Mudd downplayed the idea that al-Shabaab could pose a threat to the United States – but with one important caveat.
"I would talk in terms of tens of people, which sounds small but it's significant, because every terrorist is somebody who could potentially throw a grenade into a shopping mall," Mudd said. Information about the number of American recruits for al-Shabaab is "fuzzy," he said, because there "are thousands of people – thousands going to the Horn of Africa every month. You can go to Kenya to look at game parks, and it's hard for me to tell you if somebody's going to a game park or going to Shabaab. So, I am sure there are people out there that we're missing."
The Homeland Security Committee report found that al-Shabaab-related indictments "account for the largest number and significant upward trend in homegrown terrorism cases filed by the Department of Justice over the past two years," with at least 38 cases since 2009. Al-Shabaab "has an active recruitment and radicalization network inside the U.S. targeting Muslim-Americans in Somali communities," the report said.
At least 40 Americans have joined al-Shabaab, and at least 15 Americans have been killed while fighting alongside the group, the report said. At least 21 American al-Shabaab fighters are still at large or unaccounted for, while as many as 20 Canadians of Somali descent have disappeared and are believed to have joined al-Shabaab, according to Canadian security officials.
A Saudi cleric who denounced al-Shabaab and other Somali combatants outside the Abubakr As-Saddique Islamic Center in Minneapolis in July was allegedly attacked by an angry mob shouting "Allahu Akhbar!" ("God is Great!"). A recording of the assault was posted on overseas jihadist chatrooms "before most in Minneapolis knew it happened," the report found.
"They glorified Allah and showered [the al-Shabaab critic] and showered him with hits and kicks," one jihadist wrote. "Next time, with permission from Allah, cut off the head of the likes of this filthy one."
One of al-Shabaab's rising combat commanders is Omar Hammami, who has vowed to avenge the killing of bin Laden in May. A native of Daphne, Ala., Hammami (AKA Abu Mansour al-Amriki,) is a convert to Islam who has been designated a terrorist by the Treasury Department. In 2009, he was indicted for providing material support for terrorism.
Hammami "poses a direct threat to the U.S. homeland with his ability to assist Shabaab, core Al Qaeda or AQAP [al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula] with plots, but he also has become a source of inspiration for jihadis. Two terror defendants in New York, Betim Kaziu and Saujah Hadzovic, were inspired to travel to Egypt for violent Islamic jihad by watching Hammami tapes," the House report said.
Al-Shabaab has forged operation ties with AQAP in Yemen, and Shabaab operative Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame was indicted in July for receiving explosives training from AQAP, and attempting to organize a weapons deal with that group.
"No Al Qaeda allied group, including core al Qaeda or
the Yemen based…AQAP, has attracted anywhere near as many American and
Western recruits as Shabaab over the past three years," the House report
said. There "is a looming danger of American Shabaab fighters returning
to the U.S. to strike or helping Al Qaeda or its affiliates attack the
homeland. U.S. intelligence underestimated the Pakistani Taliban and Al
Qaeda in Yemen's capability of launching attacks here; we cannot afford
to make the same mistake with Shabaab" (IPT, 2011).
Title: Al-Shabaab – A Looming Threat
Date: October 5, 2011
Abstract: The assassin was dropped off into the bitter cold by a taxi near the home of his target in Aarhus, Denmark's second largest city. His task for the night of January 1, 2010 was simple: kill Kurt Westergaard, the Danish cartoonist responsible in 2005 for a controversial depiction of the Prophet Mohammed. Armed with an ax and a knife, the would-be killer approached the front door and shattered the glass, setting off an alarm which alerted Westergaard and police to the intrusion. Westergaard grabbed his five-year-old granddaughter and rushed with her to a specially built safe room before the killer could reach them. When the police arrived minutes later the assassin lunged at them with his weapons but they managed to overpower him by firing shots into his left hand and right leg and then took him into custody.
The man they arrested - Mohamed Geele, 28, a Somali who first moved to Denmark in 1995 and who this February was convicted of the attack - was no amateur homegrown terrorist. He had already been under observation for an extended period of time by Danish security services because of his suspected close links to the Somali terrorist group Al-Shabaab. Even though the Somali group distanced itself from the attack in the hours after the attack, Danish investigators established that Geele had close ties to Al-Shabaab and senior al Qaeda leaders in east Africa, and had emerged as a hard-nosed player in the group during time he spent in Kenya in the 2000s.
The investigation indicated that what Western counter-terrorism officials had long feared had indeed become a reality. The Somali militant group – in control of more than half the war-torn east African country – had embraced al Qaeda's global Jihad and was now actively plotting attacks in the West.
Swedish authorities are investigating whether Al-Shabaab had any connection to four men arrested in Gothenburg on September 10 who were allegedly plotting to murder Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks at an art gallery in the city. Three of the suspects were Swedish residents of Somali descent and one was of Iraqi descent. According to Swedish and U.S. counter-terrorism sources, it is possible the suspects were merely inspired by Al-Shabaab propaganda.
In November 2010 Al-Shabaab explicitly threatened Vilks in a propaganda video subtitled in English and Swedish. "We will catch you wherever you are," said Abu Zaid Sweden, a Swedish-Somali member of the group who was filmed in the stands of a dilapidated sports arena with bursts of gunfire audible in the background. "In whatever hole you are hiding – know what awaits you – as it will be nothing but this: slaughter," as he simulated slitting his throat. He also urged Al-Shabaab's supporters in the West to join them in Somalia and to carry out an attack on Vilks if they could. "If you can kill this dog called Lars Vilks then you will receive a great reward from Allah," he promised them.
Such messages are especially concerning to Western counter-terrorism officials, because Al-Shabaab's propaganda, amongst the most sophisticated and savvy of any Jihadist group, has resonated amongst a small but significant fringe of the 1.5 million Somali diaspora community. Radicalized Somalis have been implicated in a string of terrorism cases in the United States, Canada, the UK, Australia, and across Europe.
But it is in Scandinavia that counter-terrorism officials have recently had most cause for concern. In the 1990s an open-door policy by Nordic countries led to tens of thousands of Somalis refugees from the war-torn country settling across Scandinavia, many of them in Denmark and Sweden. It has been a difficult process integrating them into mainstream society and a radical fringe has emerged in violent opposition to the West.
