In killing Nabhan, America may have helped push the Al-Shaabab’s cause
Posted Thursday, October 8 2009 at 19:50
It was mid-morning on September 14, when six American helicopters emerged over the coastline of the Lower Shabelle region in Southern Somalia. The helicopters flew further inland up the Italian-built highway that links Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, to the southern port town of Kismayu.
Villagers, fishermen and pastoralists in Barawe district were not surprised by strange planes flying over the territory, according to Nur Munye Abdi, a resident in Mogadishu who hails from Lower Shabelle region. Still, many thought there was something unusual about six helicopters hovering overhead in pairs.
The villagers in the Robow settlement soon discovered what the helicopters were up to, when they suddenly fired at two vehicles travelling along the Mogadishu-Kismayu highway.
A few minutes later soldiers, who were later identified as US Marines, descended from the helicopters to inspect the targeted vehicles.
Dead or alive
The full details of the American mission emerged when some days later US media reported that Marines carried out an operation in southern Somalia that killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a Kenyan with alleged links to Al-Qaeda. Nabhan’s death will have robbed Al-Qaeda of an important leader of its operations in East Africa.
No one could have been more interested in Salah Nabhan, dead or alive, than the Americans, because they believe he was one of the masterminds of the deadly terrorist bombing of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998.
The events at Robow village, about 200 km south of Mogadishu, would ordinarily have altered the political landscape in strife-torn Somalia. But being Somalia, the change might not be what most people hoped for.
The reaction in Somalia has been mixed feelings. It was the first time the US combined sharp shooters and precision missiles inside Somalia in a very long time. Hassan Ali Hamari, a Mogadishu resident, saw in the approach of the US a policy change by the new US president Barack Obama; “It signals the end of the Bush (former US President George W. Bush) era and the begging of a more careful one,” he remarked.
He might well have a point. The fact that the operation singled out a couple vehicles travelling on a largely deserted road was a sharp contrast from what happened on May 1, 2008. Then, a missile was fired from a UN warship and hit a house in Dusamareb district in Central Somalia, killing Aden Hashi Ayro’, an Islamist militia leader of Al-Shabaab, also with alleged links to Al-Qaeda.
The missile, according to residents in Dusamareb town, affected an entire neighbourhood and killed not only Ayro’ and his colleagues but also tens of people in adjacent houses.
The death of Nabhan takes out of play two radical international Jihadists wanted by the US in East Africa. The other one, Abu Taha Al-Sudani was reportedly killed during resistance against pro-government forces in November 2006. That leaves Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, a Jihadist from Comoros Island, as the sole survivor among the most wanted people with Al-Qaeda connections in Somalia.
The influx of international Jihadists into Somalia has given many parties, especially in the neighbouring countries, a few sleepless nights.
Indeed Ethiopia invaded Somalia at the end of 2006 and helped oust the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) government that it viewed as being too fundamentalist. The US and UN listed a number of Somali and foreign individuals and organisations, accusing them of having a terrorist agenda that is hostile to the security of the wider East African region, and the world.
In any event, the ouster of the ICU and the incompetence of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) that was cobbled out of negotiations in Nairobi, backfired.
It radicalised the opposition and gave birth to Al-Shabaab, which is thought to be so extreme, it makes the ICU look like kindergarten kids.
Thus in one of the unending ironies of Somalia, early this year ICU leader Sheikh Sharif Ahmed was elected by Parliament to be the country’s leader because, compared to the other options, he is a moderate!
Supporters of Al-Shabaab and other radical Islamist groups in Somalia reject the tendency to classify international Jihadists as foreigners.