The New York Times reports: The fighters had just completed “training for a large-scale attack” against American and African Union forces, said Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.
Pentagon officials would not say how they knew that the Shabab fighters killed on Saturday were training for an attack on United States and African Union forces, but the militant group is believed to be under heavy American surveillance.
The Shabab fighters were standing in formation at a facility the Pentagon called Camp Raso, 120 miles north of Mogadishu, when the American warplanes struck on Saturday, officials said, acting on information gleaned from intelligence sources in the area and from American spy planes. One intelligence agency assessed that the toll might have been higher had the strike happened earlier in the ceremony. Apparently, some fighters were filtering away from the event when the bombing began.
The strike was another escalation in what has become the latest battleground in the Obama administration’s war against terror: Africa. The United States and its allies are focused on combating the spread of the Islamic State in Libya, and American officials estimate that with an influx of men from Iraq, Syria and Tunisia, the Islamic State’s forces in Libya have swelled to as many as 6,500 fighters, allowing the group to capture a 150-mile stretch of coastline over the past year.
The arrival of the Islamic State in Libya has sparked fears that the group’s reach could spread to other North African countries, and the United States is increasingly trying to prevent that. American forces are now helping to combat Al Qaeda in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso; Boko Haram in Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad; and the Shabab in Somalia and Kenya, in what has become a multifront war against militant Islam in Africa. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: Faheem Qureshi’s uncles sat with their neighbors, chatting, cracking jokes and sipping tea, in their family’s lounge for male guests. Qureshi, almost 14, stood nearby, bored and restless, thinking about when he could go to the nearby playground where he and the other Ziraki village kids played badminton and cricket.
It had been a long day – Friday prayers, a food shopping errand at his mother’s behest, hosting – but also a happy occasion, as people stopped by to welcome an uncle home to North Waziristan, in tribal Pakistan, from a work excursion to the United Arab Emirates. Then he heard a sound like a plane taking off.
About two seconds later, the missile punched a hole through the lounge. Qureshi remembers feeling like his body was on fire. He ran outside, wanting to throw water on his face, but his priority was escape. The boy could not see.
This was the hidden civilian damage from the first drone strike Barack Obama ever ordered, on 23 January 2009, the inauguration of a counter-terrorism tactic likely to define Obama’s presidency in much of the Muslim world. It was the third day of his presidency. [Continue reading…]
Kenneth Roth writes: European leaders may differ about how to respond to the asylum-seekers and migrants surging their way, but they seem to agree they face a crisis of enormous proportions. Germany’s Angela Merkel has called it “the biggest challenge I have seen in European affairs in my time as chancellor.” Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni has warned that the migrant crisis could pose a major threat to the “soul” of Europe. But before we get carried away by such apocalyptic rhetoric, we should recognize that if there is a crisis, it is one of politics, not capacity.
There is no shortage of drama in thousands of desperate people risking life and limb to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean in rickety boats or enduring the hazards of land journeys through the Balkans. The available numbers suggest that most of these people are refugees from deadly conflict in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia. Eritreans — another large group — fled a brutally repressive government. The largest group — the Syrians — fled the dreadful combination of their government’s indiscriminate attacks, including by barrel bombs and suffocating sieges, and atrocities by ISIS and other extremist groups. Only a minority of migrants arriving in Europe, these numbers suggest, were motivated solely by economic betterment.
This “wave of people” is more like a trickle when considered against the pool that must absorb it. The European Union’s population is roughly 500 million. The latest estimate of the numbers of people using irregular means to enter Europe this year via the Mediterranean or the Balkans is approximately 340,000. In other words, the influx this year is only 0.068 percent of the EU’s population. Considering the EU’s wealth and advanced economy, it is hard to argue that Europe lacks the means to absorb these newcomers. [Continue reading…]
Christopher Dickey writes: Ad hoc measures will be taken here and there, as we have seen, but they will do little more than displace the flood, not stop it:
The boats pushing into the Med from North Africa were never very seaworthy, but now they have to be completely expendable, ready to be seized, and to be written off, or to sink and be written off, by the gangs that launched them leaking and overloaded in the first place.
Close the borders with the Balkan states, and refugees climb into sealed trucks like that putrid 18-wheeler in Austria.
The only medium- and long-term solution for this horrific global problem is to build peace in the war zones of Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia, — the three countries that account for more than half of the world’s refugees; impose order on the chaos of Libya; deliver some modicum of freedom and prosperity in West and East Africa; and greater social and economic justice in Latin America.
