NAIROBI, Kenya — A young Somali-American militant blew himself up in a suicide attack against African Union troops in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, over the weekend.
Abdisalan Hussein Ali, 22, from Minnesota, left behind a chilling audio in which he urged other young Muslims to follow his path to jihad and carry out suicide missions.
Ali's nine-minute martyrdom message has been posted on Somalimemo.net, a website used by Al Shabaab, the Al Qaeda-aligned militant group operating primarily in Somalia.
Speaking with an American accent he described jihad as “obligatory” and encouraged his “Muslim brothers and sisters” to kill themselves in the name of Allah.
“Today jihad is what is most important. Do jihad in America, Canada, England, Europe, anywhere you can fight them,” he said in a soft-spoken voice, punctuated with American vernacular.
“It is not important that you, you know, become a doctor or, you know, some sort of engineer,” he said. “Our goal is not to capture a country, or a place or a city or a town. Our goal is to die as Muslims.”
He urged Muslim youngsters in the West to go online and watch videos to learn about jihad. “Don’t just sit around and be a couch potato and just chill all day,” he says.
Ali formed one half of a suicide squad that led an assault on African Union troops in Mogadishu, becoming the third U.S. citizen to blow himself up.
For years the FBI has been concerned about the disappearance of dozens of young Somali-Americans, mostly from Minnesota, who are believed to have joined the ranks of Al Shabaab.
The fear that they might return to the United States, radicalized, trained and eager to carry out suicide bombings are so far unrealized, but the death of Ali on Saturday underscores how the American-Somalis are among Shabaab’s most extreme members.
The weekend attack on a base used by soldiers from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) was spearheaded by two suicide bombers in Somali army uniforms who were followed by a wave of Shabaab gunmen.
Al Shabaab claimed the attack killed as many as 80 AMISOM soldiers, including a commander, but these claims were dismissed by AMISOM, which said the “failed attack” was beaten back by Somali and AMISOM troops.
One of the first suicide bombers in Somalia was another Somali-American called Shirwa Ahmed, 26, who blew himself up in 2008 in Puntland as part of a wave of suicide attacks that declared Al Shabaab’s growing extremism and links to Al Qaeda.
The most high profile American recruited to Al Shabaab is Omar Hammami from Alabama who, as Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki, appears alongside other commanders at Al Shabaab rallies and posts online jihadist recruitment videos that often feature his homemade raps. It was reported that he had been killed earlier this year but Al-Amriki has since posted a new rap.
Somalia’s Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, himself a diaspora Somali from New York State, was in Nairobi on Monday for talks with his Kenyan counterpart, Raila Odinga, about an ongoing military operation in southern Somalia that seeks to push the Shabaab out of its stronghold in the port city of Kismayo.
He said that Ali’s death was proof of the Shabaab’s “obnoxious ideology” and its reach that stretches “beyond the confines of Somalia.”
Kenya’s invasion of Somalia started two weeks ago, after a series of kidnappings of foreigners that it blamed on the militants, and is already running into trouble.
It is the rainy season in the Horn of Africa and Kenya’s troops, armored vehicles and tanks appear to be bogged down in thick mud on the road to Afmadow, where Al Shabaab fighters are believed to be digging in for a fight.
Kenya’s military spokesman, Major Emmanuel Chirchir, told GlobalPost the troops were not stuck but were drawing in Al Shabaab fighters in preparation for a planned assault on Afmadow.
Last week Shabaab fighters launched an ambush attempt that seemed to be aimed at cutting Kenya’s long supply lines that now stretch about 60 miles (100 kilometers) from the border.
Then on Sunday a Kenyan air strike appeared to go awry, killing and wounding dozens of civilians around the town of Jilib.
At least five civilians — including three children — were killed and dozens injured when bombs struck a bus stop and a camp where 9,000 people displaced by the ongoing famine in parts of southern Somalia are living.
On Monday Gautam Chatterjee, head of the Somalia mission at the Dutch branch of the aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), which is treating casualties in a hospital at the nearby town of Marere, nine miles (15 kms) away, said that 31 of the 45 wounded in Sunday’s bombing were children.
The Shabaab threatened reprisals for what it said was the deliberate targeting of civilians. Kenya’s military insisted the airstrikes had hit a Shabaab camp killing 10 fighters and wounding 47 and denied there had been any civilian deaths as a result of the bombing.