Earlier this month al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda’s dangerous Somalian proxy, threatened to attack Israel. “The Jews started to destroy parts of the holy mosque of al-Aqsa and they routinely kill our Palestinian brothers, so we are committed to defend our Palestinian brothers,” an al-Shabaab commander named Mukhtar Robow Abu Mansur declared in a firebrand sermon delivered from a small village in Somalia. A local radio station broadcast the sermon and then CNN picked up the story, focusing on the fact that the African-based terror organization was “far from its normal base” in threatening Israel.
In fact, al-Shabaab is very much on the international threat radar these days. So much so that just last month the White House authorized a daring, dangerous, and successful attack against the al-Shabaab/al-Qaeda partnership in Somalia, killing an estimated nine operatives including Saleh Ali Nabhan, who was wanted by the FBI.
The raid, called Operation Celestial Balance, remains officially unconfirmed by the White House. According to eyewitnesses, it took place on September 14 and involved two attack helicopters that were deployed from a nearby Navy ship. The raid echoed the “Black Hawk Down” incident of 1993, but with entirely different results. Bill Roggio of the Long War Journal reports:
A car transporting [Saleh Ali] Nabhan and five other foreign fighters was escorted by another car carrying three Shabaab escorts; the vehicles were hit as they stopped for breakfast as they traveled to Kismayo.
According to one witness, upwards of six helicopters were involved in the raid. At least two AH-6 Little Bird special operations attack helicopters strafed the two-car convoy. Other helicopters dismounted Navy SEALs, who seized the body of Nabhan and another, and purportedly took two other wounded fighters captive. An unconfirmed report indicated that Sheikh Hussein Ali Fidow, a senior Shabaab leader, was among those killed.
On October 12, 2009, a jihadi website posted Nabhan’s biography, confirming his death and calling him a “martyred commander.”
In life, Saleh Ali Nabhan’s terror goals were anything but local. He was originally placed on the FBI’s Seeking Information-War on Terrorism list for his role in the East Africa embassy bombings in 1998. In the years since, Nabhan is believed to have been involved in several international terror plots and attacks, including the 2002 Mombasa, Kenya, attacks, which specifically targeted Israeli interests there.
On November 28, 2002, terrorists on the ground in Mombasa launched a shoulder-fired missile at an Arkia Israel Airlines Boeing 757 as it was leaving the Mombasa airport with 261 passengers and ten crew members. The missile did not bring down the aircraft, but the Israeli government called it a near miss. Approximately 20 minutes after the missiles were fired, three suicide bombers detonated themselves at the Israeli-owned Mombasa Paradise Hotel at Kikambala. Thirteen people were killed and 80 injured. Most of the hotel’s guests were reportedly from Israel, and much of the hotel was reduced to rubble. The jihad group that posted his martyr’s biography stated that Nabhan was the commander of both attacks.
After the September helicopter attack, which killed Nabhan and his fellow fighters, al-Shabaab issued a statement vowing revenge against America. “They will taste the bitterness of our response,” an al-Shabaab commander told the Associated Press. A few weeks later, the group threatened Israel.
No doubt troubling for the White House is how much Somalia is now becoming like Afghanistan once was. Not only is it difficult for the U.S. and its allies to place intelligence assets there, al-Shabaab is showing an ever increasing ability to recruit Americans and U.S. residents and turn them into jihadists.
Al-Shabaab recently released a propaganda video featuring its new American spokesman Abu Mansour, also known as Omar Hammami. According to the NEFA Foundation, Hammami grew up in Daphne, Alabama, and majored in computer science at the University of South Alabama before he left during his sophomore year. The video he appears in is called “At Your Service O’ Osama.”
Equally problematic is that in the past 18 months, at least 20 young men from Minneapolis between the ages of 17 and 27 have traveled back to their native Somalia to join the jihad. Al-Shabaab is on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. Traveling to Somalia to train with them is illegal. Several have been confirmed by the Justice Department as having died in suicide bombings in Africa, and the FBI’s fear is that others will return to America and commit terrorist attacks here.