To do that requires reliable long-term policies to promote development and good governance, not just the tossing of a few millions of dollars or euros here or there, or preaching about a system of globalized free trade that has made the rich so much richer and the poor, by comparison, so much poorer. [Continue reading…]
Foreign Policy reports: Some say the Americans are everywhere. Some say they are nowhere. Still others say they are everywhere and nowhere at once. But the shadowy U.S. presence in this strategic port city in war-torn southern Somalia has clear consequences for anyone with a share of power here. That includes Somali regional officials who are quick to praise American counterterrorism efforts, African Union forces who rely on U.S. intelligence as they battle back al-Shabab, and even the al Qaeda-linked militants themselves, who are increasingly hemmed in by a lethal combination of AU-led counterinsurgency, airstrikes, and raids by U.S. special operators.
Based out of a fortress of fading green Hesco barriers at the ramshackle airport in Kismayo, a team of special operators from the Joint Special Operations Command, the elite U.S. military organization famous for killing Osama bin Laden, flies drones and carries out other counterterrorism activities, multiple Somali government and African Union sources have confirmed. Their presence in this volatile city, which until 2012 was controlled by al-Shabab, has not previously been reported. Nor has the United States acknowledged operating drones from Somali soil. (Unmanned armed and surveillance flights are said to originate from Camp Lemonnier in nearby Djibouti or from bases in neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia.)
“They have a base over there,” Abdighani Abdi Jama, state minister for the presidency in the interim regional administration in Kismayo, said of U.S. forces, gesturing to a heavily fortified compound not far from the airport’s small terminal. He confirmed that as many as 40 U.S. military personnel are currently stationed in Kismayo, roughly 300 miles south of the capital of Mogadishu, where he said they operate drones from the airport’s single runway and carry out covert “intelligence” and “counterterrorism” operations. [Continue reading…]
Jeremy Scahill reports: U.S. counterterrorism agencies have long been preoccupied with the threat posed by the recruiting successes of the Somali terrorist group al Shabaab in Western countries. The group has managed to lure hundreds of foreign fighters — including some 40 Americans — to Somalia through online propaganda videos and word-of-mouth in disaffected immigrant communities.
In recent years, however, al Shabaab has turned on the foreign fighters in its own ranks, waging a brutal campaign to purge the perceived spies from its midst. An intimate account of the Shabaab civil war was provided to The Intercept in a series of interviews conducted with a current member of al Shabaab and a source who has maintained close contacts with the group.
Al Shabaab has assassinated several foreign fighters on the CIA’s kill/capture list over the past few years and currently runs a network of secret prisons that hold, on charges of spying, U.S., British and other Western citizens who came to Somalia to join Shabaab, The Intercept has found. Shabaab operatives torture detainees using techniques such as waterboarding, beatings, and food and sleep deprivation, and conduct public executions of suspected spies, including by crucifixion. [Continue reading…]
The Associated Press reports: “More than 20 years ago, the United States was forced to pull back from your country,” Kerry said [at a meeting with Somalia’s president and prime minister and several regional chiefs and civil society groups], invoking the “Black Hawk Down” debacle when 18 servicemen died after Somali militiamen shot down two U.S. helicopters and a subsequent rescue mission failed. “Now we are returning.”
The trip was made under tight security. Somalia’s government only learned a day ago that Kerry would join the State Department’s top Africa official, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, on the trip. U.S. officials closely controlled access to the conference building where the discussions took place, an edifice encased by 6-foot high piles of sandbags and ringed by fencing wire.
The actual meeting room was bleak and dark, illuminated by a single fluorescent light overhead. Down the street African peacekeeping troops sat at picnic tables as oily streaks of airplane fuel glimmered in the Indian Ocean. [Continue reading…]
Hussein Khalid writes: The merciless killing of more than 140 innocent students at Kenya’s Garissa University College last month by al-Shabab terrorists requires a serious government response — both from Kenya and the United States. Unfortunately, my government has decided to double down on a long-standing counterterrorism strategy that includes human rights abuses and the indiscriminate targeting of the country’s Muslims. This is guaranteed to make the situation worse, not better. As Kenya’s loyal partner, the United States must persuade Nairobi to drop this unsound strategy.
