US government sanctions several Shabaab officials and affiliated individuals

Today the United States government sanctioned a total of 14 individuals belonging to or associated with Shabaab, al Qaeda’s branch in East Africa. 

The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned a list of nine individuals belonging to Shabaab’s finance wing and persons involved in its weapon smuggling operations. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department also blacklisted five additional senior officials of the group. 

Treasury’s designations further outline the inner workings of Shabaab’s vast financial network. Though not mentioned in the press release, the United Nations assesses that Shabaab makes roughly between $50 million and $100 million annually. This makes Shabaab the current wealthiest branch of al Qaeda.

At the same time, Treasury provides additional evidence of cooperation between Shabaab and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen. 

In outlining Shabaab’s financial apparatus, Treasury designated Khalif Adale, Hassan Afgooye, Abdikarim Hussein Gagaale, and Abdirahman Nurey. 

Khalif Adale, as described by Treasury’s press release, is Shabaab’s “leader for collecting money from non-governmental organizations (NGOs)” and is responsible for “brokering business deals between Shabaab and legitimate businesses, handling higher-level payments imposed on businesses, acting as a clan liaison to settle disputes between clans, and recruiting for Shabaab.” 

Treasury also blacklisted Hassan Afgooye, describing him as overseeing “a complex financial network, whose activities range from involvement in sham charities and fundraising to racketeering and kidnapping in support of Shabaab.” 

Previously the overall head of Shabaab’s finance wing, Afgooye, who has a $5 million bounty from the U.S. State Department’s Rewards For Justice program, still “serve[s] in an influential leadership position in Shabaab’s Finance Department and was involved with Shabaab’s overseas financial transactions.” 

Treasury describes Afgooye as also acting as an interlocutor between Shabaab and Somalia’s local private sector. In this same capacity, Treasury designated Abdirahman Nurey. Also designated was Abdikarim Hussein Gagaale, described as a deputy official within Shabaab’s finance wing. 

All of the individuals listed by Treasury for their role in Shabaab’s financing operations were listed as deputies or acting under the leadership of Mahad Karate. Karate is a senior leader of Shabaab, with a $5 million bounty from Rewards for Justice, often described as a key individual within Shabaab’s Amniyat, or intelligence and internal security wing.

Karate is believed to play a significant role within Shabaab’s finance operations, though he is not the overall emir for Shabaab’s finance department. Abdikarim Horseed, another senior Shabaab leader, is assessed to be the day-to-day financial emir of the group by the United Nations and local researchers

And though not directly sanctioned by Treasury, the U.S. State Department did also blacklist Mohamed Mire today. Mire, Shabaab’s former shadow governor of Somalia’s central Hiraan region, acted as of 2020 as the group’s emir for its Zakat, or taxation, department. In this role, Mire oversaw the collection of taxes from locals across Shabaab’s controlled territory. 

However, State further identifies Mire as Shabaab’s “leader responsible for the group’s strategic decision-making and leads the group’s interior wing.”

Shabaab’s weapon smuggling operations 

Treasury also took aim at Shabaab’s weapon smuggling operations today, which is largely coordinated through middlemen in Yemen. Some individuals involved are also connected to AQAP, al Qaeda’s official branch across the Arabian Peninsula. 

At the head of these operations, according to Treasury, is Abdullahi Jeeri. According to the designation, Jeeri “is Shabaab’s head of weapons procurement and has acquired weapons for Shabaab from both local markets and foreign suppliers, primarily in Yemen.” 

The Treasury Department also states that Jeeri “has served as an interlocutor between Shabaab and local businesses and has collected payments levied by the group” and that “Jeeri is one of the serving members on the terrorist group’s leadership body.”

Jeeri coordinates procurement operations with a Yemen-based network; three of the individuals within this network were sanctioned by the Treasury Department. This includes: Mohamed Hussein Salad, Ahmed Hasan Ali Sulaiman Mataan, and Mohamed Ali Badaas. 

According to Treasury, Salad and Mataan are business partners involved in the illegal smuggling of weapons between Yemen and Somalia’s northern Puntland region. The two use dhows, or local small watercraft, to transport weapons and explosives to Somalia on behalf of Shabaab. 

The two are not members of Shabaab and smuggle weapons for other armed actors in the area, including the Islamic State’s local wing in northern Somalia. 

Information on Salad’s network was previously described in a September 2020 report from the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC). GI-TOC found that Salad is part of a core group of around six prominent smugglers that provide the bulk of arms smuggled into Somalia from Yemen.

According to GI-TOC, Salad is an Arabic-speaking Somali based in Al Mukalla, Yemen, which was previously controlled by AQAP. GI-TOC similarly finds that this network did not discriminate and provided weapons to both Shabaab and Islamic State Somalia. 

Badaas, as described by the Treasury Department, “is an al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) member and is part of a Shabaab smuggling and weapons trafficking network in Yemen.” Treasury adds that Badaas “has facilitated a shipment of ammunition from Yemen for Shabaab militants.”

The designation further states that Badaas is a “important AQAP commander in the Shabwah region of Yemen” and that Badaas was “responsible for monitoring personnel movements, smuggling operations, and managing AQAP members.”

The links between Shabaab and AQAP have long been reported. For instance, one of the individuals described by GI-TOC as providing weapons for Shabaab, Sayf Abdulrab Salem al Hayashi, was sanctioned by Treasury in 2017 for his role in AQAP.

Researchers Tricia Bacon and Daisy Muibu have similarly described the relationship between the two al Qaeda branches in depth. 

Treasury’s designation today thus serves as additional evidence of the cooperation between AQAP and Shabaab. 

State Department targets Shabaab’s leadership

As mentioned previously, the U.S. Department of State also sanctioned five senior Shabaab officials in concurrence with the Treasury Department. In addition to Mohamad Mire, the other four listed are: Yasir Jiis, Yusuf Ahmed Hajji Nurow, Mustaf ‘Ato, and Mohamoud Abdi Aden. 

Jiis is the overall emir for Shabaab’s military wing, reporting directly to Abukar Ali Aden, Shabaab’s deputy emir.

Yusuf Ahmed Hajji Nurow, who is more commonly known as ‘Gees Adde,’ is the Shabaab leader tasked with overseeing its aforementioned Amniyat wing.

Mustaf ‘Ato has been described as the senior advisor to Shabaab’s overall emir, Abu Ubaydah Ahmad Umar. ‘Ato’s network has also been linked to the planning of the deadly attack on a college in Garissa, Kenya, in 2015, which left 148 people dead. According to State, ‘Ato also has a senior position within the Amniyat.

And Mohamoud Abdi Aden refers to a Kenyan operative of Shabaab based in Somalia though is believed to have played a role in planning the 2019 Dusit D2 assault in Nairobi, Kenya

The United States government’s long list of individuals designated today underscores the significance of Shabaab’s influence and activity across not only Somalia and wider East Africa, but also inside the Middle East. 

Shabaab has been described in recent weeks as “the largest and most kinetically active al Qaeda network in the world” by the U.S. military’s Africa Command.

Shabaab’s growth into this distinct threat is only through its substantial financial and weapons smuggling apparatuses described by the U.S. government today. 

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

Note: Spellings of both “Shabaab” and “al Qaeda” have been changed in this article to remain consistent throughout.

Article updated on Oct. 18, 2022, with new information related to sanctioned individuals. Article additionally updated on Oct. 20, 2022 removing inaccurate information regarding Khalif Adale.

Caleb Weiss is an editor of FDD's Long War Journal and a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation, where he focuses on the spread of the Islamic State in Central Africa.

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