There is perhaps nobody who has more closely tracked Islamist militancy in the Somali community in Scandinavia than Michael Taarnby, one of Denmark's leading experts on Al-Shabaab and a Research Associate at the University of Central Florida. He has conducted extensive field research in Scandinavia and Somalia over the last decade and the trends he sees concern him profoundly.
"There is a significant radicalization problem in the Somali Diaspora community in Denmark and Sweden," Taarnby told CNN, "and intelligence services have very little understanding of what's going on-recruiting informants has been an uphill battle because Somalis don't trust them to protect them."
Taarnby says that well informed sources in the Somali diaspora community tell him that there are around 300 to 800 hardcore Shabaab sympathizers in Denmark out of a total Somali population of 18,000. "These hardliners have been harassing Somalis who do not share their view and just want to get on with their lives. There is nasty infighting going on," he told CNN.
Taarnby says that the attempted assassination of Kurt Westergaard woke up many in the Somali community to the threat of Islamist extremism. But he says their efforts have not yet turned the tide of young Somalis being indoctrinated by Al-Shabaab's propaganda videos. "Those attracted are usually quite young - there's the usual issue of a clash of cultures - of being stuck between east Africa and Scandinavia and not knowing where they belong," Taarnby told CNN.
Some young radicalized Somalis are gravitating away from mainstream Somali mosques to mosques associated with radical preachers attended by hard-line Islamists of all stripes. "There's a lot more cross-fertilization going on in radical circles," Taarnby told CNN, "and this may explain why an Iraqi was arrested along with the Somalis in Gothenburg."
Unlike al Qaeda or its affiliate in Yemen – which in recent years have only been able to recruit Western militants after they have already traveled to Jihadist fronts on their own initiative – Al-Shabaab has recruiters directly working for it in several Western countries who not only are trying to persuade young Somalis to join the group in Somalia, but are also facilitating getting them there, according to Western counter-terrorism officials.
In recent years an estimated 40 young Somalis have been recruited from the United States in this manner, many from the Minneapolis area where there is a sizable Somali community. Dozens of others have been recruited from other Western countries. Somalis living in Canada have grown so fearful of youngsters being recruited that that some have reportedly started hiding their children's passports.
"For young Somalis it is culturally difficult to refuse to meet someone with status in the community, especially if they are linked to organizations in the homeland and have combat experience. Some of these young Somalis are also adventurous and want to be Jihadist James Bonds. The recruiters lure them in by making fighting with Al-Shabaab sound like an adventure with friends with some shooting of AK-47s." Taarnby told CNN.
An organized facilitation network transports Western recruits into Somalia, says Taarnby. Most arrive in Kenya's capital, now home to a quarter million Somalis, where Al-Shabaab has an extensive presence. There they are housed in safe houses for around a month and then transported in 4-by-4 pickup trucks northwards across the lightly patrolled border into Somalia. What happens when they arrive in Somalia, he says, is less clear.
But what is plain, he says, is the reality facing many Western recruits is very different from the message they hear in Minneapolis or Malmo. Unlike local fighters, Al-Shabaab commanders do not have to worry about alienating clan leaders if they send them off to carry out suicide bombings, says Taarnby. A significant proportion of Western recruits, he says, have taken this path. According to Taarnby, several Westerners objecting to becoming cannon fodder have later been found with bullets in their head, like a group that recently arrived from Canada.
Some of the western volunteers are valued by Al-Shabaab, according to Taarnby, because they are more educated than most Somalis and have technical skills in short supply in the country - for example in operating computers. One Western jihadist in particular - Omar Hammami, a 27 year old Syrian-American from Alabama - rose to a prominent position in the group.
Somalia experts believe that recruits from the diaspora have been crucial to the evolution of Al-Shabaab from a gun-totting militia to a political force in Somalia.
Taarnby says it's unclear what level of training Shabaab's Western recruits receive in Somalia. Most of the group's rank and file recruits receive only very rudimentary fire-arms training. Taarnby says there is no clear evidence that Western recruits are getting the sort of bomb-making training that al Qaeda has provided Western militants in the tribal areas of Pakistan.
"In some terrorist training camps, AQ-affiliated foreign fighters led the training and indoctrination of the recruits," the U.S. State Department warned in an August 2011 report on terrorist trends in Somalia in 2010. Somali experts say the group operates at least two large camps in Somalia on which there is little open source information.
Counter-terrorism officials across the West are now worried that the group may use Westerners for attacks back in their home countries. In July, Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King stated that "Al-Shabaab now has more capability than ever to strike the U.S. homeland," adding that "as many as two dozen Muslim-Americans with Al-Shabaab - who in many cases were trained by top al Qaeda leaders - remain unaccounted for."
British authorities warned in July, "Over the past 12 months, the threat to UK interests from terrorists in Yemen and Somalia has significantly increased. People from the UK are also travelling to these countries to engage in terrorist-related activity; some are returning to the UK to plan and conduct terrorist operations."
Setbacks in Somalia
In July, after an offensive by Somali and African Union forces, Al-Shabaab started pulling fighters away from central Mogadishu and have since vacated most neighborhoods of the city. The withdrawal has been seen as turning point in the struggle against Al-Shabaab in the country. For years a fragile transitional federal government (known by its acronym TFG) and AMISOM, the African Union's peace-support forces, had been boxed into just a few city blocks of the seaside capital by Shabaab fighters. A failed offensive by Al-Shabaab earlier in the year in which hundreds of its fighters were ordered to launch suicidal frontal charges had left the group weakened.
Al-Shabaab, however, has far from given up designs on the capital. On Tuesday a truck filled with explosives barreled into a government complex in the heart of Somalia's restive capital killing dozens in an attack authorities have blamed on the militant group.
Taarnby's sources in Mogadishu tell him that Al-Shabaab are still active in two or three neighborhoods in the capital, and that they will likely regroup and return. Reports of increased in-fighting amongst factions that had united to push out Al-Shabaab have not been an encouraging sign.
And the militia still has tight control over most of central and southern Somalia, where it controls the strategically and commercially vital port of Kismaayo, from where it collects lucrative customs tolls and fees.
The famine in Somalia, which has been most acute in southern Somalia, appears however to be starting to take a toll on Al-Shabaab. There are reports of rising anger against the group in the south because of the group's refusal to let in international aid. According to Somali experts the famine has also hurt Al-Shabaab's bottom line by making it more difficult for the group to raise money within Somalia. According to U.S. authorities the group raises most of its income internally and has in recent years raised $70-100m per year from taxation and extortion, according a report released by the U.N. last July.
