One of the masterminds of the 1998 US embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, has been killed in Mogadishu, authorities in Nairobi confirmed on Saturday.
Police commissioner Matthew Iteere told the Sunday Nation that Fazul was killed at a checkpoint in the Somali capital by Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government officers.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was the first US official to publicly confirm the death of Fazul.
She called it “a just end for a terrorist who brought so much death and pain to so many innocents” from the embassy bombings.”
Fazul’s death brought to an end one of the most elaborate and expensive manhunts in East Africa.
But a network – probably battered by Fazul’s death – remains that security agencies in the region will still have to dismantle.
Separately, anti-terrorism police sources said that DNA identification tests had been conducted on the bodies of the two men killed at the road block before their identity was confirmed.
The other was a Somali national. Reuters news agency quoted Mogadishu police confirming they had killed Fazul.
“He had a fake South African passport and of course other documents. After thorough investigations, we confirmed it was him, and then we buried his corpse,” the news agency quoted Halima Aden, a senior national security officer in Mogadishu.
Security agencies also issued a picture of the man who had eluded capture for nearly 13 years and who was believed to epitomise al Qaeda and al Shabaab activities across East Africa.
The picture showed that Fazul had apparently been shot in the chest and his head was intact.
Fazul, believed to be about 38 (his exact date of birth is not known), joined al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and trained there with Osama bin Laden, the terror network’s leader, according to the transcript of an FBI interrogation of a known associate.
The US government had placed a $5m (about Sh400 million) reward on his head for allegedly conspiring to bomb the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
He was also suspected of planning the bombing of the Paradise Beach Hotel at Kikambala in Kilifi and a near simultaneous attempt to shoot down an Israeli aircraft in November 2002. In the Kikambala bombing, 15 people were killed and more than 80 injured.
Fazul was said to have held citizenship in the Comoros Islands and Kenya. He was indicted on September 17, 1998, in a U.S. federal district court in Manhattan for his alleged involvement in the bombings of the US embassies.
It is understood that President Kibaki was briefed on Thursday about the killing of the man most wanted for the embassy bombings that killed 201 Kenyans and 12 Americans on August 7, 1998.
The incident happened on the northwestern outskirts of the Somali capital, according to a regional security source.
The two men were driving in a pickup truck full of medicine, laptops and mobile phones. They apparently took a wrong turn while trying to reach an al Shabaab position and ended up in an area under TFG control.
A Somali source close to the investigation said Fazul was carrying a South African passport in the name of Daniel Robinson that gave his date of birth as 1971.
The passport issued April 13, 2009 indicated that its bearer left South Africa for Tanzania on March 19 and was granted a visa there. The Tanzanian visa was the only one in the passport.
He was also carrying $40,000 in cash, the same Somali source said. He appeared to have come from Lower Juba in southern Somalia where he was heading a group of foreign fighters under the name of Abu-Abdirahman the Canadian.
“Fazul was travelling in a truck with another al Qaeda and al Shabaab operative named Musa Dheere, who was also killed in the firefight,” a source familiar with the briefing said. Dheere was a one-legged explosions expert who used a prosthetic aid to walk.
The two men were in a pickup truck when they approached the checkpoint – according to accounts relayed to Nairobi security agencies by Somali government officials – when they were flagged down.
“One of the two men pulled out a gun, and the officers manning the checkpoint fired back, killing the two instantly. Since then, DNA tests have been conducted and the identity verified,” said the police source.
A senior al Shabaab commander told the French news agency AFP that it was Fazul and his fellow operative who had been killed.
“One of the men that was killed near Mogadishu was Fazul Abdullah, may Allah bless his soul.
“He is not dead as thousands like him are still in the fight against the enemy of Allah,” a senior al Shabaab commander had earlier told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Fazul is believed to have worked alongside Wadih El Hage who was arrested in September 1998. He was tried and convicted in 2001 and is serving a life sentence in a US jail.
Fazul and El Hage shared a rented a house in Nairobi’s upmarket Runda neighbourhood from where they planned their deadly attack on the Nairobi embassy.
It is believed that Fazul drove the lead truck in the Nairobi embassy bombing a few minutes before 10 a.m. and then escaped before it was detonated.
At 10:30 a.m. and 10:40 a.m. suicide bombers in two trucks laden with explosives detonated them at the embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi almost simultaneously.
In Nairobi, approximately 212 people were killed, and an estimated 4,000 wounded. In Dar es Salaam, the attack killed at least 11 and wounded 85.
Among the dead in Nairobi were two CIA agents named Tom Shah and Molly Huckaby Hardy.
While a driver identified as Azzam drove the truck quickly toward the Nairobi embassy along with Mohamed Rashed Daoud Al-Owhali, local security guard Benson Okuku Bwaku was warned to open the gate immediately – and was fired at when he refused to comply.
Rebuffed, Al-Owhali threw a stun grenade at embassy guards before exiting the vehicle and running off.
Osama bin Laden later offered the explanation that it had been Al-Owhali’s intention to leap out and shoot the guards to clear a path for the truck, but he had left his pistol in the truck and instead ran off.
As Mr Bwaku radioed to Marine Post One for backup, the truck detonated.
The explosion damaged the embassy building and flattened the neighbouring Ufundi Sacco Building where most of the victims were killed, mainly students and staff of a secretarial college housed there.