Monday, June 13, 2011

"East Africa al-Qaeda chief killed in Somalia"

Al Jazeera English asked me to comment on 11 June, 2011, on the death in Mogadishu of Fazul Abdullah Muhammad, Al-Qaeda’s representative in East Africa for the past 10 years.

I explained that together with two other al-Qaeda operatives in East Africa, Fazul was wanted by the United States for planning the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Ethiopian forces killed the first operative, Sudanese national Abu Talha al-Sudani, during fighting in Somalia in 2007.

American special forces killed the second, Kenyan national Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan during a commando raid south of Mogadishu in 2009.

Now Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces have killed Comoro Islands national Fazul in Mogadishu, apparently after he took a wrong turn and drove into a TFG roadblock in the capital city. Fazul has narrowly escaped capture on several previous occasions.

Image: Wikipedia, source: FBI.
This is a major defeat for al-Qaeda in East Africa, although al-Qaeda’s most recent significant successful attack in the region dates back to the destruction in 2002 of the Israeli-owned hotel outside Mombasa, Kenya. Al-Qaeda in East Africa has been on the run ever since, and now its leader is dead.

The fact that Fazul died in Mogadishu, presumably protected by al-Shabaab, underscores the links between al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab. It is less clear what impact his death will have on the operations of al-Shabaab. To the extent that al-Qaeda is providing tangible support to al-Shabaab, it could put additional pressure on the Somali organization.

Here is the link for the Al Jazeera English story, which was also linked on Yahoo's Atlantic Wire.

Here are the quotes:
David Shinn, a professor of international affairs at George Washington University, said Mohammed has been "the leader of Al-Qaeda in East Africa for the last 10 years or so".

"The US has been trying to track him down together with [his] two colleagues for more than 10 years. The two colleagues were killed earlier: one by Ethiopian troops inside Somalia in 2007, the other by US special forces in south Mogadishu in 2009," Shinn told Al Jazeera.

"He was the last of three and he was the big one."

...George Washington University's David Shinn said "the fact that [Mohammed] was killed in Mogadishu implies that there is perhaps an even closer connection between al-Shabab and al-Qaeda than we are aware of".

"We know there are close links but this would suggest that there may be material support going on at the present time," Shinn said.

While al-Qaeda has been marginalised in East Africa for lack of major success since the 2001 bombing of a hotel in Kenya, al-Shabab has made much progress on its own inside Somalia, he warned.

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