The 2008 designation by the U.S. of Shabaab as a terrorist group has also reduced remittances sent to the group from overseas, according to Somalia analysts. Western counter-terrorism agencies have also cracked down on financial donations by Western-based sympathizers of the group. On Monday Amina Farah Ali, a 35 year old American-Somali woman, went on trial in Minneapolis charged with trying to send the group $11,000 she had raised by soliciting money door to door and through teleconferences. She is the first of twenty individuals charged with fundraising or recruiting for Shabaab in the FBI's long-running investigation in Minnesota to go to trial.
The revenue Shabaab receives from Somali pirates has been exaggerated by some, Taarnby says. Though the group takes a cut when it can from the estimated $150m in ransoms and illicit revenue obtained by pirates each year operating off the Somali coast, there is no clear evidence the group has ever become directly involved in piracy or is directly cooperating with pirates.
There are also reports of in-fighting between Al-Shabaab commanders who disagree over the need to continue taxing southern Somalis during the famine. Historically Al-Shabaab commanders from the north have been less sensitive to the needs of locals in the south than their southern counterparts and are viewed by locals as foreigners, according to Somalia analysts.
Al-Shabaab has won few friends in territory that it controls. Unused to governing, it has resorted to brutally imposing Taliban-like restrictions on the local population, alienating many. A popular backlash against the group in the south - along the lines of the Anbar awakening in Iraq – is a real possibility, according to Somalia analysts. While there are reports that the group has opened several of its own aid camps and has been cooperating with charities from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, the famine appears to have significantly dented its support.
According to Ken Menkhaus, an American expert on Al-Shabaab, and the author of the 2004 book "Somalia: State Collapse and the Threat of Terrorism," the militia group reached the peak of its power in 2008 and has been in decline ever since. "Their draconian interpretations have appalled Somalis," he told a conference organized by the New America Foundation in April, "Whole clans have taken the decision to distance themselves from Al-Shabaab."
Global Jihadist Ambitions
Some experts believe that setbacks for Al-Shabaab in Somalia may make the group more likely to plot attacks outside Somalia, including against the West - in frustration and in a calculated attempt to boost their recruitment and prestige. "They are more dangerous when weak and their weakness now worries me. I think it's in their interest to regionalize or globalize the conflict," Menkhaus stated.
In July 2010 the group carried out a trio of deadly bombing in Kampala, Uganda killing more than 70 - its first attack outside Somalia, in retaliation, it claimed, for Uganda's deployment of peace support forces in Somalia.
Al-Shabaab's loose structures makes it difficult for counter-terrorism agencies to decipher its global terrorist ambitions. Somalia analysts say the militia is a messy constellation of different factions with differing agendas, and no one leader is in absolute control.
"It's difficult to know how to rank Al-Shabaab as a threat. It's not clear how serious they are about attacking the West and what sort of networks they really have. There are too many unknowns and that's what really scares counter-terrorism officials in Europe," Taarnby told CNN.
At his presentation at the New America Foundation, Menkhaus identified three main strands within Al-Shabaab: those seeking to establish an Islamist state, those who saw the country as a base for global jihad, and a third group that had degenerated into feeding off the war economy and favored the status quo.
For years, the leading light of the global Jihadist faction was Fazul Abdullah Muhammad, a Kenyan al Qaeda terrorist wanted for years for his alleged role in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. According to Taarnby, Jihadist websites have also boasted he was the al Qaeda operative who orchestrated a failed surface-to-air missile attack on an Israeli passenger jet in Mombasa, Kenya in 2002. His death in a shootout in Mogadishu in June was a big blow to the Somali group's capabilities to carry out complex operations outside the country. "He was the gatekeeper to al Qaeda Central and was believed to have an extensive network across east Africa, including safe houses," Taarnby told CNN, "and the question is who can now replace him?"
Al Qaeda itself has struggled to establish a base of operations in Somalia. In the 1990s Osama Bin Laden's group made a concerted effort to build up operations there but found Somalia a difficult place to navigate because of its complex tribal structures and the chaotic situation on the ground, realities which have changed little since then.
Taarnby believes recent setbacks for the group may make it more cautious in plotting terrorist attacks against the West. "They need to re-organize, they need to respond to the famine, they need to respond to the fact they've been evicted from Mogadishu - they may not want to get too adventurous right now," Taarnby told CNN, "they are more likely to focus on 'do-ables' like the attack in Kampala or assisting Nigerian group Boko Haram."
This would mean the group in the short term could be focusing more on expanding its operational reach in Africa. Nigerian newspapers have reported that the suspected planner of Boko Haram's deadly suicide car bomb attack on a UN building in Abuja in August recently received training with Al-Shabaab in Somalia. According to Taarnby, Al-Shabaab bomb-making capabilities took a leap forward around 2009 after al Qaeda in Iraq operatives shared their technical expertise with the group. "The same devices being used in Iraq started turning up in Mogadishu. Around 80% of AMISOM's deaths have been from such devices," he told CNN.
Western counter-terrorism officials have recently expressed concern over cooperation between Al-Shabaab and other militant groups in Africa. In September the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) warned that Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM )were trying to more closely synchronize their efforts to launch attacks on U.S and Western interests, but had yet to show a significant capability to launch attacks outside their homelands.
In recent weeks Al-Shabaab has been linked to two kidnappings of Westerners in northern Kenya, indicating that elements of the group may be intensifying their efforts to target Westerners in east Africa. On Saturday ten Somali gunmen kidnapped a French woman from her home in a resort in northern Kenya early Saturday, near where a Briton was seized and her husband killed last month, according to Kenyan authorities, who blamed Al-Shabaab.
One of the most disturbing scenarios of all, according to Taarnby, is if cooperation deepens in the coming months between Al-Shabaab and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsular (AQAP) in Yemen, just a short distance across the Arabian sea.
For some time Western counter-terrorism officials have been concerned about an emerging alliance between the two groups. Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, a Somali citizen captured by U.S. forces in April and interrogated aboard a U.S. navy ship for two months before being taken to New York to face terrorism charges, had been in direct contact with Anwar al Awlaki and had attempted to broker a weapons deal between the groups according to the indictment in his case. Warsame has pleaded not guilty.
There have been unconfirmed reports that hundreds of Somali fighters have taken part in recent fighting in the south of Yemen after making the short trip over the Arabian Sea and disembarking at ports under Islamist control.
