Shabaab assassinates high-ranking military officials in central Somalia

Shabaab, al Qaeda’s branch in East Africa, killed several high-ranking military officers today in a suicide bombing in the central Somali town of Galkayo in the Mudug Region.

According to local reports, the military officers were gathered with other Somali government officials in line to Galkayo’s soccer stadium awaiting Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble. Both local officials and Shabaab itself indicated that Roble was the main target of the attack.

Prior to Roble’s arrival, however, a suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest in line to the stadium. Estimates have varied, but between 10 and 17 people were killed in the blast.

This number includes several top military officials. General Abdiaziz Abdullahi Qooje, commander of the Somali Army’s 21st Division, and Major Mukhtar Abdi Aden (also referred to as a colonel), the commander of the local branch of the US-trained Danab special forces unit, were among the dead.

Major Aden’s deputy was also killed in today’s blast, as was an official within the Abudwak District of the Galguduud Region and former Galkayo District governor Yassin Tumey.

It was General Qooje’s 21st Division that just recently beat back a Shabaab advance on Mudug’s Bacaadweyne after the jihadist group briefly occupied the town.

Both local Galmuduug officials and Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo have confirmed the deaths of the officials.

Shabaab was quick to claim credit for the operation through its Shahada News Telegram account. In its statement, it said that “a martyrdom operation targeted the convoy of Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble while he was being received in the central Somali city of Galkayo.”

It further went on to claim that the suicide bombing “killed dozens of high-ranking leaders of the Somali Army and special forces that are trained by the United States.” Several follow up statements have also celebrated the deaths of the officials.

Shabaab’s assassination campaign

Today’s suicide bombing is just the latest Shabaab assassination of high-ranking Somali military and political figures this year. Many of these attacks also involved suicide bombings.

In March, the governor of Nugaal, a region within the semi-autonomous state of Puntland, was killed in a suicide bombing in Garowe.

Two months later on May 17, the governor of Mudug was killed in a similar attack. On June 3, the district commissioner for the Burdhubo district of Somalia’s Jubaland state narrowly survived an assault on his offices.

And on July 5, a lawmaker within the local Hirshabelle state administration was kidnapped and executed by Shabaab near the town of Jowhar in the Middle Shabelle region.

Later that month, Shabaab attempted to assassinate Somali General Odowaa Yusef Rageh, the country’s Chief of Defense Forces, in a suicide car bombing in Mogadishu.

In August, Shabaab attempted to assassinate Somalia’s education minister, Abdullahi Godah Barre, in an ambush with an improvised explosive device (IED) in the southern region of Gedo. Other Somali political officials were also injured in that blast.

According to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal, Shabaab’s bombing today means the group has conducted at least 31 suicide bombings inside Somalia since the beginning of the year. 

Despite some setbacks in recent years, Shabaab continues to be one of al Qaeda’s most effective branches. It maintains significant control over much of southern Somalia and retains the ability to strike in Mogadishu, Kenya, and against heavily fortified bases in both Somalia and Kenya.

Though its fortunes have ebbed and flowed over the past decade, it has weathered numerous offensives from an array of local, regional, and international actors, including the United States.

As the United States withdraws from Somalia and uncertainties surrounding African Union forces inside the country mount, especially following a recent diplomatic spat between Somalia and Kenya, Shabaab may soon achieve more success.

Caleb Weiss is a contributor to FDD's Long War Journal.

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