Weekend attacks in Somalia deal Shabaab a double blow

Armed MQ-9 Reaper drone.jpg

Armed MQ-9 Reaper drone. Image from The Telegraph.

A US missile strike today reportedly killed Sahal Iskudhuq, a senior Shabaab commander who served as a high-ranking member of the Amniyat, Shabaab’s intelligence unit. The strike took place after security forces raided Shabaab camps in the northern, semiautonomous region of Puntland.

A pro-Shabaab radio station in Barawe confirmed that an airstrike took place in the village of Hawai in Lower Shabelle, RBC Radio reported. Iskudhuq is said to have been killed in the missile attack. Shabaab has not confirmed his death.

US officials speaking on condition of anonymity told the Associated Press that they had carried out a strike against a Shabaab leader today, but would not identify the target as US intelligence was still “assessing the effectiveness of the strike.”

As a member of Amniyat, Iskudhuq would have been sufficiently high-profile to warrant US attention. According to a September 2013 report released by the UN monitoring Group, the Amniyat is described as Shabaab’s “secret service” and is “structured along the lines of a clandestine organization within the organization with the intention of surviving any kind of dissolution of Shabaab.” The UN report credits the Amniyat with serving Shabaab emir Ahmed Abdi Godane’s interests and allowing Godane to maintain his grip on power and settle internal disputes.

Foreign fighters often train members of Amniyat, but rarely participate in the group’s operations as “its operatives are required to blend in with the Somali public,” according to Sabahi. The intelligence unit’s operatives take orders directly from Godane. As a result, they receive special privileges not offered to other Shabaab members, including a larger share of the group’s budget, mobile phones, and money for bribes.

Although it formally joined al Qaeda in early 2012, Shabaab has been closely tied to the global jihadist group for many years. Top al Qaeda operatives, including several who were indicted for their roles in the 1998 bombings at the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, have served in senior leadership positions in Shabaab.

US has targeted top Shabaab and al Qaeda leaders in Somalia before

The US has targeted top Shabaab leaders in drone and conventional airstrikes, as well as special operations raids in the past.

The last confirmed US drone strike in Somalia took place on Oct. 29, 2013. The remotely operated US drones killed Anta Anta, who is also known as Ibrahim Ali Abdi, and two lower-level commanders. Anta Anta was a master bombmaker and suicide operations coordinator for the terror group.

The US also launched a special operations raid that same month. On Oct. 7, 2013 in Barawe, a known stronghold of Shabaab, US Navy SEALs targeted Shabaab’s external operations chief Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir, who is also known as Ikrima. The Shabaab leader, who was not killed or captured during the raid, was in close contact with al Qaeda’s general command in Pakistan and is said to have directed attacks in Kenya. [See Threat Matrix report, Target of SEAL raid in Somalia tied to top al Qaeda leaders].

The US has launched several operations over the years that targeted or killed top Shabaab and al Qaeda leaders in Somalia. Bilal al Berjawi, a British national of Lebanese descent, was killed in an airstrike in January 2012. Al Berjawi was the senior deputy of Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, the leader of al Qaeda East Africa who also served as a top commander in Shabaab. Fazul was killed by Somali troops at a checkpoint outside Mogadishu in June 2011.

The US also killed Aden Hashi Ayro and Sheikh Muhyadin Omar in an airstrike in the spring of 2008. Before his death, Ayro was the leader of Shabaab.

Fazul and Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, who also commanded al Qaeda East Africa, were also targeted, along with Abu Tala al Sudani, in US airstrikes in 2007 and 2008 during the Ethiopian invasion and occupation of southern Somalia. And Hassan Turki, another senior Shabaab leader who is closely tied to al Qaeda, was targeted in a US strike in 2008.

Nabhan was also the target of a US special forces raid in the Somali town of Barawe in 2009. US commandos killed Nabhan and another terrorist during the raid.

Security forces target Shabaab camps in Puntland

The loss of Iskudhuq in Lower Shabelle is more bad news for Shabaab, following a setback to the group yesterday in northern Somalia. Puntland forces attacked a Shabaab base in Galgala area near the Golis mountain range of northeastern Somalia, southwest of the commercial port city of Bosasso. According to acting Security Minister Colonol Khalif Isse Mudan, three Shabaab fighters were confirmed killed and seven were severely wounded.

Puntland forces also recovered significant arms and materiel from Shabaab bases, and among the items presented to the media were heavy ammunition, explosive devices, medical drugs, and solar equipment.

Despite a military offensive led by the African Union and backed by the US that began in 2011, Shabaab still controls vast areas of southern and central Somalia. During the offensive, Shabaab was driven from major cities and towns such as Mogadishu, Kismayo, and Baidoa, but towns such as Bulobarde and Barawe remain under the terror group’s control. The group has weathered the Ethiopian invasion, which began in December 2006 and ousted its predecessor, the Islamic Courts Union. More than six years later, Shabaab remains a capable force in southern Somalia and an integral part of al Qaeda’s global network.

Shabaab has also shown itself to be more than capable of attacking major cities outside of its control. Just this weekend, the group killed at least five Somali government soldiers in a daytime attack in Mogadishu.

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