According to Taarnby both AQAP and Al-Shabaab have a strong interest in deepening cooperation. "The Yemenis have all the guns you could dream of, and also funds from donors in the Gulf, but what AQAP needs if they want to establish an Islamic emirate is manpower. The Somalis have this in abundance but what they need is weapons and cash."
"If such an alliance took root, the Horn of Africa would really then be a new front in the global war on terrorism," Taarnby told CNN. In recent months the United States has stepped up its ability to launch drone attacks in Somalia and Yemen, killing senior AQAP cleric Anwar al Awlaki in a drone strike Friday.
The Threat to the West
Taarnby expects the group to carefully weigh the cost and benefit of launching terrorist plots against the West. "They know their fundraising and recruiting network in the Somali diaspora will take a blow if they launch an attack." Taarnby says that Al-Shabaab's cost-benefit calculation is illustrated by the fact it has not launched any attacks in Nairobi. "They could easily tear apart Nairobi but they've done nothing there at all because they realize this is their golden egg," he told CNN.
With regard to Scandinavia, Taarnby believes the group has decided that assassinating the cartoonists would provide a sufficient boost to the group's prestige to be worth such a backlash. "The cartoon controversy really agitated Shabaab. They go on about them much more than any other Jihadist group. They are really carrying the torch on this –it's possible Somali militants in Scandinavia channeled their anger back to the group in some way," Taarnby told CNN.
Menkhaus, the American expert on Al-Shabaab, agrees
that there are constraints on Al-Shabaab when it comes to launching
attacks in the West because any international law enforcement crackdown
which affects powerful Somali interests and which further reduces the
flow of remittances will likely see a violent reaction against the
group. "In that case they won't have to worry about what we do to them
but what the Somali people will do to them," Menkhaus stated, "and I
think that's one of our great advantages in trying to outflank this
group" (CNN, 2011).
Title: Al Shabaab In Mexico?
Date: October 18, 2011
Source: Global Post
Abstract: A Mexican radio station on Tuesday claimed it had a report that the Mexican marines had foiled a plot by the Somalian Islamic group al-Shabaab to attack the U.S. embassay in Mexico City.
MVS anchor Carmen Aristegui announced the scoop, which if confirmed would provide the strongest evidence to date that Islamic militant groups are operating in Mexico.
According to the alleged leaked report, marines raided a house in the middle-class Mexico City Roma neighborhood on 9 June, 2010 and found 22.7 kilos of explosive material along with detonators.
They had located the house — which is less than a mile from the U.S. embassy — after tracking a Somali national who worked for al-Shabaab, the report says.
It is unclear if the individual was arrested and where he currently is.
The June raid had been previously covered by the Mexican media, but Mexico’s attorney general’s office had said the material seized were not dangerous explosives.
Asked about the latest report, a press officer at the attorney general’s office said he could not immediately verify whether the new evidence was reliable.
In the U.S. embassy in Mexico City, press officers said they did not immediately have information about the foiled attack.
However, they said they had received information from Mexico’s immigration service that a Somali national with alleged links to al Shabaab had been arrested in Mexico City in April 2010. That individual was deported for entering Mexico illegally, they said.
Al-Shabaab controls large swathes of the southern parts of Somalia and has declared its allegiance to Al Qaeda.
The latest report comes amid increased concerns that radical Islamic groups will take advantage of the insecurity in Mexico, and its porous border with the U.S., to launch attacks on the United States and its allies.
Last week, U.S. officials claimed they had foiled a plot by Iranian agents to hire drug cartel gunmen to attack the Saudi ambassador the United States (Global Post, 2011).Title: Somali Militants Threaten Kenyan Skyscraper Attack
Date: October 18, 2011
Source: France 24
Abstract: Somali militants threatened to bring down Nairobi skyscrapers after Kenya sent hundreds of troops into Somalia. The threat emanated from the same lawless country in which the al-Qaida masterminds behind 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies sought refuge.
The Kenyan invasion comes at a time when al-Shabab has been weakened by famine in its strongholds, has been pushed from the capital of Mogadishu by African Union troops and finds itself increasingly challenged by clan militias.
The U.S. has also launched airstrikes against
al-Shabab leaders amid concerns over terrorist training camps in the
failed state of Somalia. The men who masterminded the 1998 bombings of
U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania found shelter in the chaos of its
Al-Shabab lashed out in a news conference and an eloquent English statement on Monday, saying that the “bloody battles that will ensue as a result of this incursion will most likely disrupt the social equilibrium and imperil the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians.”
The statement urged Kenyans to tell their “saber-rattling politicians” to not let the “flames of war” spill over into Kenya, destroying the East African nation’s sense of stability.
“Your skyscrapers will be destroyed, your tourism will disappear. We shall inflict on you the same damage you inflicted on us,” Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage, a spokesman for the Islamist militia al-Shabab, said at a Mogadishu news conference.
Kenya on Sunday moved two battalions of about 800 troops each across the border in two locations, a Nairobi-based official said. Tanks, helicopters and artillery have also been deployed. The invasion is the most significant foreign deployment of the Kenyan military since independence from Britain in 1963.
The official asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
Maj. Emmanuel Chirchir, a Kenyan military spokesman, would only say there were “sufficient” troops in Somalia. He would not disclose their final objective, how long they were prepared to stay or any other details. He did say that five Kenyan military personnel were killed when their helicopter crashed near the border on Sunday.
Kenya says the invasion is retaliation for the kidnappings of four Europeans – two aid workers and two tourists – from Kenyan soil. An Englishwoman was taken last month by gunmen who killed her husband, a Frenchwoman was seized two weeks later and two Spanish aid workers were taken from a refugee camp near the border on Thursday. The attacks have already hit Kenya’s tourism industry, the country’s third biggest foreign exchange earner last year.
But Europeans have been kidnapped before, and it is still unclear if al-Shabab carried out the attacks. Analysts also say it is “highly unlikely” that Kenya could organize such a complex military operation so quickly.
“The kidnaps could be a catalyst for something in the works for a long time,” said Lauren Gelfand, the Africa and Middle East editor of Jane’s Defense Weekly.
The Kenyans had already been conducting air strikes in Somalia for the past two weeks, a Nairobi-based diplomat said. He asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Al-Shabab itself dismissed the kidnappings as a motivation.
