Zawahiri's man in Shabaab's 'secret service'
Last week, we reported on a UN analysis warning that Al Hijra, Shabaab's ally, was planning "new and more complex operations" in Kenya. The warning was noteworthy given that it was published in a UN Monitoring Group report in July, just over two months before the siege of the Westgate Mall in Nairobi. Perhaps the attack was not directly connected to the specific intelligence that led to the UN's warning. Still, the gist of the warning was certainly correct. We will likely learn more in the coming weeks, as authorities are still piecing together the details.
But the UN Monitoring Group's report contains several other interesting observations. Here is one concerning the Amniyat, which is Shabaab's "secret service" and is "structured along the lines of a clandestine organization within the organization with the intention of surviving any kind of dissolution of Shabaab." The UN report credits the Amniyat with serving Shabaab emir Ahmed Abdi Godane's interests and allowing Godane to maintain his grip on power despite serious infighting.
The report's authors say that a former Amniyat operative told them about a "50-year old Sudanese national" known as "Hassan," who serves "as a senior training instructor for Shabaab and who claimed to be formerly with the Sudanese military." Hassan's other aliases include "Jimale," "Yusuf" and "Abdi Madobe."
The UN's source says Hassan was "specifically tasked by" Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda's emir, "to train in Somalia African jihadists who are unable to travel to Afghanistan and Pakistan." Hassan "is reportedly in contact with al Qaeda operatives as well as Godane in order to plan training strategies and programmes for Shabaab and other al Qaeda affiliates in Africa."
Hassan also reportedly supervises "a training camp in South Sudan, at the border with Kenya, and left Somalia for Nigeria with a group of Boko Haram fighters after the completion of their training in March 2011." The Aminyat's former man told the UN that a Nigerian, and "several Yemenis, Kenyans and Ethiopians," were "acquainted with" Hassan.
The Amniyat source was well-positioned to know these details. He described himself as Hassan's former "personal translator" at a Shabaab training camp.
Hassan's reported role within Shabaab illustrates, once again, the collusion across al Qaeda's affiliates. For example, the US government has noted that there "are reported communications, training, and weapons links between Boko Haram, al Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Shabaab, and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which may strengthen Boko Haram's capacity to conduct terrorist attacks." Hassan's training of Boko Haram fighters, as relayed by the UN's source, is consistent with this description.
Hassan is part of a network of personalities who serve the interests of al Qaeda's most senior leaders. This network is not comprised of automatons who automatically agree with every decision in every single instance, but they do constitute a cohesive network. It would be especially interesting to learn how Hassan and other operatives whom Zawahiri trusts, such as Jehad Mostafa, are dealing with Godane's ruthless suppression of dissent within Shabaab's ranks.
Note: The spellings of Shabaab and al Qaeda in the quotes from the UN report and the US government were edited from the original versions to maintain consistency.