The US State Department today announced rewards for “information leading to the identification or location of six key leaders of” Shabaab, al Qaeda’s official branch in East Africa.
The highest reward, of up to $6 million, is being offered for information on the whereabouts of Abu Ubaidah Ahmad Umar (a.k.a. Direye), who was named Shabaab’s emir shortly after his predecessor, Mukhtar Abu Zubayr (a.k.a. Godane), was killed in September 2014.
Shabaab made it clear when Abu Ubaidah’s leadership role was announced that he and others in the group’s hierarchy are loyal to Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s head man.
In an audio message released in early September but recorded months earlier, Zawahiri officially recognized Abu Ubaidah’s appointment. “I endorse their [Shabaab’s] choice of the noble brother, Sheikh Abu Ubaidah Ahmad Umar, as their emir, and I ask God to grant him success in bearing the responsibility of dawa [Islamic proselytizing] and jihad,” Zawahiri declared. “I request of him to exert all of his efforts to institute sharia as the undisputed ruler and master in East Africa.”
Zawahiri went on to offer Shabaab’s new emir advice, speaking as if Abu Ubaidah rules over an emirate (state) or province. “May he seek recourse to gentleness, patience, and kindness, for they are the best helpers of the governor over his wilayat (province) and of the emir over his emirate,” Zawahiri said.
Abu Ubaidah was added to the US government’s list of designated terrorists in April. State noted at the time that he “shares Godane’s vision for Shabaab’s terrorist attacks in Somalia as an element of al Qaeda’s greater global aspirations.”
As of today, State is also offering rewards of “up to $5 million each for information on” three other Shabaab leaders: Mahad Karate, Ma’alim Daud, and Hassan Afgooye.
Karate (a.k.a. Abdirahman Mohamed Warsame), like Abu Ubaidah, was designated as a terrorist by the US government in April. In its announcement today, State says he “has played a key role in the wing of [Shabaab] responsible for assassinations and the April 2 attack on Garissa University College” in Kenya. The attack on Garissa left approximately 148 people dead and dozens more wounded.
Foggy Bottom previously identified Karate as a key figure in Shabaab’s Amniyat. According to a UN report published in 2013, the Amniyat “combines a wide range of responsibilities, ranging from intelligence gathering and counter-intelligence to clandestine and special operations.” In addition to its other roles, the Amniyat is responsible for protecting Abu Ubaidah and eliminating any threats to his authority from within the jihadist organization.
Ma’alim Daud is “responsible” for Shabaab’s “planning, recruitment, training, and operations against the government of Somalia and Western targets,” according to State. And Hassan Afgooye “oversees a complex financial network whose activities range from fake charities, and fundraising to racketeering and kidnapping in support of [Shabaab’s] activities.”
Two other jihadists, Maalim Salman and Ahmed Iman Ali, now have rewards of up to $3 million on their heads as well. Salman leads Shabaab’s “African foreign terrorist fighters and has been involved in operations in Africa targeting tourists, entertainment establishments, and churches.”
Ali, according to State, has “recruited Kenyan youth and raised funds” for the al Qaeda branch. Indeed, Ali has led an organization named Al Hijra, which is openly loyal to Shabaab and al Qaeda. In 2012, Shabaab officially named him as the head of its Kenyan arm. [For more on Al Hijra, see LWJ report: UN warned of Shabaab ally’s ‘new and more complex operations’ in Kenya.]
Are you a dedicated reader of FDD's Long War Journal? Has our research benefitted you or your team over the years? Support our independent reporting and analysis today by considering a one-time or monthly donation. Thanks for reading! You can make a tax-deductible donation here.