Adam Serwer has written an entire blog post attacking me for “inventing at terrorist group” by supposedly renaming the Somali terror network al Shabab “al Qaeda in East Africa.” Of course, I did no such thing. (If I had, I would not have referred to the group as “al Shabab” at least 15 times – both in the post to which Serwer objects and other columns I have written for The Post).
I have never once referred to al Shabab as “al Qaeda in East Africa.” That is because, while Serwer may not realize it, there is already an actual terrorist group called “al Qaeda in East Africa.” It shares many common leaders with al-Shabab. And in 2008 one of those leaders – Saleh Ali Nabhan, whom The Post has described as “the leader of al-Qaeda in East Africa” – organized al Shabab’s merger with al Qaeda central. According to The Long War Journal:
Nabhan, who knows Osama bin Laden personally and speaks fluent Arabic, formally reached out to al Qaeda senior leaders in a video posted on the Internet on September 2. He declared an oath of bayat (loyalty) on behalf of Shabaab to bin Laden and al Qaeda and encouraged fighters to train in Shabaab-run camps and participate in the fight against the transitional federal government, Ethiopian forces and African Union peacekeepers. (emphasis added)
This oath of loyalty was received and accepted by none other than al Qaeda’s second in command, Ayman Zawahiri:
The response to Shabaab’s declaration came on Nov. 19 when al Qaeda operations chief Ayman al-Zawahiri acknowledged the group in a propaganda video by calling them “my brothers, the lions of Islam in Somalia.”
“(R)ejoice in victory and conquest,” Zawahiri said in an official transcript acquired by The Long War Journal, “and hold tightly to the truth for which you have given your lives, and don’t put down your weapons before the Mujahid state of Islam and Tawheed has been set up in Somalia.”
The messaging exchange mirrors the process followed in 2006 by Algeria’s Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) to request integration into al Qaeda. [NOTE: the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat was also accepted into the bin Laden fold, and is now known as “Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magrheb”]
When an individual terrorist pledges “bayat” – the oath of loyalty to Osama bin Laden – he becomes a member of al Qaeda who is required to follow the al Qaeda leaders’ orders and commands. The same is true when an entire terrorist network pledges “bayat” to bin Laden, as al Shabab did.
And note that the time between al Shabab’s pledge of loyalty to bin Laden and Zawahiri’s video accepting it was just 10 weeks – a land-speed record in the world of jihadist videos. That is because the merger was likely choreographed in advance by Nabhan, who was both an al Shabab leader and bin Laden confidant, and was later killed by U.S. forces in December 2009.
After its merger with al Qaeda, al Shabab launched its first terrorist attack outside of Somalia – the deadly bombings in Uganda that targeted soccer fans as they watched the World Cup final. The attacks killed 74 civilians (including one American), and wounded more than 60 others (including three Americans). The cell that carried out the Uganda bombing was the “Saleh Ali Nabhan Brigade” – named for the late al Qaeda leader. Again, The Long War Journal reports:
The Saleh Ali Nabhan Brigade is likely led or directed by Fazul Mohammed, who was appointed by Osama bin Laden as al Qaeda’s leader in East Africa in late 2009 [following the killing of Nabhan]. Before Nabhan’s death, Fazul served as the military operations chief for al Qaeda in East Africa. Fazul is an experienced al Qaeda leader who is known to be able to move in and out of East African countries with ease.
Fazul Mohammed is not the only senior al Qaeda leader who has assumed a leadership role in al Shabab. According to The East African, a report compiled by the African Union Mission for Somalia (AMISOM) lists some of the foreign terrorists who began arriving in Somalia in early 2009 (following the merger with al Qaeda) to take up senior positions in al Shabab. They include:
· Sheikh Mohamed Abu Faid (Saudi-born, financier and “manager” of Al-Shabaab);
· Abu Musa Mombasa (Pakistani, who arrived to replace Saleh Ali Nabhan);
· Mohamoud Mujajir (Sudanese, in charge of recruitment of suicide bombers); and
· Abdifatah Aweys Abu Hamsa (a Somali national trained in Afghanistan, who is commander of the Mujahidin of Al-Quds).
Another al Qaeda leader not mentioned in the AMISOM report who is now serving in a senior position in al Shabab is Issa Osman Issa, a Kenyan of Somali descent, who serves as a top al Qaeda recruiter in East Africa and military strategist for Shabab. Issa is a long-time al Qaeda operative who participated in the al Qaeda attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Indeed, so many al Qaeda leaders have assumed leadership positions in al Shabab, that The East African recently reported, “Al Qaeda veterans now run Al Shabaab militia”:
Foreign jihadists have overrun the Somali nationals previously in charge of Al Shabaab, a development blamed for the movement’s new posture as an exporter of terrorism and a threat to stability in East Africa and beyond.
The Islamists, mostly veterans of the Al Qaeda training camps of Afghanistan, now control the movement’s policy making organs and were directly responsible for ordering the Kampala bombings which announced the Al Shabaab’s arrival as an actor with a reach that extends beyond Somali territory….
“The hardline wing of extremists that have taken over the Al Shabaab aspire to the creation of an ill-defined Islamic caliphate,” says International Crisis Group Horn of Africa director Ernst Jan Hogendoorn. “The attacks in Kampala increased threat perceptions in the region. But it is important that the response to the attacks do not exacerbate the problem.”
Serwer appears completely unaware of these developments. And while he insists the groups have not merged, al Shabab leaders beg to differ. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in August 2008 – just before the merger took place – a top al Shabab leader explained quite clearly what was taking place:
“We are negotiating how we can unite into one,” said Muktar Robow, a top military commander of Shabab, which the U.S. State Department designated a terrorist organization this year. “We will take our orders from Sheik Osama bin Laden because we are his students.”… “Al Qaeda is the mother of the holy war in Somalia,” he said. “Most of our leaders were trained in Al Qaeda camps. We get our tactics and guidelines from them. Many have spent time with Osama bin Laden.”
And then there is Omar Hammami, al Shabab’s Alabama-born military commander (and the subject of my post to which Serwer objected). Hammami exchanged emails with a New York Times reporter in December 2009 and was asked about his group’s relations with al Qaeda and its intentions toward the American homeland:
“We espouse the same creed and methodology of Al Qaeda,” [Hammami] wrote. Of Osama bin Laden, he said, “All of us are ready and willing to obey his commands.” Did Hammami, like bin Laden, consider America a legitimate target for attack? “It’s quite obvious that I believe America is a target,” he wrote.
Res ipsa loquitur.