His elimination by Special Forces demonstrates that participation in a terrorist organization is guaranteed to severely limit an individual’s life expectancy.
The elimination of Salah Ali Saleh Nabhan in Somalia by helicopter-borne U.S. Special Forces earlier this week demonstrates, once again, that participation in the management of any terrorist organization is a high risk occupation guaranteed to severely limit an individual’s life expectancy.
The Kenyan-born Nabhan had been forced to flee to Somalia, a failed state that has existed for a decade in turmoil since the American withdrawal from Mogadishu in 1998 following the loss of eighteen Rangers during fierce street-fighting against the warlord Mohammed Aideed. Having descended into anarchy, Somalia provided a convenient refuge for Nabhan and others like him who have been forced to quit their training camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
He was implicated in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam and masterminded the attack on Mombasa’s Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel in November 2003 that killed ten locals and three Israeli tourists, and the simultaneous attempt to bring down an Israeli Arkia airliner with a missile. It was Naghan’s own jeep that detonated outside the hotel, and he is believed to have fired the should-launched missile at the aircraft.
Nabhan’s senior role in the al-Shabasah movement, following the assassination of Aden Hashi Ayro in May 2008, made him a high priority target and now his name has been removed from the FBI’s most wanted list.
News coverage of this successful operation has suggested that this intervention marks a change in U.S. policy, or an escalation in the rules of engagement, but in reality British, French and American Special Forces have been active in the area for several years, either operating from Kenya in the south or from Djibouti in the north.
The only change in tactics is the preference for putting troops on the ground at the scene so as to recover bodies for DNA analysis and reduce the chances of error in identification that can follow a perceived successful strike by a Predator UAV.
Lying behind such an intervention is a matrix of exceptionally good actionable intelligence from Babawe, a lawless district south of Mogadishu that has been under al-Shabasah control since the collapse of the government run by the Islamic Courts movement. Since then Somalia, at least in name, has been headed by Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed who has given his mandate to African Union and U.S. forces to conduct security operations in support of his teetering, besieged administration.
In a veritable security vacuum various western organizations have been free to pursue targets, and in one recent case Mustaf Jama, a murder suspect implicated in the shooting of two police officers during a botched robbery in England, was seized at a militia roadblock in 2007, exfiltrated by air to Dubai and then flown back to London to face trial in Sheffield.
He was convicted of murdering WPC Sharon Beshinenivsky while robbing a Bradford travel agency in 2005 and joined his brother Yusuf in gaol. Although Jama was not connected with terrorism, and was simply a gangster, his arrest revealed much about the effectiveness of intelligence from inside Somalia.
These events should not be read at face value, and nor should al-Shabasah’s threats to retaliate. In an environment of shifting loyalties, few legal obstacles and really good intelligence collection, the initiative taken by the western agencies has the effect of putting the local militants on the defensive in their own territory and inhibits their freedom to commit atrocities further afield.
Ultimately, as the militants are balmed for having brought chaos and poverty to their own co-religionists, the hope is that they will be isolated in much the same way that al-Qaida has been marginalized throughout the region.
The remaining question is, who’s the next target? Most likely is Fazul Abdullah Mohammad, the terrorist who acted as Nabhan’s mentor and thus far has escaped several attempts to arrest him. Originally from the Comoros Islands, FAM is now high on the list and, in the absence of special rendition, should anticipate meeting his former pupil in the near future.