Obama's first Somalia strike hits Al Qaeda suspect
US commandos killed Kenyan national Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan in a helicopter raid against Mr. Nabhan's convoy, as it traveled through the Barawe district in southern Somalia.
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"If this was done with the authority given by the transitional government, for their sovereignty of Somalia to be infringed by foreign forces, then this will reinforce the impression that Sharif is a puppet," says Ms. Roque.Skip to next paragraph
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Somalia: Terrorist haven?
The attack on Nabhan comes at a time of increasing reports that Somalia, despite the West's efforts, may be becoming a safe haven for terrorists. Somalia's own home-grown Islamist movements appear to have the upper hand in most of southern Somalia, and in the majority of the capital of Mogadishu itself, enforcing a harsh and alien interpretation of Islamic law in the areas under its control.
But while this war for political control rages among Somalis, it is that second war – with perhaps hundreds of foreign Islamist fighters on one side and airborne Western commandos on the other – that could have destabilizing effects on Somalia, prolonging a two-decade long period of conflict that has killed thousands of Somalis and forced millions from their homes.
Just three years ago, the thought of Somalia becoming a training ground for terrorists would have been laughable, in part because it was simply too unstable. Somalia was, in effect, too ungoverned to provide the sort of stable environment where militants could train and learn the finer art of building the perfect truck bomb.
But after the Ethiopian invasion of December 2006 – aimed at removing an Islamist government in Mogadishu – Islamist forces were able to pull back, regroup, and recruit thousands of new fighters, at home and abroad, to repel a foreign, and Christian, occupation of their country.
Today, with perhaps a third of the country under their control, there is enough stability for a terrorist organization to build bases, train recruits, and receive arms shipments without fear of interception by either government forces or international intervention.
Past strikes against Al Qaeda suspects in Somalia
The attack on Nabhan is just the latest killing of a top Al Qaeda operative by US forces.
In May 2008, US drones killed Aden Hashi Ayro, the head of the Somali Islamist movement Al Shabab, which has close ties with Al Qaeda. Mr. Ayro's relations with Al Qaeda helped Al Shabab to modernize its techniques, adopting suicide bomb attacks and improvised landmines that had been tested in Afghanistan and Iraq.
While Al Shabab members have reacted with anger against the US commando attack, other groups fighting Al Shabab see the attack as literally a gift from God.
"We are very pleased with the helicopters that killed the foreign Al Shabab fighters," Sheikh Abdullahi Sheikh Abu Yussuf, a spokesman for the moderate Islamist group Ahlu Sunna wal Jama'a, told Reuters on Monday. "God sent birds against those who attacked the Holy Mosque, the Ka'ba [in Mecca], millennia ago. The same way, God has sent bombers against Al Shabab. We hope more aircraft will destroy the rest of Al Shabab, who have abused Islam and massacred Somalis."