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Terrorism Watch

Man in Australia Hostage-taking, Shootout Had Militant Connections



Harun Maruf

An Australian man of Somali origin who killed one person and took another hostage had connections with two prominent militant groups, VOA has learned.

Yacqub Khayre was killed in a shootout with police Monday after killing an employee of a Melbourne apartment building and holding a woman captive inside one of the apartments. Three police officers were injured in the exchange.

The Islamic State militant group has claimed responsibility for the incident. Police say they are treating this as a “terrorism incident,” but add that they have not seen messages showing that Khayre was guided by an outside force.

A relative told VOA’s Somali Service that Khayre, 29, had past connections to both Islamic State and the Somali militant group al-Shabab.

Yacqub Khayre: Melbourne siege gunman’s history of violent crime and drugs

Violent history

Khayre was born in the Somali city of Baidoa; his birth name is Yacqub Ahmed Mohamed. He moved to a Kenyan refugee camp with his family in 1992, after the outbreak of civil war in Somalia, before moving to Australia with his grandparents in 1994.

He returned to Somalia in mid-2006 when the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) took over most of southern and central Somalia, according to the relative. At the time al-Shabab fighters were part of the ICU.

The relative, speaking on condition of anonymity, says he is “certain” that Khayre trained with members of al-Shabab near Baidoa for three months. “He travelled there against the wishes of his family,” says the relative.

After the intervention of Ethiopian troops and the collapse of the ICU, Khayre fled the country and travelled to Kenya. He was arrested at Jomo Kenyatta airport in Nairobi in 2006 by Kenyan authorities.

“After being arrested by Kenya security forces he was handed over to Interpol and the FBI,” says the relative who was familiar with the arrest. “He was later handed over to the Australian authorities.”

Lack of evidence

After returning to Australia, Khayre was involved in other crimes, including robbery.

He was among a group of men charged with plotting to attack an Australia army base in Sydney in August 2009. He was later released for lack of evidence, while three other members of the group were convicted and given jail sentences.

Khayre then spent 16 months in a high security facility for terrorism offenses, but was acquitted and later released in 2010, according to the Australia Broadcasting Corporation.

In 2012, he was arrested after committing robbery while armed with a knife. He was reportedly under the influence of drugs and was sentenced to five years. He was released in November last year on parole, according to the relative.

‘No doubt’

The relative says he has “no doubt” that Khayre was radicalized. He says Khayre knew at least one Australian of Somali origin who travelled to Syria to fight for ISIS.

“He was a close buddy to Sharmarke, an ISIS militant from Australia who was killed three years ago,” the relative said.

Sharmarke Jama was an Australian model and DJ who joined ISIS. His death in 2014 in Syria attracted media attention. Jama was from Melbourne, as was Khayre.

According to sources, police have seized all the family members’ electronic gadgets for review. “The whole family is now treated as a scene for crime,” said the relative.

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Somali News

At least 14 dead, several hurt in car bomb in Somali capital



ABC — At least 14 people were killed and 10 others wounded in a car bomb blast near a hotel in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, Somali officials said Thursday.

Capt. Mohamed Hussein said the explosion occurred near the Weheliye hotel on the busy Makka Almukarramah road. The road has been a target of attacks in the past by the Somalia-based extremist group al-Shabab, the deadliest Islamic extremist group in Africa.

Most of the casualties were passers-by and traders, Hussein told The Associated Press. The toll of dead and wounded was announced by security ministry spokesman Abdulaziz Hildhiban.

Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the blast. The group frequently attacks Mogadishu’s high-profile areas such as hotels and military checkpoints. A truck bombing in October killed 512 people in the country’s deadliest-ever attack. Only a few attacks since 9/11 have killed more people. Al-Shabab was blamed.

Thursday’s blast comes almost exactly a month after two car bomb explosions in Mogadishu shattered a months-long period of calm in the city, killing at least 21 people.

The Horn of Africa nation continues to struggle to counter the Islamic extremist group. Concerns have been high over plans to hand over the country’s security to Somalia’s own forces as a 21,000-strong African Union force begins a withdrawal that is expected to be complete in 2020.

The U.S. military, which has stepped up efforts against al-Shabab in the past year with dozens of drone strikes, has said Somali forces are not yet ready.

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Terrorism Watch

Somali forces kill 32 Al-Shabaab fighters in central Somalia



MOGADISHU, March 17 (Xinhua) — Thirty-two Al-Shabaab militants were killed in a fierce fighting with the Somali National Army (SNA) in the past 24 hours, Somali officials said on Saturday.