“The allegations put forward by the Kenyan authorities with regard to the recent kidnappings are, at best, unfounded and, apart from the mere conjectural corroborations, not substantiated with any verifiable evidence,” the al-Shabab statement said.
Last year al-Shabab suicide bombers killed 76 people in Kampala, Uganda as they watched the World Cup final. The group said it was retaliation for Uganda sending troops to the African Union force supporting the weak U.N.-backed government.
Rage, the al-Shabab spokesman, raised the image of the bombings Monday.
“Remember what happened in Uganda’s capital,” he said.
So far al-Shabab has put up little resistance to the Kenyan forces, melting away into the thorny scrub. A militia supported by the Kenyans took control of Qoqani, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) from the Kenyan border, late on Sunday, residents said.
Residents in the nearby town of Afmadow said al-Shabab fighters were leaving, but that families were also fleeing into the bush, preferring to sleep in the open and face wild animals than risk any fighting.
“We know there are lions in the jungle but fighting is worse,” said Abdiqadir Mohamed.
Kenya’s final objective remains unclear. It has spent the last two years pushing for a buffer zone between itself and troubled Somalia. Kenyan forces trained and equipped the so-called Jubaland militia of more than 2,000 Somalis and have frequently said they want to take Kismayo, a port city whose customs revenues are the insurgency’s biggest cash cow.
Al-Shabab’s key line of defense for Kismayo is in front of the Juba river. There are only three bridges across it strong enough to take the movement of vehicles. On Monday, bearded men wearing masks drove around Kismayo, using megaphones to urge residents to join the fight, residents said. The insurgents have a history of kidnapping children to use as child soldiers.
Families in Kismayo said they were already fleeing, fearing forced recruitment.“Every family is running away with his children,” said resident Nuh Abdi. “Otherwise al-Shabab will conscript them for fighting” (France 24, 2011).
Title: U.S.: Imminent Terror Attack In Kenya Possible
Date: October 22, 2011
Source: USA Today
Abstract: The U.S. Embassy is warning that an imminent terrorist attack in Kenya is possible.
The warning said likely targets include places that foreigners congregate, including shopping malls and night clubs. The embassy issued the warning from what it called credible information.The U.S. did not specify who might carry out such an attack, but the warning comes a week after Kenyan troops pushed into Somalia to attack al-Shabab militants. Al-Shabab carried out attacks in July in Uganda which killed 76 people (USA Today, 2011).
Title: Deadly Attacks Show Al-Shabaab Expanding Its Reach, With Potential For U.S. Targets
Date: October 24, 2011
Source: Fox News
Abstract: There is growing evidence that the Al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia, known as al-Shabaab, is becoming more of a regional terrorist player, with the potential to go global as it targets U.S. citizens and interests.
"We have been getting threats from al-Shabaab against Americans and Westerners," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told ABC News when asked about a decision to warn Americans in Kenya
of an imminent terrorist threat. "So it's a very dangerous, uncertain
situation. And we want to be sure that whatever information we have, we
immediately present to Americans who live, work or may be visiting in
In the past day, two targets in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi were attacked with explosive devices. An explosion at a bus stop Monday evening killed at least one person and injured eight others. An earlier attack on a Nairobi night club with a grenade left 13 injured. Both incidents came after the U.S. warned that al-Shabaab would carry out retaliatory attacks after Kenyan troops entered Somalia in mid-October.
"You now have a choice to make," the statement warned. "Either you call for the immediate withdrawal of your troops from our country or you shall receive the bodies of your remaining sons delivered to you in bags. Think long. Think hard. Think of your sons' futures."In Washington, the State Department could not immediately comment on the latest attack or the intelligence that led to warning American citizens in Kenya to avoid crowds and malls, but department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland did not dispute that the warning was tied to al-Shabaab.
Last summer, when al-Shabaab launched suicide attacks in Uganda to coincide with the World Cup, U.S. officials questioned whether Uganda was the seminal attack, which showed the group was no longer a local player but could launch suicide bombings in other countries.
U.S. officials have consistently warned that the Al Qaeda affiliate has been adept at recruiting Western Europeans and Americans by playing off their allegiance to their native country. A new photo, from the Middle East Media Research Institute, or MEMRI, purports to show an American citizen and spokesman for Al Qaeda, Abu Abdallah al-Muhajir, who recently travelled to Somalia to deliver Korans, clothing and food for victims of the drought.
Seeming to take a page out of Usama bin Laden's playbook, Alabama native Omar Hammami, first identified by Fox News as a spokesman and battlefield operative for al-Shabaab, released an audio message to his followers on Oct. 8. Hammami claimed Islam and life in the West were incompatible, and to reconcile the two is a "dream world."
In a translation by MEMRI, Hammami stresses that the life of jihad may lack modern conveniences, but it is worth the sacrifice and doesn't take long to get used to. Hammami appears to quote an American TV commercial, another nod to his Alabama upbringing, when he says, "If I can do it, you can do it too."
Also known as al-Amriki, which translates as the American, Hammami says the life of the fighter "is not what you see in movies." And appearing confident in his own security, Hammami seems to bait the U.S. intelligence community that monitors the Horn of East Africa. He mocks the "incompetence" of agents claiming that "They always seem to recruit the dumbest of spies to do their dirty work."
Nearly two dozen Americans of Somali descent have disappeared into the al-Shabaab camps since 2007. Last week, two Minneapolis women who claimed they were helping the poor were convicted of providing money to the terrorist group. And Minneapolis native Shirwa Ahmed was the first documented case of an American suicide bomber when he blew himself up as part of al-Shabaab operation in Northern Somalia in late 2007.U.S. officials tell Fox News that al-Shabaab and the Al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen, which was behind the last two major plots involving planes against the United States, are now working together -- sharing training and bomb-making techniques. It is creating what one analyst described as an arc of instability that now stretches from Yemen and Somalia in the east, to North Africa and west to Nigeria where a little known Islamist group called Boko Haram has increasingly adopted Al Qaeda tactics, including car bombs (Fox News, 2011).
Experts Warn War Against Al Shabaab Far From Won
Date: October 27, 2012
Source: Standard Media
Abstract: They may have been routed from their stronghold of Kismayo, but the Al Shabaab militants could be re-grouping for a major assault on Kenyan and the African Union forces.
Security analysts at the South African-based think tank – the Institute of Security Studies – are warning that the war against the terror group may be far from over.
In a report on conflict prevention and risk analysis in Africa released last week, the Pretoria-based group says the celebration over the fall of Kismayo may have been premature.
