The Department of Justice has announced that Maalik Alim Jones, a 31 year-old American citizen from Maryland, has been indicted for allegedly supporting Shabaab, al Qaeda’s official branch in East Africa. Jones appeared before a judge in the Southern District of New York last month, but the DOJ released the indictment and complaint in his case earlier today.
Jones allegedly traveled from New York to Kenya in July 2011. Once in Kenya, according to the DOJ’s announcement, he traveled by land to Somalia, “where he trained, worked and fought with al Shabaab in Somalia.” Jones “received military training at an al Shabaab training camp,” learning “to operate an AK-47 assault rifle and rocket-propelled grenades.”
He also purportedly jointed Shabaab’s “specialized fighting force, Jaysh Ayman, and participated in combat against soldiers of the Kenyan government.”
In the accompanying complaint, a FBI Special Agent notes that Jaysh Ayman “is responsible for carrying out commando attacks and cross-border raids in which fighters, among other things, travel across the land border between Somalia and Kenya to target individuals and carry out attacks in Kenya.”
Operations attributed to Jaysh Ayman include: a June 16, 2014 attack in which “fighters opened fire in a hotel bar in Mpekatoni, Kenya,” killing “approximately 40 people”; a July 2014 attack in Hindi, Kenya, “in which approximately 12…Shabaab fighters opened fire at a trading center and set fire to government buildings and a church, killing nine people”; and a June 14, 2015 ambush at a Kenyan Defense Force base in Lamu County, Kenya, which resulted in the deaths of two Kenyan soldiers.
The FBI received seven videos that were in the possession of one of the Shabaab fighters who was killed during the ambush in Lamu. According to the complaint, Jones identified himself in two of the videos.
One of the videos features a jihadist known as “CC-1” delivering a lecture to a group of fighters. “You see Kenyans are now crying. …We have not begun to do anything. The war is just beginning,” CC-1 said during the sermon. According to a translation in the complaint, CC-1 continued: “The Kenyans are crying like young children. …Their hearts are filled with fear…unbelievers…Glory be to God. Right now Allah has granted Muslims, if you have a voice be heard. …If you have manhood, defend it.”
Jones is seen “sitting behind CC-1 throughout the entire recorded portion of” the sermon, at times “smiling and nodding in apparent agreement with statements made.”
A second video shows various individuals who are “believed to be…Shabaab fighters, greeting each other, hugging each other, and carrying firearms.” In this short production, dubbed the “Reunion Video,” Jones is “depicted walking with a firearm and placing the firearm on the ground.” Later on in the video, Jones is shown “wearing a black t-shirt and hugging and interacting with other males,” including CC-1.
The complaint cites an unnamed cooperating witness who once led Shabaab’s foreign fighters. This witness traveled from the UK to Somalia in 2007, becoming the “commander of…Shabaab’s foreign fighters” in Mogadishu, Somalia in 2009. This same ex-Shabaab commander “attended high-level” Shabaab “meetings, and interacted with high-ranking members of” Shabaab. He also identified CC-1 as someone who had fought under his “command in numerous battles” and as “a leader” among Shabaab’s “foreign fighters.”
CC-1 is not fully identified in the complaint. But the FBI describes the recording of his lecture, in which Jones can be seen, as the “Shirwa Sermon Video.” A Shabaab leader named Luqman Osman Issa, and known as “Shirwa,” was reportedly killed during the aforementioned June 2015 assault on Kenya forces in Lamu. Issa (a.k.a. Shirwa) was also accused of leading the attack on a hotel bar in Mpeketoni, Kenya in June 2014. Both operations were carried out by Jaysh Ayman, the same Shabaab unit Jones is accused of serving.
Jones was detained on Dec. 7, 2015, as he was purportedly attempting to flee for Yemen. There is a potentially interesting twist in his story. Contemporaneous press reports described an American Shabaab fighter named “Abdul Malik Jones” who had turned himself into authorities. According to those accounts, Jones had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State’s Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. He reportedly fled a Shabaab crackdown on defectors to the Islamic State. [See LWJ report, American jihadist reportedly flees al Qaeda’s crackdown in Somalia.]
There is nothing in today’s release indicating that Jones had sworn his fealty to Baghdadi’s group. So, it is not known if the published accounts late last year accurately reflected the events that transpired.
Shabaab’s leadership remains loyal to al Qaeda and its emir, Ayman al Zawahiri. Shabaab’s Amniyat, or security service, has been hunting any jihadists who attempt to establish a “province” for Baghdadi’s “caliphate” in East Africa. [See LWJ report, Shabaab’s leadership fights Islamic State’s attempted expansion in East Africa.]