Image of a Shabaab fighter from the terror group’s website.
The leader of Al Shabaab is reported to have been wounded and possibly killed in what appears to be an accidental explosion at a safe house outside Mogadishu.
Ahmed Abdi Aw Mohamed, the reclusive spiritual leader of the radical al Qaeda-linked terror group, was seriously wounded in the explosion on May 17. He is reportedly being treated at a hospital in northern Mogadishu, according to Garowe Online. Another source, Waaga Cusub, a Toronto-based Somali website aligned with the Hawiye clan in Mogadishu, speculated that Mohamed may have been killed, although the report has not been confirmed.
Eleven Shabaab fighters and three or four “foreign fighters” were killed in the incident. One report indicated that three Pakistanis were among those killed. After the incident, Shabaab fighters immediately cordoned the home and prevented witnesses from getting near the site, making confirmation difficult.
Mohamed, who is also known as Sheikh Mukhtar Abu Zubayr and Godane, is reported to have been hosting a meeting of senior Shabaab commanders when the explosion occurred. No other senior leaders have been reported killed or wounded.
The cause of the explosion is unknown. One witness told Waaga Cusub that “missiles” struck the safe house. No US airstrike has been reported in the region. US officials contacted by The Long War Journal would not comment on the reports of a potential strike. The US has carried out several strikes against al Qaeda and Shabaab leaders since early 2007.
But the cause of the explosion appears to be a premature detonation of one or more bombs on site. A source close to Shabaab told Garowe Online that one or more car bombs detonated due to faulty wiring. Another witness told Waaga Cusub that one of the Pakistanis was training for a suicide attack against African peacekeepers and crossed the wrong wires. After the explosion on Sunday, a Shabaab spokesman stated that three car bombs built for use against African peacekeepers had accidentally detonated.
Shabaab has carried out numerous suicide attacks inside Somalia and the semi-autonomous regions of Puntland and Somaliland. The terror group is estimated to have between 280 and 300 foreign fighters in its ranks. Shabaab has openly lobbied to join al Qaeda, and the offer has been warmly received by Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s second in command.
Mohamed is one of the original founders of Shabaab, or the Young Mujahideen Movement in Somalia. In November 2008, Mohamed and two other senior Shabaab leaders were designated as terrorists by the US. He has taken on a more visible role since the death of Shabaab’s chief military commander Aden Hashi Ayro in a May 1, 2008, airstrike.
Mohamed rarely appears in the media, but just six days ago released an audio recording in which he denounced the Somali government, led by President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, a former ally during the rule of the Islamic Courts. Ahmed and the parliament had attempted to appease the radical Islamist groups by passing a bill imposing sharia, or Islamic law, throughout the country.
“The so-called government cannot be described as an Islamic government, because it was created to destroy Islamists in Somalia,” Mohamed said. “The so-called President flew to Addis Ababa [the capital of Ethiopia] immediately after he was elected to ask for advice and troops to fight against what he calls ‘extremists’ in Somalia.”
Shabaab and the allied Hizbul Islam are battling for control of central and southern Somalia with Islamic Courts factions that reconciled with the weak Transitional Federal Government. Despite the alliance and support from several thousand African Union troops, the Ahmed government controls only small areas of the capital of Mogadishu; nearly all of the southern and central provinces are under Shabaab and Hizbul Islam control.
Shabaab recently took control of the town of Jowhar in the central province of Hiran from the Islamic Courts. The move sparked an incursion from the Ethiopian Army, which invaded Somalia in December 2006, ousted the Islamic Courts, and occupied the country until its withdrawal in January 2009.
Ethiopian forces have been spotted moving into Hiran. The incursion has placed the Ahmed government in an awkward position. The Ethiopians are disliked, but the Islamic Courts and the Somali government are incapable of defeating Shabaab and Hizbul Islam without outside help.