U.S. Naval Task Force strikes at 1998 al Qaeda Embassy bomber
Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, the intelligence chief for the Islamic Courts and other unnamed high value targets attacked in Puntland, Somalia
Six months after Ethiopia's invasion of southern Somalia to oust the al Qaeda backed Islamic Courts, the Transitional Federal Government, backed by Ethiopian armed forces and a small contingent of African Union troops have fought a vicious low level insurgency against the remnants of the Islamic Courts. Al Qaeda has poured money and resources into Somalia, and has issued propaganda tapes calling for jihadists to fight the "crusaders" in the country. During the Ethiopian invasion, the U.S. Navy and Special Forces intervened, and struck at senior Islamic Courts and al Qaeda leaders fleeing the battlefield. Over the past 24 hours, U.S. forces have struck again, and targeted at least one of the principle actors in the 1998 suicide attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Last evening, Somalinet reported security forces in Puntland, the semi autonomous state in the central region of Somalia, reinforced local tribal fighters along the Bargale coast in an attack against "'Islamist remnants' including foreign al Qaeda linked operatives who reached there with boats."
"We have been tipped that there were 35 heavily armed men and were aboard two high-speed boats, so our forces were deployed in the area to confront the Islamists," Muse Gele Farole , the governor of the Bari region said. "Mr. Gedi told the local media this morning that when the Islamic insurgents with two boats came off shore a day before, they had suddenly clashed with the local militia supported by Puntland." One of the Islamists' boats was captured "while the other escaped into the sea."
MSNBC reported the USS Chafee, an Arleigh Burke class destroyer assigned to Joint Task Force 150, "fired 20 five-inch rounds from her deck guns" after receiving "'actionable intelligence' gathered by U.S. Special Operations Forces and local tribal leaders that the suspects were in the area." The destroyer's guns were pressed into service as "airstrikes would have come too late."
Governor Gele stated some of the Islamists, which "include Yemenis, Afghans, Asians and Arabs with Somalis," fled inland as others escaped on the remaining boat. "The insurgents are now in the mountains of Bargale coast for safe heaven but they are in isolation and will either give in to the forces or be captured in the coming hours," said Governor Gele. It is unclear of the USS Chafee fired its shells at the fleeing boat or a camp in the mountains of Bargale.
The main target is reported to have been Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, one of the primary architects of the 1998 suicide attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and 17 year veteran of al Qaeda. The Combating Terrorism Center at the United States Military Academy [or CTC] has written an extensive profile on Fazul. He joined al Qaeda after traveling to Pakistan in 1990. "Within his first year in Pakistan he found himself at the Bayt al-Ansar in Peshawar, [a jihadi guest house] founded by Osama bin Laden and `Abdullah `Azzam. Fazul writes that he saw both of these men lecture at the Bayt al-Ansar during his time there."
It was not long before he was given his first mission - help train the Somali Islamist militias that were opposing the United Nations intervention there. This was in early spring of 1993, and Fazul was sent with a larger group of operatives that included Ali A. Mohammad [the former major in the Egyptian army who later joined the U.S. Army and attempted to infiltrate the FBI and CIA], Abu Ubayda al-Banshiri, Mohammad Saddiq Odeh, Muhammed Atef, and Saif al-Adel. Ali Mohammad was sent to Nairobi to case targets, and the U.S. Embassy there was identified as a future target at this time. In his 1997 report on the East Africa al-Qa'ida cell, Fazul refers to the fact that this team sent to Somalia in 1993 was directly involved in the so-called Battle of Mogadishu of October '93, during which two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters were shot down and 18 U.S. soldiers were killed. The Somali group that these al-Qa'ida operatives worked most closely with was al-Ittihad al-Islami, which was partly funded by the al-Haramayn Foundation.27 The leadership of this group went on to lead the Council of Islamic Courts (CIC, a.k.a. Islamic Courts Union)
The CTC concludes Fazul is the head of intelligence for the Islamic Courts and a leader of al Qaeda's East Africa network. Fazul is known to have traveled the Somali coastal waterways via boat.
An American military intelligence source stated that since the fall of the Islamic Courts, the Somali Islamists have established new bases throughout the country and are "moving back and forth between them." The CTC notes that "Task Force 88 are currently on the ground in East Africa searching for Fazul" and other senior al Qaeda and Islamic Courts leaders. Task Force 88 appears to be the new designation of Task Force 145, the special operations hunter killer teams assigned to take out al Qaeda's senior leadership. The unnamed intelligence official stated the spread of the Islamic Courts bases in Somalia "makes it easier to target [al Qaeda and Islamic Courts leaders] to a certain extent."