The report says all indications were that remnants of the terror group that have been targeting Kenya in its revenge attacks were planning a new round of war in their bid to retake the coastal city.
Kismayu fell under a cloud of gunfire last month when the Kenyan Defence Forces overran it, leaving hundreds of Al Shabaab fighters killed, wounded or captured.
The city, a priced catch for both the Kenyan and the African Union Forces (Amisom) was captured after months of aerial, land and naval assault on the militants.
But the ISS analysts are now calling for new tactics to stop the terror group from waging fresh battle.
“While taking Kismayu represents a huge victory for Amisom, it does not mean that the threat of Al Shabaab has been eradicated,” says the report.
It adds: “There are indications that Al Shabaab is planning to resort to unconventional warfare methods, including deploying suicide bombers and other guerrilla tactics, to make the area ungovernable.”
The experts say the people of Kismayo remain concerned that Al-Shabaab has simply blended into the local population.
“They may be hesitant
to show their support for Amisom, as this may unwittingly court a reprisal from
Al Shabaab, putting their lives at risk. Now, however, the population is still
gradually warming to Amisom’s presence,” they say.
The ISS group further observes that the KDF and Amisom face the challenge of securing Kismayo, as Al Shabaab left booby traps and unexploded improvised explosive devices, which are not always easy to identify.
It says the KDF is currently busy removing such devices from the town.
“It remains to be seen what Al Shabaab will do next, but it is probable that it will move on to bigger towns, and start engaging in unconventional warfare,” writes the ISS team.
They add: “The fact that Amisom managed to take control of Kismayo with relative ease indicates that Al Shabaab may be changing its game plan.”
They warn that KDF and Amisom should remain alert and not become complacent because of its ‘easy’ victory. Al Shabaab may be mutating, and may soon start engaging in guerrilla-type warfare.
According to the Pretoria based group, the African Union forces’ immediate challenge is to keep Kismayo under control, and to win the hearts and minds of the people.
However, the experts say it was possible that the war in Somalia is taking a new turn and that Amisom has not even seen the beginning.
They also want the African Union forces to exercise great care in its attempts to form a local authority, in order not to worsen existing clan tensions. “The fact that the KDF was involved in the taking of Kismayu may be used by Al Shabaab to claim that Somalia has been ‘invaded’.
If it succeeds in doing this, it may be easier for the group to gain access to more arms,” they say.
But the KDF Information operations officer, Col Cyrus Oguna appeared to downplay the new report when he reported on the forces’ arrest of a key woman linked to Al Shabaab in Kismayo.
Oguna said the forces were on top of the operations and that the arrest of the woman was a big boost to the soldiers’ efforts to neutralise the terror group’s plans to use women to carry out attacks.
He said a house-to-house search last Sunday netted 72 suspected Al Shabaab members.
In a recent press statement, the Amisom Commander, Lt Gen Andrew Gutti said the Al Shabaab had completely been routed out of major towns and assured ordinary Somalis of protection.
He said the capture of Kismayo and other key towns had denied the terror group the food supply and illegal income, making them vulnerable. Gutti said the recent capture of another key Al Shabaab stronghold area of Wanla Wein was proof the militants had lost considerable strength.
He however conceded the militants were still imposing illegal taxes on the locals.
The security operations in Somali are of immense importance to Kenyans because the country has in the past few years bore the brunt of the militant group.
A number of police officers and civilians have either died or badly wounded in grenade attacks blamed on the Al Shabaab group.
The militants and their sympathisers have been targeting churches and other public places for attacks.
A retired security operative in Nairobi, Ben Koske said the KDF operations in Somali would take longer than expected because it would take long to completely wipe out the Al Shabaab.
“Kenya must also be ready to spend more money to defend its people against Al Shabaab attacks in North Eastern and other major towns,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ugandan authorities now say they are reviewing the presence of its troops in Somalia, after the UN accused it of backing Democratic Republic of Congo rebels.
A senior Uganda minister was categorical they had been “stabbed in the back” by the UN.
Asuman Kiyingi said Uganda could now suspend its involvement in Somalia, where it supplies the largest number of troops to the African Union mission.
The AU has helped government forces gain ground against Islamist militants.
The report by a UN panel of experts last week said Rwanda and Uganda were supplying weapons to the M23 rebels, whose insurrection has forced some 500,000 from their homes since April - charges both countries denied.“We are reviewing our engagement in Somalia until these malicious allegations are withdrawn and the international community at the UN assure the people of Uganda that the sacrifices they are making are appreciated and recognised instead of being stabbed in the back the way that... report did,” Mr Kiyingi told the BBC (Standard Media, 2012).
Title: American Carried Out Somalia Suicide Bombing, Islamists Claim
Date: October 30, 2011
Abstract: A suicide bomber who carried out an attack in Somalia this weekend was an American citizen of Somali descent, a website associated with the Al-Shabaab Islamist movement claimed Sunday.
The website named the bombers as Aden al-Ansari and Cabdi Salaam al-Muhajir, and posted what it said was an audio interview with al-Muhajir speaking American-accented English.
The speaker urges his "brothers and sisters" to "do jihad" in America, Canada, England, "anywhere in Europe, in Asia, in Africa, in China, in Australia, anywhere you find kuffar," a derogatory term for non-Muslims.
The African Union force trying to establish order in Somalia said there had been an attack Saturday involving two suicide bombers in the capital Mogadishu, but said AU troops "beat off" the attack by "al-Qaeda linked terrorists."
Al-Shabaab is associated with al Qaeda and is considered a terrorist organization by the United States. The African Union military spokesman in the country did not immediately respond to a CNN question about the identity of the bombers or whether any AU troops were injured.
Omar Jamal, a Somali diplomat at the United Nations, identified the person who made the audio recordings as Abdisalam Ali of Minneapolis. He told CNN that friends of Ali had listened to the messages in English and Somali and were "convinced it is him."
The discrepancy in names may mean that the name released by Al-Shabaab is a nom de guerre.
Jamal said Abdisalam left Minneapolis on November 4, 2008, with another man, Burhan Hassan, who has since been killed.
Kyle Loven, an FBI spokesman in Minneapolis, told CNN, "We're aware of the reporting but not able to confirm any IDs at this time."
In the Somali-language interview that Al-Shabaab released, the speaker says he has been fighting with the group for two years and killed "many infidels" with his own hands.
