Shabaab said that a British national who was “from the early people who came to jihad in Somalia” was killed in a US drone airstrike. The slain operative was a senior al Qaeda leader in East Africa.
The British citizen, who was identified as Bilal al Berjawi, was “of a Lebanese origin,” according to a statement released today by Shabaab’s media arm, Al Kata’ib Foundation for Media Production. The statement, which was published on jihadist forums, was translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
Berjawi, who is also known as Abu Hafsa, “was second-in-command” to slain al Qaeda leader Fazul Mohammed, a US intelligence official who closely tracks al Qaeda in the Middle East and beyond told The Long War Journal. Fazul was the leader of al Qaeda in East Africa and a senior Shabaab commander. He was killed by Somali troops at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Mogadishu in June 2011.
Shabaab said that Berjawi was killed today, on “Saturday 28 Safar 1433H,” and that he had fought in Somalia before the Islamic Courts Union, the predecessor of Shabaab, was formed.
“The martyr, may Allah have mercy on him, was from the early people who came to jihad in Somalia, where he participated in fighting with the warlords and participated in the war against the Courts and in fighting the African Crusaders,” the statement said.
“The martyr received what he wished for and what he went out for … when, in the afternoon today, brother Bilal al-Berjawi was exposed to bombing in an outskirt of Mogadishu from a drone that is believed to be American,” the statement continued.
The report did not indicate where Berjawi was killed. US officials told The Associated Press that he was killed in a drone airstrike. Kenyan and Ethiopian aircraft have been conducting airstrikes in Somalia.
Although US attack aircraft and drones conduct operations over Somalia, reports of strikes are difficult to confirm. The last confirmed US strike took place on June 25, 2011, when Predators attacked a training camp outside of Kismayo. Ibrahim al Afghani, a senior Shabaab commander who fought in Afghanistan and has close ties with al Qaeda, is rumored to have been killed in the attack, but the report was never confirmed. Shabaab did not release a statement announcing his death. Berjawi was rumored to have been wounded in that strike.
The US military’s Joint Special Operations Command and the CIA are known to operate the armed Predators and Reapers from bases in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, Arba Minch in Ethiopia, the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean, and a base in an unnamed country on the Arabian Peninsula. The bases are to be used to attack al Qaeda affiliates Shabaab, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.