The top leader of Shabaab said that the deadly attacks in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, were carried out by a cell named after an al Qaeda and Shabaab leader slain in Somalia last year. Sheikh Muktar Abdelrahman Abu Zubeyr, Shabaab’s spiritual leader, also threatened to carry out further attacks in the neighboring East African counties of Uganda and Burundi if African Union peacekeepers are not withdrawn from Somalia.
Zubeyr, in an audiotape released today to Somali media, said the Saleh Ali Nabhan Brigade carried out the deadly bombings in Kampala that targeted soccer fans at a restaurant and a rugby club as they watched the World Cup final match on July 12. In those attacks, 74 civilians were killed and more than 60 were wounded.
Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan was al Qaeda’s top leader in East Africa, and he also held a top position in Shabaab. In the summer of 2008, Nabhan was instrumental in reaching out to al Qaeda’s top leadership to broker a merger between Shabaab and the global terror group. He was killed in a US special operations raid in Somalia on Sept. 14, 2009.
Nabhan was one of the most sought out al Qaeda operatives in Africa. He was wanted for involvement in the 1998 suicide attacks against US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The attack in Nairobi, Kenya, killed 212 people and wounded more than 4,000. The attack in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, resulted in 11 killed and 85 wounded. Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, al Qaeda’s leader in East Africa; and Abu Taha al Sudani, the leader of al Qaeda’s network in East Africa, were also involved the attacks. Sudani was killed during the fighting to oust the Islamic Courts in early 2007.
Nabhan was also wanted by the FBI for questioning in connection with the 2002 attacks in Mombasa, Kenya, against a hotel and an airliner. In near-simultaneous attacks, Nabhan targeted a hotel frequented by Israelis and an Israeli-chartered airplane. Suicide bombers rammed a truck into the lobby of a hotel visited by Israelis; 13 people were killed and 80 wounded. At the same time as the hotel attack, al Qaeda launched two Strela surface-to-air missiles at an Arkia Airlines jet. The missiles missed their targets.
The Saleh Ali Nabhan Brigade is likely led or directed by Fazul Mohammed, who was appointed by Osama bin Laden as al Qaeda’s leader in East Africa in late 2009. Before Nabhan’s death, Fazul served as the military operations chief for al Qaeda in East Africa.
Fazul is an experienced al Qaeda leader who is known to be able to move in and out of East African countries with ease. In August 2008, Fazul slipped a police dragnet in Kenya.
Shabaab threatens further attacks if African peacekeepers remain in Somalia
Zubeyr has threatened to carry out additional attacks against Uganda and Burundi if the two countries do not withdraw their troops from Mogadishu. More than 6,000 Ugandan and Burundian troops are currently deployed in Mogadishu to help the weak transitional Somali government secure a few key locations, such as the airport, the sea port, and the presidential palace.
“AMISOM [African Union Mission in Somalia] is causing more suffering to the Mogadishu people than did the Americans and the Ethiopians,” Zubeyr said, according to a transcript by Garowe. “The bombings [in Kampala] was the beginning of vengeance for those [Mogadishu] victims.”
“If Uganda and Burundi do not withdraw their troops [from Somalia], there will be more bombings in Kampala and Bujumbura [the capital of Burundi],” Zubeyr threatened.
Both Burundi and Uganda have said that their forces would remain in Somalia to support the fledgling government.
• ‘Uganda bombings is the beginning’: Al Shabaab chief, Garowe Online
• Shabaab claims credit for dual suicide attacks in Uganda, The Long War Journal
• Shabaab reaches out to al Qaeda senior leaders, announces death al Sudani, The Long War Journal
• Shabaab Leader Sanctioned as Zawahiri Responds to Group’s Oath of Loyalty, The Long War Journal
• Senior al Qaeda leader killed in Somalia, The Long War Journal
• Commando raid in Somalia is latest in covert operations across the globe, The Long War Journal
• Al Qaeda’s East Africa operations chief escapes raid in Kenya, The Long War Journal
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.