Official says top Al Qaeda leader in Somalia killed

The weak transitional government of Somalia claimed Tuesday that its forces killed Amar Ibrahim, a leader of Al Qaeda in Somalia and the Islamist group Al Shabab.

Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP/File
Al Shabab fighters conduct military exercise in a northern Mogadishu neighborhood in this Jan 1 file photo. The hardline Islamic group's leader, Amar Ibrahim, was reportedly killed Tuesday.

Somali government forces have killed Al Qaeda’s top commander in Somalia, a government spokesman said. The killing comes as the government is receiving newly trained Somali soldiers – fresh from boot camps in Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, and Uganda – who have already begun the first forays of a major offensive to push Islamist rebels out of their strongholds in Mogadishu and southern Somalia.

Somali National Security Minister Abbdullahi Mohamad Ali told the BBC that government forces had killed a top Al Qaeda commander but declined to provide the man's name. Somali state radio had earlier reported that the victim was Amar Ibrahim, a Jordanian national and member both of Al Qaeda and of the Somali Islamist group Al Shabab. The radio station, however, said Mr. Ibrahim was killed by his own bodyguards, not Somali troops.

Whatever the circumstances, this would be the second senior Al Qaeda commander to be killed in six months. US and Somali officials say that Mr. Ibrahim had replaced Kenyan-born Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, the man blamed for attacks on a Mombasa hotel and an Israeli airliner in 2002, after US Navy Seals killed Mr. Nabhan in a helicopter raid last September.

Most experts agree that foreigners still make up a tiny minority of Al Shabab’s forces – perhaps 200 from Pakistan, India, Yemen, Afghanistan, Lebanon, South Africa, and even a few white Muslims from the US. One regional analyst in Nairobi calls them a “force multiplier.” Some Somali military officials says the skills these foreigners brought with them pushed them quickly to the top of Al Shabab’s command structure – with Afghans teaching Somalis how to assemble and use suicide bombs, for instance.

Now some Somalis say that the foreigners – and particularly members of Al Qaeda -- are in charge of Al Shabab. Shabab’s current leader is Fazul Mohamad, who comes from the Comoros Islands off of the east coast of Africa.

National Security Minister Ali told the BBC that the government would “provide evidence later” about who was killed. Some caution is warranted. Previous attacks by both US commandos and by Somali forces have initially been reported as successful raids on Al Shabab or Al Qaeda fighters, only to be corrected later as having resulted only in the deaths of Somali civilians.

Al Shabab has not made a comment about Ibrahim’s death.

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