Somali forces confirmed that they have killed Al Qaeda’s most senior operative in East Africa: Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who planned the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanazania. The announcement comes as a blow to the terrorist organization, which has lost three of its top leaders in recent weeks, including Osama bin Laden.
US authorities had placed a $5 million bounty on Mohammed, who was responsible for at least 224 deaths in the embassy bombings.Somali forces killed Mr. Mohammed at a checkpoint in Mogadishu on Tuesday, but officials did not immediately realize they’d killed one of the FBI’s most wanted terrorists until Saturday because Mohammed was carrying a South African passport. He and another person reportedly got lost and accidentally drove to a Somali security checkpoint point, reports the Washington Post. Somali security forces opened fire when Mohammed’s truck sped away.
Mohammed’s death broadens Al Qaeda's power vacuum following bin Laden's death, and will likely disrupt Al Qaeda’s operations in East Africa. Al Qaeda has made no official announcement of a replacement to bin Laden, although unconfirmed reports suggested Egyptian militant Saif al-Adel had taken a temporary leadership position.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Mohammed's death a “significant blow to Al Qaeda, its extremist allies, and its operations in East Africa," according to the Associated Press. “It is a just end for a terrorist who brought so much death and pain to so many innocents in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam and elsewhere — Tanzanians, Kenyans, Somalis, and our own embassy personnel," she said.
Evan Kohlmann, a terrorist expert quoted by the Washington Post, said Mohammed's death was "one the final nails in the coffin of the original first generation al-Qaeda leaders in East Africa,” said Evan Kohlmann, a terrorism expert in a Washington Post article.
Mohammed played a critical role for the Al Qaeda organization in bringing together militant groups in East Africa who had largely nationalist and regional goals, reports the Los Angeles Times. Born in the region, Mohammed managed to encourage groups such as Somalia’s Al Shabab militant group to take on a larger, global jihad.
Commanders from Al Shabab have confirmed the Al Qaeda leader’s death and expressed their sadness, but asserted that "thousands" of like-minded militants would continue the fight.
“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 Shebab commander told Agence France-Presse.
Mohammed is the third major commander killed since the bin Laden raid on May 2. Earlier this month, Ilyas Kashmiri, a senior Al Qaeda leader who helped plan the 2008 Mumbai attack, was reportedly killed in Pakistan by a US drone strike.
So far, the killing of Kashmiri and Mohammed appear to have been conducted without any intelligence collected from the bin Laden raid. Still, many Al Qaeda leaders may well be on edge that they may be next.
“So soon after the death of Osama bin Laden, this will have al-Qaeda's remaining leadership worried,” said terrorism expert Neil Doyle in an article by Britain's Daily Mirror.