Shabaab, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia, has confirmed that it killed two of its top leaders, including Ibrahim al Afghani, who was on the US’s wanted list for his ties to al Qaeda. Additionally, Hassan Dahir Aweys, another top leader, has been flown to Mogadishu and is reportedly in custody.
Shabaab spokesman Abdulaziz Abu Musab confirmed yesterday that Afghani and another senior commander known as Abul Hamid Hashi Olhayi were killed during fighting in the town of Barawe.
“We have informed their widows of their deaths, as they must now wear the clothes of mourning,” Musab told AFP.
Family members of the two slain commanders claimed they were executed by Shabaab fighters after being captured. Shabaab’s spokesman denied that Afghani and Olhayi were executed, however, and maintained they were killed while resisting arrest.
“We deny reports that the men were killed after capture,” Musab told AFP. “The two men were killed in a shoot out when they were resisting arrest on court orders.”
Afghani had been at odds with Shabaab’s emir, Sheikh Mukhtar Abu Zubayr, after Afghani reportedly issued a statement that criticized the leader. Afghani, Aweys, Sheikh Abu Mansur Robow, and two other Shabaab leaders all accused Godane of being heavy-handed in his treatment of American jihadist Omar Hammami and two other foreign fighters. Hammami has criticized Zubayr on social media, and Zubayr reportedly sent intelligence agents to assassinate Hammami, whose fate is still unknown. Hammami is thought to be dead.
Afghani a longtime jihadist commander who was closely linked to al Qaeda
In early June, the US government’s Rewards for Justice program offered a $5 million reward for Afghani, a.k.a. Ibrahim Hajj Jama and Abubakar al-Seyli’i, and also offered rewards for six other Shabaab leaders. [See LWJ report, 7 Shabaab leaders added to Rewards for Justice most wanted list.]
Although Afghani was said to have been targeted in a US drone strike in July 2011 outside Kismayo, reports of his death were not confirmed.
He previously served as Shabaab’s regional governor of the Kismayo administration. In a March 2010 report, the Somalia Monitoring Group said Afghani is one of the group’s top leaders, and listed him after Ahmed Abdi Aw Mohamed, Shabaab’s leader, who is better known as Sheikh Mukhtar Abu Zubayr and Godane.
Afghani received his nom de guerre because he waged jihad in Afghanistan for years.
A leaked Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) threat assessment, dated Aug. 6, 2007, describes Afghani as “an al-Ittihad al-Islami (AIAI) military commander known for his religious knowledge as well as loyalty and support for al Qaeda and the Taliban and for his continuing links to Afghanistan.” The file continues: “Jama was one of the first founders of al Qaeda affiliated AIAI cells and one of the instigators of terrorist attacks in Somaliland.”
Prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Afghani reportedly traveled to Islamabad, Pakistan along with Shabaab leader Aden Hashi Ayro, Shabaab’s former military commander who was killed in a US airstrike in the spring of 2008. Afghani and Ayro were accompanied by 15 other “people from Somalia,” according to the leaked JTF-GTMO file, and they went to Pakistan “to meet with the Somali community there.” Afghani “traveled openly,” while “Ayro and other members of the group traveled secretly and later moved on to Afghanistan.”
Afghani maintained ties in Pakistan after Sept. 11, 2001. According to the leaked JTF-GTMO file, Afghani “established contact” with a former Guantanamo detainee named Abdullah Sudi Arale, who was from the same Somali tribe. The file identifies Arale as a “member of the East Africa al Qaeda (EAAQ) organization” and a “leader” of Somalia’s Islamic Courts Union, which spawned Shabaab. Arale allegedly “served as a courier and facilitator between EAAQ and al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan.” [For more on Arale, see LWJ report, The Gitmo Files: Fazul Mohammed continued to seek bin Laden’s direction.]
Afghani, Arale, and Zubayr all belong to the Ishaak (or Isak) clan, a senior Somali official told The Long War Journal.
Aweys travels to Mogadishu
Hassan Dahir Aweys, the senior Shabaab leader who was listed by the US Department of State as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist in November 2001, escaped Shabaab’s infighting in Barawe by boat on June 20 and traveled to Galmudug region.
Aweys has since been flown to Mogadishu, purportedly to reconcile with the government, according to Reuters. Reports indicate that Aweys either surrendered to government officials or has voluntarily traveled to the capital to conduct talks. A photograph shows Aweys boarding an airplane, without handcuffs.
Government officials are said to be willing to reconcile with Aweys. But Shabelle News reported that Aweys was arrested upon his arrival in the capital.
Aweys is one of the most wanted jihadists in Somalia. He is known to have trained in al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan during the 1990s and maintains links with al Qaeda’s top leaders. He is also thought to have participated in the infamous “Black Hawk Down” incident in Mogadishu in 1993, when Somali fighters ambushed a US raiding party, resulting in a two-day battle that resulted in the deaths of 18 US soldiers and several hundred Somalis.
Today Shabaab hinted on its official Twitter account that it is conducting an internal purge. The group said that “disunity” is preventing it from waging jihad against “the Global Zionist-Christian Crusade.”
Shabaab accused “the Kuffar [disbelievers, likely the Somali government, AMISOM, and the West] and the hypocrites” of plotting to “dismember the single Jama’ah [Ummah or Muslim community] and the unity of the Mujahideen” by “keeping them preoccupied with internal strife.”
“The Mujahideen know full well the detrimental impacts of disunity and divisions on the course of Global Jihad and establishment of Shari’ah,” or Islamic law, the group stated. “A Jama’ah that is divided and in disagreement cannot possibly confront the Global Zionist-Christian Crusade against Islam and the Muslims.”
“As such, the leadership of HSM [Shabaab] is determined to take all legitimate measures to safeguard the Mujahideen against such divisions and disputes. Those who wish to plant the destructive seeds of disunity among the Mujahideen, will be strongly dealt with should they fail to desist,” Shabaab said.