The Kenyan government is cracking down on those who have sought to engage in counter-radicalization efforts simply because they have dared to question its tactics. Without presenting any evidence, Kenya’s top police official recently tried to label my nongovernmental organization, Haki Africa, which documents and challenges human rights abuses perpetrated by Kenyan security forces, as a possible associate of al-Shabab. Our bank account was frozen simply because of the work that we do. Another organization, Muslims for Human Rights, was similarly targeted.
This action was just the latest in an increasingly worrying trend of harassment and intimidation of civil society organizations. Such a heavy-handed approach is more than unjust; it is also ineffective and counterproductive. By alienating an important and sizable Kenyan community, the government is losing a key ally in its fight against violent extremism. If this pattern continues, I fear the security situation in my country can only get worse. [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: The son of a Kenyan government official was one of the masked gunmen who killed nearly 150 people at a university last week, the interior ministry said on Sunday, as Kenyan churches hired armed guards to protect their Easter congregations.
Pope Francis decried Thursday’s attack in his Easter Sunday service, praying for those killed by Islamist gunmen who hunted down Christians while sparing Muslims.
At one church in the Indian Ocean port city of Mombasa, worshippers were evacuated and a bomb disposal unit deployed due to a suspicious vehicle parked outside the church. Police took it away for further examination.
Interior Ministry spokesman Mwenda Njoka said Abdirahim Abdullahi was one of four gunmen who stormed the college campus in Garissa, some 200km (120 miles) from the Somali border.
An ethnic Somali with Kenyan nationality, his father is a government official in the northern Mandera county bordering Somalia, he said.
“The father had reported to security agents that his son had disappeared from home… and was helping the police try to trace his son by the time the Garissa terror attack happened,” Njoka told Reuters in a text message.
President Uhuru Kenyatta on Saturday said the planners and financiers of Islamist attacks were “deeply embedded” within Kenyan communities and urged Muslims to do more to fight radicalisation. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Elosy Karimi curled up in a crawl space, immobilized by fear.
Her classmates were flooding out of the dorms, in boxer shorts and thin nightgowns. Gunfire was ringing all around her. People were screaming. It was predawn and pitch black.
“If you want to survive, come out!” the militants yelled. “If you want to die, stay inside!”
In the terrifying confusion, Ms. Karimi, 23, decided to risk it inside, she said, and stayed hidden in the ceiling above her bunk bed for the next 28 and a half hours.
“I knew those guys were lying,” she said at the hospital, having just arrived to be checked after the ordeal.
New details emerged on Friday about how a handful of fighters from the Shabab militant group, with just a few light weapons, managed to kill nearly 150 students in Kenya’s worst terrorist attack since the 1998 bombing of the United States Embassy in Nairobi.
Survivors said many students had fallen for the militants’ trick, voluntarily leaving their dorm rooms and obeying commands to lie down in neat rows, only to be shot in the back of the head. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Mr. Emwazi was called “Jihadi John” by the foreign hostages he guarded, a number of whom he apparently beheaded in widely circulated videos. He was first identified on Thursday by The Washington Post website, and his name was confirmed by a senior British security official. The official said that the British government had identified Mr. Emwazi some time ago but had not disclosed his name for operational reasons. The identification was also confirmed in Washington by a senior United States military intelligence official.
Information is still vague about Mr. Emwazi, with Britain officially refusing to confirm that he is indeed “Jihadi John” because of what are described as continuing operations.
But Mr. Emwazi appears in 2011 court documents, obtained by the BBC, as a member of a network of extremists who funneled funds, equipment and recruits “from the United Kingdom to Somalia to undertake terrorism-related activity.”
Mr. Emwazi is alleged to be part of a group from West and North London, sometimes known as “the North London Boys,” with links to the Somalia-based terrorist group Al Shabab, organized by an individual who had returned to London in February 2007 and whose name was redacted in court documents.
Another person associated with that group was Bilal al-Berjawi, who was born in Lebanon but brought to West London as a baby. He fought in Somalia and rose through the ranks of Al Shabab and Al Qaeda in Africa before being killed in a drone strike in January 2012, according to Raffaello Pantucci, also a fellow at the Royal United Services Institute.
Mr. Berjawi traveled to Kenya in February 2009, telling his family he was heading for a safari; he and a friend were detained in Nairobi and shipped back to London, but made it to Somalia in October that year.
The neighborhood group “is a tight community and it’s very probable that they knew each other and were part of the same crew,” Mr. Pantucci said.
