Recently two prominent left-wing bloggers, Matthew Yglesias and Spencer Ackerman, have questioned whether the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) — the radical group that Ethiopia is currently battling in Somalia — is really linked to terrorism. Yglesias writes, “What are the names of these people the Islamists are sheltering? How many of them are there? Who are they? What have they done? What diplomatic efforts has the United States made to get the Islamists to turn them over? Pardon me for being cynical, but in this day and age my suspicion is that names aren’t involved in these articles but [sic] there’s no one in particular the Bush administration is worrying about and this is mostly hype and paranoia.” And Ackerman, after a grand total of two telephone calls to public affairs officers at State and the DNI, concludes, “The administration believes three terrorists are in Somalia, with unclear or unstated connections to the ICU. Then there’s the issue of Aweys, whom the U.S. isn’t officially making an issue, for unclear reasons. Decide for yourself if this is a good reason to instigate a regional war.”
In the first place, the criteria these two gentlemen use is flawed: there’s no reason to make the names of specific terrorists the determinative measurement, rather than the seventeen active terrorist training camps in the country, the al-Qaeda-like propaganda tapes that the ICU has been producing, and the conspicuous presence of foreign fighters. But beyond that, this also illustrates one of the flaws of making the study of terrorism all about the Bush administration. Either the ICU is a threat or it isn’t: two phone calls to a couple of public affairs officers with no expertise in Somalia is unlikely to resolve the matter. The fact is that an examination of information that is publicly available would quickly turn up links between the ICU and terrorism — including the names that Yglesias and Ackerman desire.
As an initial matter, the precursor group to the ICU, al-Ittihad al-Islamiyya (AIAI) hasn’t abandoned its support for terrorism. A look at the biographies of the fourteen high-value terrorists who were recently transferred to Gitmo bears this out: the section on the last detainee, Gouled Hassan Dourad, shows that in recent years AIAI has planned to attack the U.S. military base in Djibouti, shoot down Ethiopian airliners, and kidnap Western NGO workers in Somalia.
The United Nations released reports in both 2004 and 2006 that support the view that there is a substantial presence of foreign fighters in Somalia that are facilitating terrorist training and adopting an international jihadist agenda. (Foreign fighters do not comprise the majority of ICU fighters, but are still a significant presence). For specific names of terrorists, we can turn to reports produced by the International Crisis Group — an organization that tends to be critical of the U.S. role in Somalia.
The ICG’s May 2002 reportSomalia: Countering Terrorism in a Failed State names four key leaders in the AIAI terrorist group: Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, Hassan Turki, Mogadishu bin Laden associate Sheikh Omar Faruuq, and Hassan Turabi associate Ibrahim Disuqi.
The ICG’s July 2005 reportCounter-Terrorism in Somalia: Losing Hearts and Minds? notes the following:
- Aden Hashi ‘Ayro, who trained in an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan, has assassinated four foreign aid workers. (I have a list of people killed by ‘Ayro’s group that shows there have, in fact, been far more assassinations than this.) The report notes that ‘Ayro’s network may be helping al-Qaeda operate in Somalia with logistics, jobs, identities and protection. (A quote from the report as a caveat: “Although evidence linking ‘Ayro to al-Qaeda appears to be largely circumstantial, the allegations are serious enough to merit a brief review of al-Qaeda’s involvement in Somalia over the years and the scope of its current presence there.”)
- ‘Ayro’s lead assassins are named. Jamaa Ali Isma’il (Kutiye) is a former Somali commando who fought with AIAI from 1992 onwards. Da’ud Salah Iidle is the former deputy manager of the local branch of the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation (my former employer); in 2003 the U.S. charged Al Haramain’s Somali offices with being linked to al-Qaeda. Farhan Abdulle Mohamed was a student at a school run by the Tablighi Jamaat before joining Mogadishu’s freelance militias. And Ibrahim al-Afghani reportedly fought in Afghanistan and Kashmir before returning to Somalia to join AIAI.
- Hassan Dahir Aweys and Hassan Turki both helped al-Qaeda prepare to attack the U.S. embassy in Nairobi in 1998.
- Fazul Abdullah Mohammed and Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, members of al-Qaeda’s Somali cell, had returned to Somalia. They were financed by Sudanese al-Qaeda operative Tariq Abdullah (a.k.a. Abu Talha al-Sudani), who operated between Somalia and the UAE. Mohammed and Nabhan were involved in preparations for the 1998 embassy bombings, and masterminded the November 2002 Mombasa attack on the Paradise Hotel. They were aided in the Mombasa attack by Somali associates Suleiman Ahmed Hemed Salim (a.k.a. Issa Tanzania, captured in April 2003), and Issa Osman Issa. After the attacks, the group returned to Somalia. The ICG report notes that “[t]he members of al-Qaeda’s Somalia cell are today among the most wanted fugitives on the planet.”
- Other al-Qaeda leaders in Somalia and protected by ‘Ayro are Ali Swedhan, Samir Said Salim Ba’amir, and Mohamed Mwakuuuza Kuza.
The December 2005 reportSomalia’s Islamists notes the following:
- Abu Talha al-Sudani is the head of al-Qaeda’s operations in East Africa.
- Aden Hashi ‘Ayro’s likely superior is Afghan alumnus and al-Qaeda associate Ahmed Abdi Godane.
- The Somali Takfir wal Hijra had small communities in Mogadishu and Bosaaso, as well as training camps in Ras Kamboni under Hassan Turki.
- Sheikh Ahmed Nur Jim’aale (former chairman of the Somali telecom company al-Barakat, which had its assets frozen by the U.S. on the grounds that al-Qaeda was using it to move money) has denied ties to al-Qaeda, but is widely seen as a patron of radicals.
So even a cursory examination from sources that are quite critical of the U.S. reveals that the threat from al-Qaeda in Somalia is a lot more than just three guys. For more on AIAI, see Michael Scheuer’s book Through Our Enemies’ Eyes.
Have PoliticalMavens.com delivered to your inbox in a daily digest by clicking here