A senior Shabaab commander who fought in Afghanistan and has close ties with al Qaeda is reported to have been killed in the Predator airstrike that took place in southern Somalia late last month. The report is unconfirmed.
Ibrahim al Afghani is said to have been killed in the June 25 Predator airstrike that targeted a training camp outside of the southern port city and Shabaab haven of Kismayo, according to RBC Radio, a local Somali news service. A “senior officer” for al Qaeda identified as Bilal El Berjawi is said to have been wounded during the strike and has sought treatment at a hospital in Kenya.
Four days after the June 25 airstrike, US officials told The Washington Post that two Shabaab commanders were targeted by Predators. US helicopters were reported in the area after the strike, and according to a report in The Associated Press, US forces landed in an attempt to retrieve “wounded militants.”
US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal said they were aware of the reports of Afghani’s death but could not confirm that Afghani was killed. One US official said Afghani was a “person of interest” and a “dangerous individual,” but would not say if he was indeed the target of the strike.
If he is confirmed to have been killed, Afghani would be the second Shabaab and al Qaeda leader killed in Somalia in the past month. On June 8, Somali troops killed Fazul Abullah Mohammed, the leader of al Qaeda in East Africa and a top Shabaab commander, during a shootout at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Mogadishu.
Afghani, who is also known as Ibrahim Hajj Jama and Abubakar al-Seyli’i, previously served as Shabaab’s regional governor of the Kismayo administration. The Somalia Monitoring Group, in a March 2010 report, said Afghani is one of the group’s top leaders. Afghani was listed after Ahmed Abdi Aw Mohamed, Shabaab’s leader, who is better known as Sheikh Mukhtar Abu Zubayr and Godane.
Afghani received his nom de guerre because he waged jihad in Afghanistan for years.
A leaked Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) threat assessment, dated Aug. 6, 2007, describes Afghani as “an al-Ittihad al-Islami (AIAI) military commander known for his religious knowledge as well as loyalty and support for al Qaeda and the Taliban and for his continuing links to Afghanistan.” The file continues: “Jama was one of the first founders of al Qaeda affiliated AIAI cells and one of the instigators of terrorist attacks in Somaliland.”
Prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Afghani reportedly traveled to Islamabad, Pakistan along with Shabaab leader Aden Hashi Ayro, Shabaab’s former military commander who was killed in a US airstrike in the spring of 2008. Afghani and Ayro were accompanied by 15 other “people from Somalia,” according to the leaked JTF-GTMO file, and they went to Pakistan “to meet with the Somali community there.” Afghani “traveled openly,” while “Ayro and other members of the group traveled secretly and later moved on to Afghanistan.”
Afghani maintained ties in Pakistan after Sept. 11, 2001. According to the leaked JTF-GTMO file, Afghani “established contact” with a former Guantanamo detainee named Abdullah Sudi Arale, who was from the same Somali tribe. The file identifies Arale as a “member of the East Africa al Qaeda (EAAQ) organization” and a “leader” of Somalia’s Islamic Courts Union, which spawned Shabaab. Arale allegedly “served as a courier and facilitator between EAAQ and al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan.” [For more on Arale, see LWJ report, The Gitmo Files: Fazul Mohamemed continued to seek bin Laden’s direction.]
Afghani, Arale, and Zubayr all belong to the Ishaak, or Isak, clan, a senior Somali official told The Long War Journal.
For more information on Shabaab’s links to al Qaeda, see LWJ report, Somalia’s Shabaab vows allegiance to new al Qaeda emir Zawahiri.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal. Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.