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Terrorism Watch

State Department designates 3 al Qaeda figures as global terrorists



The State Department has added three commanders from al Qaeda’s branches in Yemen, Somalia, and North Africa to the US government’s list of specially designated global terrorists.

One of the jihadists is responsible for planning the Mar. 2015 Bardo Museum attack in Tunis, according to Foggy Bottom. Another serves as Shabaab’s deputy emir.

State listed the three al Qaeda figures as Wanas al-Faqih from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Abukar Ali Adan from Shabaab (al Qaeda’s branch in East Africa), and Muhammad Al Ghazali from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The three al Qaeda branches wage insurgencies in their respective regions while continuing to plot terrorist attacks elsewhere, including against Western interests.

Wanas al-Faqih

Al-Faqih “is an AQIM associate who planned the March 18, 2015 Bardo Museum attack in Tunis, Tunisia that killed at least 20 people,” State says.

The US government’s decision to finger al-Faqih for the Bardo Museum massacre is noteworthy, as there has been some confusion concerning responsibility for the operation.

The Islamic State quickly claimed responsibility for the murders.

The eighth issue of the group’s Dabiq magazine provided a brief overview of the plot. Dabiq’s editors wrote that a pair of Tunisian jihadists “were sent on their mission after having trained with their brothers in Libya and having declared their bay’ah [oath of allegiance]” to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s self-declared caliphate.

“They returned to Tunisia, bravely advanced towards the security quarter in Tunis, entered the museum – located across from the Tunisian parliament – and poured terror on the kuffār inside, killing more than 20 of them and injuring a dozen others,” Dabiq’s editors added. That same issue of the group’s propaganda rag included an interview with Boubaker al-Hakim, a veteran jihadist who was implicated in high-profile assassinations inside Tunisia. Al-Hakim praised the Bardo gunmen and called on Islamic State supporters to follow in their footsteps.

In Feb. 2016, the US targeted Noureddine Chouchane, a Tunisian, in an airstrike in Libya. Chouchane was an Islamic State facilitator who shuttled fighters between North Africa and elsewhere. The Tunisian government had identified Chouchane as a suspect in the assault on Bardo Museum.

However, Tunisian authorities also blamed members of the Uqba bin Nafi Battalion, a wing of AQIM, for the Bardo slayings. Al-Faqih has long had ties to the group. In Apr. 2015, for instance, al-Faqih eulogized Uqba bin Nafi Battalion leader Lokman Abu Sakhr, swearing that the Tunisian jihad would outlive Sakhr. Tunisian officials had implicated Sakhr in the Bardo killings as well. In separate messages, al-Faqih has also called for additional attacks inside Tunisia.

The Islamic State poached members from AQIM and its front groups in order to swell its ranks in North Africa. So, it is possible that the Bardo Museum terrorists were initially part of AQIM and its Uqba bin Nafi Battalion, but decided to defect to Baghdadi’s cause.

Abukar Ali Adan

State described Adan as the “deputy leader of al-Shabaab” but provided no other details on him. Research by FDD’s Long War Journal shows that Adan fits the profile of a rising star in al Qaeda’s East African branch.

Adan’s career can be traced back to Mar. 2010, when he was identified in a Reuters report as Shabaab’s “chairman” along the border with Kenya. In May of that same year, he was reported to be Shabaab’s leader for the southern city of Kismayo. At that time, Kismayo was controlled by Shabaab and was a central hub for the jihadists’ economic and military operations in southern Somalia.

As the emir for Kismayo, Adan wielded significant power, which he used to recruit and expand Shabaab’s footprint. In Dec. 2011, Adan said that teachers and students were obligated to participate in Shabaab’s jihad against the government and the West.

Adan continued to rise within the ranks of Shabaab’s top leadership. In July 2012, a BBC Monitoring report identified Adan as the emir of the Lower and Middle Juba regions, the two southernmost provinces in Somalia where Shabaab’s insurgency has been anchored. He answered directly to Sheikh Godane, Shabaab’s previous emir, at the time.

By 2014, Adan had entered Shabaab’s top leadership circle. According to the International Crisis Group, Adan served as the “overall Al-Shabaab military/militia head.” As the head of its military, Adan would be one of the most powerful figures within Shabaab. Traditionally, Shabaab’s military emir also serves as the group’s deputy emir.

Muhammad Al Ghazali

State also provided few details on Ghazali. He is described as “a senior member of AQAP who is involved in internal security and training of the group’s operatives.”

As a leader within AQAP’s internal security branch, Ghazali would be involved in rooting out “spies,” as well as suppressing dissent from rival jihadist groups such as the Islamic State.

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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