Jamal said this weekend's bombing was the third time a Minnesota Somali-American had carried out a suicide bombing in Somalia.
The previous two were Shirwa Ahmed, 27, who was the first confirmed American suicide bomber in U.S. history, and Farah Mohamed Beledi, also 27.
Ahmed killed himself and 29 others in the fall of 2008. The FBI identified Beledi as one of two suicide bombers responsible for killing two African Union soldiers in Somalia in May.
In recent years, approximately 20 young men -- most of them Somali-Americans -- have traveled from the Minneapolis area to Somalia to train with Al-Shabaab, and a number of them have gone on to fight with the terrorist organization, U.S. officials said.
And this month, a federal jury found two Minnesota women guilty of raising money for Al-Shabaab.
According to the federal indictment, Amina Farah Ali, 35, and Hawo Mohamed Hassan, 64, of Rochester, Minnesota, solicited funds in ways that included going door-to-door "under the false pretense that the funds were for the poor and needy."
The two were charged with one count of conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.
Ali was also found guilty of 12 other counts including sending more than $8,000 in 2008 and 2009 (CNN, 2011).Title: FBI Seeks Evidence American Man Was Behind Suicide Attack In Somalia
Date: October 31, 2011
Source: Fox News
Abstract: The FBI is working to obtain the remains of a suicide bomber in Somalia, to try to determine whether he was one of at least 21 young Somali-American men believed to have left Minneapolis in recent years to join the terrorist group al-Shabab.
If the remains are confirmed to belong to Abdisalan Hussein Ali, it will mark the third time someone from Minnesota has been involved in a suicide attack in Somalia.
"I don't understand," said Nimco Ahmed, a Somali
community activist in Minnesota, home to the nation's largest Somali
population. "It's really, really painful to actually see one of the kids
who has a bright future ahead of them do this. ... It's a loss for our
Al-Shabab said over the weekend that Abdisalan Taqabalahullaah, whom they identified as a Somali-American, carried out the suicide attack Saturday against an African Union base in Mogadishu. The attack killed 10 people, including the two suicide bombers, a Mogadishu-based security official said.
The militia group posted online a recording purported to be Taqabalahullaah, calling on others to carry out a jihad. Omar Jamal, first secretary of the Somali mission to the United Nations, said friends of Abdisalan Hussein Ali listened to the recording and identified the voice as Ali's.
Date: November 17, 2011
Source: Fox News
Amplifying the point, Macharia Kamau, Kenya’s ambassador and permanent representative to the Kenya Mission at the United Nations, said that the two Al Qaeda affiliates appear to be on the verge of a fully integrated operation.
“We have the bodies to prove it in Mogadishu (the Somali Capital),” Kamau told Fox News, referring to the suicide car bombings. “Unquestionably, the training capabilities are international and the funding behind these training capabilities are international.”
Fox News has learned that in addition to training recruits in Somalia, Al Qaeda in Yemen, which is behind the last two major plots against the U.S. involving aircraft, has begun sharing bomb-making techniques with Al-Shabaab.
This is significant because the Yemeni Al Qaeda affiliate's Saudi bomb maker, Ibrahim al-Asiri, is considered a top target by U.S. intelligence because he has developed explosives that defy traditional airline security screening. Al-Asiri was behind the underwear bomb in 2009 and the cargo printer bombs last fall that were designed to bring down cargo planes over the eastern seaboard of the U.S.
Kamau said there was no convincing evidence that efforts to deter U.S. citizens from joining Al Shabaab have been successful. At least two dozen Americans, mostly of Somali descent, have joined Al-Shabaab since 2007. An Alabama native, Omar Hammami, who is under indictment in the U.S. for allegedly supporting Al Qaeda, is the public face of Al-Shabaab for the West through online videos and lectures.
Kenyan officials say the presence of Americans on the ground in Somalia is making conditions worse. There are now at least three documented cases of American suicide bombers in Somalia, and a fourth case is suspected. A month ago, Kenya began an aggressive military push into Somalia to contain Al-Shabaab.
“American citizens makes the situation even more complex because you are bringing a level of competence and training that normally is not found in some of these small communities in some of these failed states," Kamau said.
As for the number of foreign jihadists and the threat they present, Kamau added, “It has definitely not reduced ... the actual suicide bombers are sometimes from America or from Sweden ... where they have some of these tentacles linking back to it.”
Kenya officials say that almost a third of the council that runs Al-Shabaab is “tied up with Al Qaeda elements,” adding that “the leadership, the strategic thinking ... and the funding is tied up in the same Al Qaeda elements that are spread in many other parts of the world," including Yemen and potentially as far afield as Afghanistan.
A strategic priority is the Somali port city of Kismayo, which is seen as the main supply route for Al-Shabaab and other extremists elements in the Horn of Africa. The Kenyan ambassador said his country wants to see a naval blockade which will require international help. And while grateful for American support, given the current economic climate, Kamau said other nations whose strategic national security interests are at stake in the Horn of Africa should also bear the responsibility.
Asked if Somalia is on the verge of becoming an Al Qaeda safe haven from which it will try to launch global operations, the ambassador said, “Without a doubt. Absolutely. The evidence of that is clear. I’m sure your own intelligence agencies (U.S. intelligence services) here are aware of it. We (the Kenyans) are aware of it. ... The countries that surround Somalia are aware of it. We are all trying to respond appropriately.”
While U.S. officials put the number of foreign fighters in Somalia at about 500 and slightly more in Yemen, they do not dispute that both affiliates are on the upswing when compared to Al Qaeda core in Pakistan that has only “several hundred” fighters.
“While Al Qaeda’s core in Pakistan is weaker now than it ever has been, the initiative in the organization and attention of foreign fighters is shifting to their affiliates in Yemen and the Horn of Africa," a U.S. official told Fox News. Al Qaeda in Yemen and Al-Shabaab “are threats no one is taking lightly.”
While Al-Shabaab has launched attacks outside of Somalia in Kenya and Uganda, the intelligence community questions whether the group will remain a regional player or whether it will truly go global by launching international plots. Al-Shabaab has not so far. One lingering concern is that Americans, with clean passports and clean backgrounds, who train with Al-Shabaab can eventually return to the U.S.
Asked whether it is only a matter of time before Al-Shabaab becomes a global player for Al Qaeda, Kenya’s U.N. ambassador framed his response carefully.