So it is likely that Mr. Emwazi’s own safari a few months later in May, from Britain to Germany to Tanzania, using the name of Muhammad ibn Muazzam, set off alarms with the British security services, and that he had started on the road to radicalism even before his encounter with MI5 in 2009. [Continue reading…]
Ars Technica reports: Seven months after his conviction, Basaaly Moalin’s defense attorney moved for a new trial (PDF), arguing that evidence collected about him under the government’s recently disclosed dragnet telephone surveillance program violated his constitutional and statutory rights. Moalin’s is the only thwarted “terrorist plot” against America that the government says also “critically” relied on the National Security Agency phone surveillance program, conducted under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.
The government’s response (PDF), filed on September 30th, is a heavily redacted opposition arguing that when law enforcement can monitor one person’s information without a warrant, it can monitor everyone’s information, “regardless of the collection’s expanse.” Notably, the government is also arguing that no one other than the company that provided the information — including the defendant in this case — has the right to challenge this disclosure in court.
The success of these arguments is critical to the government; the terrorist plot for which Moalin and three other defendants were convicted in February was sending about $8,500 to al-Shabaab, known most recently for the Kenyan Westgate mall attack. The money was sent in 2007 and 2008.
The United States government designated al-Shabaab — which means “The Youth” — a terrorist group in 2008, but the FBI’s extensive wiretapping of Moalin started about two months before that. FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce recently revealed to Congress that the FBI had also conducted another investigation into Moalin’s activities in 2003 and ultimately concluded that there was “no nexus to terrorism.” This evidence was kept from the defense during trial. [Continue reading…]
Simon Tsidall writes: Official US reluctance to identify the target of the failed Somali raid by Seal Team Six special forces commandos may stem from a wish not to further bolster the reputation of al-Shabaab’s shadowy leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr.
The Islamist militia’s hardline emir emerged as Africa’s most wanted man after the 21 September Westgate mall attack in Nairobi that killed least 67 people, for which he claimed responsibility. His capture would have been portrayed as a triumph. By extension, his eluding of US-style justice will be seen as a serious setback. Pentagon officials will say only that the target of the dawn raid on the seaside town of Barawe, south of Mogadishu, was a “high-value” al-Shabaab terrorist linked to Westgate. Local sources said the Seals attacked a building housing foreign fighters, and that an unidentified Chechen fighter may have been their quarry.
But this is unlikely to be the whole story, given the elaborate preparations for the raid, which began soon after Westgate. The US navy Seals are the same crack unit that killed the al-Qaida leader, Osama bin Laden, two years ago in Pakistan. This time, too, Barack Obama was reportedly kept closely informed of the progress of the Somali plan, and of the almost simultaneous operation in Libya.
Given the political sensitivity, at home and in the Muslim world, that surrounds such US on-the-ground incursions, Obama will have personally given the go-ahead for both raids. His orders were reportedly to capture, if possible, rather than kill. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: Libya has demanded an explanation for the “kidnapping” of one of its citizens by American special forces, hours after a separate US military raid on a terrorist target in Somalia ended in apparent failure and retreat.
In Tripoli the US army’s delta force seized alleged al-Qaida leader Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, known by his alias Abu Anas al-Liby and wanted for the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed more than 220 people.
But US navy Seals suffered a major setback when they launched an amphibious assault to capture an Islamist militant leader said to be Ahmed Godane, described as Africa’s most wanted man and the architect of last month’s attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Kenya. The elite Seals were beaten back by heavy fire and apparently abandoned equipment that the Somali militants photographed and posted on the internet.
As dramatic details of Saturday’s twin operations emerged, US secretary of state John Kerry insisted that terrorists “can run but they can’t hide”, but faced growing questions about America’s military reach in Africa and the consequences of unilateral aggression.
Al-Liby was captured outside his family home at 6.15am in Noufle’een, a quiet suburb in eastern Tripoli, according to witnesses, but there were conflicting reports over who took him. His brother, Nabih, told the Associated Press that al-Liby was parking when a convoy of three vehicles encircled his car. Armed gunmen smashed the car’s window and seized al-Liby’s gun before grabbing him and taking him away, the report said. The brother said al-Liby’s wife saw the kidnapping from her window and described the abductors as foreign-looking armed “commandos”.
But al-Liby’s son Abdullah insisted that Libyan forces were involved. Appearing on Tripoli’s Nabir TV station, he said: “The people who took my father were Libyan, not Americans – they spoke with Tripoli accents. [Continue reading…]