Ahmed Mohamed Teredisho, Somali Army Commander in Hiiraan region, told reporters that the fighting took place in Hiiraan region after armed Al-Shabaab members tried to impose taxes on villagers around Mahas town.

“We have killed 32 Al-Shabaab militants at an area about 28 km to Mahas town in Hiiraan region after heavy fighting with Al-Shabaab fighters. SNA soldiers were reinforced by locals to help fight the enemy in the region in the past 24 hours,” Teredisho said.

He did not disclose the number of soldiers or civilians injured in the latest fighting in central Somalia.

The locals said the government soldiers backed with villagers engaged in more than six hours of battle with the insurgents.

Al-Shabaab militants have not commented on the military victory claimed by the Somali government officials in the region.

A resident told Xinhua by phone that confrontation was first staged between locals and Al-Shabaab fighters and then Somali Army later joined to defeat the militants.

Meanwhile, Somali security officials said a roadside bomb has targeted a pickup vehicle carrying members of the security forces in the outskirts of Mogadishu.

The officials said on Saturday that a remote-controlled landmine struck the vehicle along the road between Mogadishu and Afgoye, injuring two security forces and a civilian.

The Saturday attacks by Al-Shabaab militants was the latest in series of improvised explosive device blasts targeting Somali and Africa Union mission troops on the key road linking Mogadishu to Afgoye district in the recent past.

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Briefing Room

US lists Shabaab’s leader in Kenya, wanted commander as global terrorists



The US State Department added Ahmad Iman Ali, the leader of Shabaab’s network in Kenya, and Abdifatah Abubakar Abdi, a dangerous Kenyan commander, to its list of Specially Designated Global terrorists on March 8. The two Shabaab leaders have fueled the group’s insurgency in Kenya and southern Somalia for the past decade and are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of civilians.

Ahmad Iman Ali

Ali was appointed by Shabaab to lead its group in Jan. 2012, just three days after the Muslim Youth Center (MYC) merged with Shabaab and announced that it was “part of al Qaeda East Africa.”

“Allah favours our beloved al Shabaab, and al Shabaab in return has placed the responsibility of waging jihad in Kenya in the capable Kenyan hands of our Amiir Sheikh Ahmad Iman Ali,” the MYC said when it announced that it joined Shabaab.

Additionally, the MYC said that Ali is following in the footsteps of “brother Fazul,” or Fazul Mohammed, the former leader of al Qaeda’s operations in East Africa who also served as a senior leader in Shabaab. Fazul was indicted along with Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri, and other top al Qaeda leaders by the US government for his involvement in the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Somali troops killed Fazul at a checkpoint south of Mogadishu in June 2011.

Ali was a cleric for the Muslim Youth Center, and he has advocated for Muslims to wage jihad across the world.

“[If you] are unable to reach the land of jihad, the land of ribat, like the land of Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Algeria, or Iraq, if you are unable to reach these lands which have established the banner of tawheed and the Shariah of Allah, then raise your sword against the enemy that is closest to you,” Ali said when he was named to lead Shabaab’s operations in Kenya.

According to the MYC, Ali has fought in southern Somalia, where he led other Kenyans against Somali troops and African Union forces. State’s designation said that Ali is the “director of the group’s Kenyan operations, which has targeted Kenyan African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops in Somalia,”

According to State, Ali was responsible for the Jan. 2016 assault on a Kenyan base in El Adde, Somalia. The United Nations later found that “150 Kenyan soldiers were killed during the attack, making it the largest military defeat in Kenyan history.” Additionally, 11 kenyan soldiers were captured. [See LWJ reports, Shabaab overruns African Union base in southern Somalia and Kenyan soldier held hostage since Jan. 2016 appears in Shabaab video.]

In addition to serving as Shabaab’s leader in Kenya and its operational commander against Kenyan forces in southern Somalia, Ali is a propagandist, a recruiter who targets “poor youth in Nairobi slums,” and a fundraiser.

Abdifatah Abubakar Abdi

Abdi, who is also known as Musa Muhajir, leads a group of Kenyan jihadists who have been described by the Kenyan government as “bloodthirsty, armed and dangerous,” according to The Nation. In 2015, the government put him at the top of a list of wanted jihadists.

“He is believed to be planning further attacks at the Coast. He is currently in Boni Forest with his associates,” a Kenyan government report that detailed the activities of Abdi and other jihadists noted.

State noted that Abdi is “wanted in connection with the June 2014 attack in Mpeketoni, Kenya that claimed more than 50 lives.” Shabaab claimed the brutal attack and claimed it was carried out to punish Kenya for deploying troops to Somalia.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.

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