African Union troops repel Shabaab suicide assault on Mogadishu airport


Image of a Shabaab fighter from the terror group’s website.

A Shabaab suicide assault attacked Mogadishu International Airport today, killing five people. The Shabaab fighters were beaten back by African Union troops guarding the facility after the terror team penetrated the first ring of security.

A suicide team of five Shabaab fighters, some dressed in uniforms worn by Somali soldiers, launched their attack at the airport entrance at around 2:00 p.m. local time, according to a press release put out by African Union forces.

“The first vehicle exploded at the airport entrance, around 500 meters from the airport terminal,” the African Union stated. “The second vehicle, following immediately behind the first, was halted and did not explode.”

Two Shabaab fighters dressed in combat fatigues worn by soldiers in the Transitional Federal Government then dismounted the the second vehicle and began “firing small arms.”

“Both managed to run at speed through the gates, under fire from AMISOM soldiers.” The two Shabaab fighters came within 200 meters of the airport terminal before they were stopped by African Union troops. The suicide bombers then detonated their vests, killing an airport worker.

In all, five Shabaab fighters, two African Union troops, and three civilians were killed during the fighting. [The Somali government later said three civilians were killed in the fighting.]

Today’s suicide assault is the second in Mogadishu in two weeks. On Aug. 23, a Shabaab suicide assault team killed 28 people, including six members of parliament and five soldiers, in an attack on a hotel in the Somali capital of Mogadishu.

Today’s attack in Mogadishu is also the latest in a string of such attacks by al Qaeda and its affiliates. Suicide assaults have been carried out in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Chechnya, and India. The November 2008 terror assault in Mumbai, India, resulted in more than 170 people killed, and the attack shut down India’s financial capital for more than 60 hours.

Background on Shabaab and recent attacks in Mogadishu

Shabaab has shown it can penetrate security at the heavily protected areas in the capital. In addition to the Aug. 23 suicide assault, Shabaab suicide bombers have entered some of the most sensitive installations in the capital. On Dec. 3, 2009, a Shabaab suicide bomber dressed as a woman detonated his vest at a graduation ceremony for medical students at a hotel in Mogadishu and killed 19 people, including the ministers of health, education, and higher education, and two reporters. Somalia’s minister of sports was wounded in the attack, and died on Feb. 12.

On Sept. 17, 2009, Shabaab suicide bombers penetrated security at an African Union base in Mogadishu and killed 21 people, including the deputy African Union commander and 16 other peacekeepers. Sheikh Indha’adde, a top Somali defense official and former ally of Shabaab and Hizbul Islam, is reported to have provided intelligence to the suicide bombers that allowed them to carry out the attack.

Shabaab has carried out 23 major suicide attacks in Somalia since September 2006, when the Islamic Courts Union usurped control of the government (the Islamic Courts was ousted from power in an invasion by Ethiopian forces in December 2006). Several of the attacks have been carried out by American and British citizens who had left their home countries to join Shabaab.

Shabaab has also carried out one suicide attack outside of Somalia’s borders. The July 11 double suicide attack in Kampala, Uganda, killed 74 people. The suicide cell that carried out the attack is called the Saleh ali Nabhan Brigade and is named after the al Qaeda leader who served as the military commander for Shabaab before being killed in a US special operations raid in September 2009.

Background on Shabaab’s links to al Qaeda

Shabaab merged with al Qaeda in November 2008 after requesting to join the international terror group in September 2008. Top al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri, and Abu Yayha al Libi have praised Shabaab in propaganda tapes and encouraged the group to carry out attacks against the Somali government, neighboring countries, and the West. In late 2009, Osama bin Laden appointed Fazul Abdullah Mohammed to serve as al Qaeda’s operations chief in East Africa; the announcement was made at a ceremony in Mogadishu that was attended by Ahmad Godane Zubayr, Shabaab’s spiritual leader.

Over the past several years, Al Qaeda commanders have taken over some of the top leadership positions in Shabaab. Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who was indicted for his involvement in the 1998 attacks in Kenya and Tanzania along with Osama bin Laden, served as Shabaab’s top intelligence official before replacing Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan as Shabaab’s top military leader.

Other foreign al Qaeda operatives hold top leadership positions in Shabaab. Shaykh Muhammad Abu Fa’id, a Saudi citizen, serves as a top financier and a “manager” for Shabaab. Abu Musa Mombasa, a Pakistani citizen, serves as Shabaab’s chief of security and training. Mahmud Mujajir, a Sudanese citizen, is Shabaab’s chief of recruitment for suicide bombers. Abu Mansour al Amriki, a US citizen, serves as a military commander, recruiter, financier, and propagandist.

Al Qaeda’s central leadership, which is based in Pakistan, recently instructed Shabaab to downplay its links to the terror group but to continue to target US interests in the region, a senior US intelligence official who closely follows al Qaeda and Shabaab in East Africa told The Long War Journal.

Shabaab is considered by some US military and intelligence officials to be one of al Qaeda’s most successful affiliates. Shabaab, along with its sometime ally, sometime rival Hizbul Islam, has taken control of much of southern and central Somalia after waging a terror insurgency against Ethiopian forces and the UN-backed Transitional Federal Government.

Last spring, Ethiopian forces withdrew from Somalia under fire and were replaced by some 6,000 African Union peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi. The fractured and weak central government and African Union forces currently control pockets within Mogadishu and little else.

Outside of Mogadishu, the government wields little influence. Shabaab and Hizbul Islam currently control almost all of the southern provinces and many of the central ones as well.


Somalia: Airport suicide attack foiled by AMISOM, Garowe/African Union press release

Somali Government condemns strongly today’s Suicide Bombers Attack in Mogadishu Airport, Garowe

Shabaab fighters kill 28, including 6 lawmakers, in suicide assault in Mogadishu, The Long War Journal

Suicide bomber kills 3 Somali ministers, The Long War Journal

Shabaab suicide attack kills 9, including senior African Union commander, The Long War Journal

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

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

Senior al Qaeda leader killed in Somalia, The Long War Journal

Al Qaeda names Fazul Mohammed East African commander, The Long War Journal

Puntland forces claim victory against Shabaab in the ‘Tora Bora of East Africa’, The Long War Journal

Somali minister aided Shabaab suicide attack, The Long War Journal

Shabaab leader sanctioned as Zawahiri responds to group’s oath of loyalty, The Long War Journal

Excerpts from the Osama bin Laden Tape, The Long War Journal

Bin Laden urges jihad against new Somali government, The Long War Journal

Zawahiri praises Shabaab’s takeover of southern Somalia, The Long War Journal

Islamic Emirate of Somalia imminent as Shabaab races to consolidate power, The Long War Journal

Qaeda figure calls for attacks on new Somali govt, Reuters

Shabaab leader admits links to al Qaeda, The Long War Journal

7 foreign Shabaab fighters killed in explosion in Mogadishu, The Long War Journal

Al Qaeda leaders play significant role in Shabaab, The Long War Journal

Al Qaeda advises Shabaab to keep low profile on links, attack US interests, 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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