Al Qaeda leaders play significant role in Shabaab

Fazul Abdullah Mohammed. Click to view.

Foreign al Qaeda commanders have taken on top leadership roles in al Shabaab, the terror group that controls much of southern Somalia and recently carried out a double suicide attack in Kampala, the capital of Uganda.

The foreign commanders have trained in al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan or Pakistan, and many have entered Somalia over the past year to assume top leadership roles in Shabaab. The al Qaeda commanders come from Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Sudan, and the United States.

The names of some of the foreign al Qaeda leaders were disclosed in a report compiled by the African Union Mission for Somalia, according to The East African. The report was confirmed to The Long War Journal by a US intelligence official who closely watches Shabaab. The foreign al Qaeda commanders include:

Fazul Abdullah Mohammed: Fazul, a Kenyan, was appointed by Osama bin Laden as al Qaeda’s leader in East Africa in late 2009. Before the death of Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, 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, he slipped a police dragnet in Kenya. Fazul has been sheltering in Somalia with Shabaab and the Islamic Courts for years. Fazul is considered to be Shabaab’s military leader, while Sheikh Muktar Abdelrahman Abu Zubeyr is Shabaab’s spiritual leader.

Shaykh Muhammad Abu Fa’id: Fai’d, a Saudi citizen, serves as a top financier and a “manager” for Shabaab. He is also known as Sheikh Fua’d Mohamed Khalaf.

Abu Sulayman Al Banadiri: Banadiri is a Somali of Yemeni descent. He serves as a top adviser to Zubeyr, and trained in an al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan.

Abu Musa Mombasa: Mombasa, a Pakistani citizen, serves as Shabaab’s chief of security and training.

Abu Mansour al Amriki: Amriki, whose real name is Omar Hammami, is a US citizen who converted to Islam and traveled to Somalia in 2006. Once in Somalia, he quickly rose through the ranks, and now serves as a military commander, recruiter, financier, and propagandist. Amriki appears in several Shabaab propaganda tapes.

Mahmud Mujajir: Mujajir, a Sudanese citizen, is Shabaab’s chief of recruitment for suicide bombers.

Abdifatah Aweys Abu Hamza: Hamza is a Somali national who trained in Afghanistan. He is the commander of the Mujahideen of Al Quds, or Shabaab’s Jerusalem Brigade, a military formation.

Another top foreign al Qaeda leader in Shabaab who was not mentioned in the AMISOM report is Issa Osman Issa, an ethnic Somali born in Malindi, Kenya. Issa serves as a top al Qaeda recruiter and military strategist for Shabaab. Before joining Shabaab, Issa participated in the simultaneous attacks on the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salam in 1998, and has been described as a central player in the simultaneous attacks on the Paradise Hotel in Kikambala, Kenya, in 2002, and the attempt to down an Israeli airliner in Mombasa also in 2002.

Issa was reportedly killed on March 10, 2006, during a counterterrorism raid; the accuracy of the report is in question, however. The US Treasury Department listed Issa as a designated terrorist in November 2008.

Reports of al Qaeda leaders migrating to Somalia and Yemen from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region began in 2008 and continued in 2009. While many analysts characterized this as evidence that al Qaeda was fleeing the region due to the increase in covert US Predator strikes against terror leaders in Pakistan’s tribal areas, intelligence officials told The Long War Journal that they believed al Qaeda was repositioning its leaders into regions where they could work most effectively and contribute to expanding al Qaeda’s reach.

Shabaab and its predecessor, the Islamic Courts Union, have worked closely with foreign terror groups for years. In the summer of 2006, Sheikh Yusuf Indohaadde, then an Islamic Courts leader, was seen on a propaganda tape with al Qaeda fighters training in the Somali desert. The videotape was produced for both Somali and Arab audiences, and had Arabic subtitles and music.

In September 2006, Sheikh Hassan Turki, the leader of the Ras Kamboni Brigades, then an ally of the Islamic Courts, admitted that foreign fighters were in his group’s ranks. Turki also called on more foreign fighters to come to Somalia to wage jihad. Earlier this year, Turki and his Ras Kamboni Brigades merged with Shabaab.

The importance of al Qaeda to Shabaab can be seen in the July 11 double suicide attack that struck at two restaurants in Kampala, Uganda, and killed 74 people. The Shabaab cell that carried out the attack was the Salah Ali Nabhan Brigade, which was named after the influential Kenya-born al Qaeda and Shabaab commander who was killed in a US special operations forces raid in 2009. Before he was killed, Nabhan was al Qaeda’s leader in East Africa as well as one of Shabaab’s top leaders. He was instrumental in brokering the official merger between Shabaab and al Qaeda senior leadership.


Al Qaeda veterans now run Al Shabaab militia, The East African

Uganda attack carried out by Shabaab cell named after slain al Qaeda leader, The Long War Journal

Shabaab claims credit for dual suicide attacks in Uganda, The Long War Journal

American-born Shabaab commander releases recruitment tape, 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

Shabaab absorbs southern Islamist group, splits Hizbul Islam, The Long War Journal

Al Qaeda in Somalia, The Long War Journal

Somalia’s Foreign Fighters, 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.

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