Al-Qaeda trained foreigners help fuel Somalia uprising
Report by Sudarsan Raghavan, The Washington Post
Dated Wednesday, 09 June 2010:
Foreign fighters trained in Afghanistan are gaining influence inside Somalia's al-Shabab militia, fueling a radical Islamist insurgency with ties to Osama bin Laden, according to Somali intelligence officials, former al-Shabab fighters and analysts.
The foreigners, who include Pakistanis and Arabs, are inspiring the Somali militants to import al-Qaida's ideology and brutal tactics from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. A significant number of Americans are also being drawn to the Somali conflict. Two New Jersey men were arrested Sunday in New York City and charged with planning to travel to Somalia to join al-Shabab.
In April, suicide bombers drove a white truck filled with explosives into an African Union peacekeepers base, mirroring recent bombings in Baghdad or Kabul. Within hours, a grainy photo emerged on local websites of a young, gap-toothed man clutching a sign in Arabic over the words "Distributed by al-Shabab." It declared the operation revenge for the U.S.-aided killings of Abu Ayyub al Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the top leaders of the insurgent group al-Qaida in Iraq.
"The foreign jihadists were once in the shadows," said Rashid Abdi, a Somalia analyst in Nairobi with the International Crisis Group, a conflict research organization. "Now, there is no doubt they have taken control of the movement."
Foreigners are increasingly foot soldiers in Somalia as well.
The two New Jersey suspects, Mohamed Mahmood Alessa, 20, and Carlos Eduardo Almonte, 24, appeared Monday in U.S. District Court in Newark on charges of conspiring to kill, maim and kidnap people outside the United States.
In September, a Somali American from Seattle drove a truck bomb into an African Union base in Mogadishu, killing 21 peacekeepers. In December, a Dane of Somali descent blew himself up at a hotel in the capital, killing 24 people, including three government ministers.
In February, al-Shabab formally declared ties to al-Qaida. The militia has received praise from bin Laden and radical Yemeni American cleric Anwar al-Aulaqi, who has been linked to the suspect in last year's shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, and the suspect in an attempted attack aboard a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day. Mr. Aulaqi has been cited as an inspiration by the Pakistani American held in last month's attempted bombing in Times Square.
Al-Shabab's main rival, Hezb-i-Islam, also has proclaimed bin Laden welcome. "We are both fighting the Christian invaders in Somalia," said group spokesman Mohamed Osman Aruz, referring to the West and to Somalia's mostly Christian neighbors who back the government.
The rise of the foreign fighters suggests a growing internationalization of the conflict, part of a trend emerging from Yemen to Mali, where al-Qaida's regional affiliates are showing increasing ambitions nearly a decade after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Today, U.S. officials consider the vast, ungoverned lands of the Arabian Peninsula and Africa the second-biggest terrorism threat after Afghanistan and Pakistan. As the United States focuses its military muscle in those regions, there is concern that more al-Qaeda-linked fighters could migrate to this part of the world.
"The lesson of the last 10 to 15 years of counterterrorism is that, as pressure goes on the network in one place, it moves elsewhere," former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said during a recent visit to Cameroon's capital, Yaounde.
Somalia is where the United States and the West are quietly engaged in the most ambitious effort outside the theaters of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq to halt the spread of radical Islam and al-Qaida's influence. The United States and its allies are providing weapons, training, intelligence and logistical support to the fragile government.
They are also funding the African Union peacekeeping force that protects -- many say props up -- the government. Yet al-Shabab, or "The Youth" in Arabic, now controls large patches of south and central Somalia. The government, divided by political infighting, controls less than five square miles in Mogadishu.
In the capital, al-Qaida-inspired tactics have altered the landscape. Hotels are tucked behind steel gates. Peacekeepers use high-tech gadgets to frisk visitors for explosive belts. Ordinary Somalis avoid empty, parked cars.
The foreign fighters in Somalia number 300 to 1,200, according to Somali and U.S. intelligence estimates. Most are from neighboring countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, Yemen and Sudan. But they include Afghans, Pakistanis and Arabs, say former al-Shabab fighters.
At least 20 Somali Americans have joined the militia, including a top field commander, Omar Hammami, an Alabama native whose nom de guerre is Abu Mansoor al-Ameriki. He has starred in propaganda videos to attract more foreign fighters.
[ Credit: This report can be found reprinted online at Post-Gazette:
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