Shabaab, al Qaeda’s affiliate in East Africa, claimed that three Americans, a Canadian, a Brit, and a Finn are among the fighters who are involved in the siege of the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. At least 68 people have been killed in the attack so far, and Shabaab is holding hostages.
Shabaab named nine members of the Westgate suicide assault team on its now-defunct Twitter account. It also mentioned a female fighter but did not provide her name or nationality. There may well be other members of the assault team who are unnamed. Twitter has shut down Shabaab’s account twice in the past two days as the group has constantly tweeted updates on the assault.
The named fighters were identified as:
- Abdifatah Osman Keenadiid, 24, from Minnesota
- Ahmed Mohammed Isse, native,from St. Paul, Minnesota
- “Gen.” Mustafe Noorudin, 27, from Kansas City, Missouri
- Abdirizak Mouled, 24, from Ontario, Canada
- Ahmed Nasir Shirdoon, 24, from London, United Kingdom
- Ismael Guled, 23, from Helsinki, Finland
- Sayid Nuh, 25, from Kismayo, Somalia
- Zaki Jama Caraale, 20, from Hargeisa, Somalia
- Qasim Said Mussa, 22, from Garissa, Kenya
US officials who track Shabaab and were contacted by The Long War Journal said they are aware of reports that Americans are involved in the Westgate siege, and are investigating Shabaab’s claim.
One official said the claim is “credible and not surprising” given the number of Americans who have waged jihad in Somalia over the past several years.
Americans are known to serve as leaders as well as fighters and even suicide bombers for Shabaab in Somalia. The two most prominent Shabaab leaders are Omar Hammami and Jehad Mostafa. Both are Specially Designated Global Terrorists.
Hammami served as a top Shabaab leader before he had a falling out with the group over the past year. He is believed to have been killed by Shabaab’s intelligence service just last week.
Mostafa is thought to be Abu Abdullah al Muhajir, who is Ayman al Zawahiri’s personal emissary to Shabaab.
Shabaab is known to recruit heavily from the Somali population in Minnesota. Cabdulaahi Ahmed Faarax and Abdiweli Yassin Isse were among 14 people indicted by the US Justice Department for recruiting Americans to wage jihad in Somalia. One of their recruits, Shirwa Ahmed, became the first known American suicide bomber when he carried out an attack in Northern Somalia in October 2008.
In May 2011, Mohamad Beledi, another American citizen, was one of two suicide bombers who attacked a base in Mogadishu, killing two African Union troops and a Somali soldier. Shabaab had identified Beledi as Abdullahi Ahmed.
Another American, Abdisalan Hussein Ali, was part of a Shabaab suicide assault team that attacked an African Union headquarters in Mogadishu in October 2011.
Shabaab has also claimed that Americans have conducted other suicide attacks. An American from Seattle, who was not named, is said to have been one of two suicide bombers who penetrated the main base in Mogadishu in an attack in September 2009. The deputy military commander for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) was among the 21 people killed.