“The next 12 months are critical, “ Kamau said. “It depends how successful we are on the ground. And what support we get from the international community. If we are successful, then we should hope that we should succeed and that should not happen. And if we fail, on the other hand, which we hope we don’t, it is hard to tell what the repercussions will be for everyone” (Fox News, 2011).
U.S. Reportedly Looks At Combating Somali Terror Group's Twitter Account
Date: November 19, 2011
Source: Fox News
Abstract: The U.S. government, alarmed at Somali militants' use of Twitter to court followers in the West, reportedly is considering ways of combating the messages.
Measures under review include going as far as shutting down al-Shabaab's Twitter account, the New York Times reported, citing unnamed American officials who are "looking closely" at the terror group's posts.
Recent Twitter posts have targeted the Kenyan military, which has stepped up its efforts against the Al Qada-linked al-Shabaab. "Your inexperienced boys flee from confrontation & flinch in the face of death," al-Shabaab said in one post noted by the New York Times.
Most of the messages are in English, suggesting the intended audience is in the West. The group has been known to recruit members from Somali-American communities in the United States, notably in Minnesota.
It's Twitter account, @HSMPress, had more than 4,600 followers as of Monday night. "Harakat Al-Shabaab Al Mujahideen is an Islamic movement that governs South & Cen. Somalia & part of the global struggle towards the revival of Islamic Khilaafa," the account says.
There is growing evidence that al-Shabaab, is becoming more of a regional terrorist player, with the potential to go global as it targets U.S. citizens and interests.
"We have been getting threats from al-Shabaab against Americans and Westerners," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a TV interview this fall when asked about a decision to warn Americans in Kenya of an imminent terrorist threat. "So it's a very dangerous, uncertain situation. And we want to be sure that whatever information we have, we immediately present to Americans who live, work or may be visiting in Kenya."
U.S. officials have consistently warned that the Al Qaeda affiliate has been adept at recruiting Western Europeans and Americans by playing off their allegiance to their native country.
Nearly two dozen Americans of Somali descent have disappeared into the al-Shabaab camps since 2007. In October, two Minneapolis women who claimed they were helping the poor were convicted of providing money to the terrorist group.
native Shirwa Ahmed was the first documented case of an American suicide bomber
when he blew himself up as part of al-Shabaab operation in Northern Somalia in
late 2007 (Fox News, 2011).
Title: US Offers Bounty For Somali Militants
Date: June 7, 2012
Source: VOA News
Abstract: The United States is offering a new set of rewards for information on the whereabouts of leaders of the Somali militant group al-Shabab.
U.S. Rewards for al-Shabab
1. $7 million: Ahmed Abdi aw-Mohamed, operational commander
2. $5 million: Ibrahim Haji Jama, key leader from Somaliland who helped form Harakat Shabaab al-Mujahidin
3. $5 million: Fuad Mohamed Khalaf, dual Swedish-Somali national who has raised funds and helped direct attacks
4. $5 million: Bashir Mohamed Mahamoud, military commander and coordinator for al-Qaida operations in Somalia
5. $5 million: Mukhtar Robow,
spokesperson and spiritual leader
6. $3 million: Zakariya Ismail Ahmed Hersi, head of intelligence
7. $3 million: Abdullahi Yare, head of media operations
-Source: U.S. Rewards for Justice program
Department announced the rewards Thursday through its Rewards for Justice
program, marking the first time a specific premium has been placed on the heads
of top members of al-Shabab, which the United States considers a terrorist
The U.S. is offering up to $7 million for al-Shabab's operational leader Ahmed Abdi aw-Mohamed. Separate rewards of up to $5 million each were offered for four of his top associates -- Ibrahim Haji Jama, Fuad Mohamed Khalaf, Bashir Mohamed Mahamoud, and Mukhtar Robow.
Rewards of up to $3 million were also offered for two other top members of the group, Zakariya Ismail Ahmed Hersi and Abdullahi Yare.
Roland Marchal, a leading al-Shabab expert, said that the bounty may be aimed at weakening the organization and buying intelligence. But he adds that many of those on the list are not influential in the group's current operations.
"They are well known outside the organization," he said. "But I doubt, for the little I know, they are very influential inside."
The State Department said the group is responsible for the killing of thousands of Somali civilians, Somali peace activists, international aid workers, journalists and African Union peacekeepers.
It called al-Shabab's activities a threat to the stability of East Africa and to the national security interests of the United States.
The U.S. placed al-Shabab on its list of terrorist organizations in 2008. The militant group has been linked to terrorist attacks in Somalia and Uganda.
Al-Shabab once controlled much of Somalia and nearly all of the capital, Mogadishu, but lost most of its territory during an 18-month offensive involving African Union forces, the Somali government, Ethiopia and Kenya (VOA News, 2012).
Title: Somali Islamists Offer 10 Camels As Bounty
Date: June 9, 2012
Abstract: The United States offers millions for information leading to the capture of the world's most wanted terrorists.
A Somali militant group has purportedly countered with an offer of camels for U.S. officials.
Al-Shabaab has placed a bounty of 10 camels for President Barack Obama and two camels for information on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
An audio statement posted on jihadist websites purportedly from Al-Shabaab jeered news that the United States is offering millions of dollars for information on seven key members of al-Shabaab through its Rewards for Justice program.
The man on the audio claimed to be Fuad Mohamed Khalaf, considered by the State Department to be Al-Shabaab's leading fundraiser. The United States has offered $5 million for information of his whereabouts.
"Whoever brings the mujahidin information about the whereabouts of infidel Obama and the lady of Bill Clinton, the woman named Hillary Clinton, I will give a reward," the man said.
A study by Galkayo University, which looked at the effects of drought on livestock, said the average cost of a camel in Somalia is $700.
CNN can not independently verify the authenticity of the audio recording, which was purportedly made by Khalaf during a speech to followers in the southern port city of Merca.
The U.S. State Department's Rewards for Justice program is offering $7 million for information on the location of Ahmed Abdi Aw-Mohamed, the founder of the Islamist group in Somalia.
This year, he and al Qaeda's leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, released a joint video formally announcing a merger between the terror groups.
In announcing the bounties on Mohamed and his key associates Thursday, the State Department called al-Shabaab "a threat to the stability of East Africa and to the national security interests of the United States."
The State Department
said it is also offering up to $5 million each for information leading to the
location of four of Aw-Mohamed's associates, including Khalaf. In addition, it
is offering up to $3 million each for two of the terror group's other leaders (CNN,