The US military is certain that Shabaab emir Ahmed Abdi Godane was killed in a targeted airstrike in southern Somalia that took place earlier this week.
“We have confirmed that Ahmed Godane, the co-founder of al-Shabaab, has been killed,” Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement that was released today.
Godane, also known as Sheikh Mukhtar Abu Zubayr, was the target of an airstrike that took place at a training camp between the villages of Dhay Tubako and Haway along the Shabelle River south of Mogadishu on the night of Sept. 1. The US military confirmed on Sept. 2 that “US special operations forces using manned and unmanned aircraft” targeted Godane and “destroyed an encampment and a vehicle using several Hellfire missiles and laser-guided munitions.” [See LWJ report, US targets Shabaab’s leadership in southern Somalia.]
Other Shabaab leaders said to have been with Godane at the time are Muhammad Abu Abdallah, the group’s shadow governor of Lower Shabelle; Muhammad Abu Sham, Godane’s aide; Ali Muhammad Gulled, a logistics officer; Muhammad Husayn Nur (a.k.a. Abu Hamza Al Ayman); Sheikh Muhammad Dulyaden; Iqri Ubayd, a Sudanese operative; and Mubarak Abdallah, a Yemeni. It is unclear if they were killed or survived the strike.
Shabaab has yet to officially comment on reports of Godane’s death.
Godane presided over the official merger with al Qaeda in early 2012. Shabaab and al Qaeda intentionally obscured the close working relationship between the two groups long before announcing the merger with al Qaeda. [See LWJ report, Bin Laden told Shabaab to hide al Qaeda ties.]
Godane also ruled Shabaab during a leadership dispute that resulted in the group’s intelligence branch, the Amniyat, killing American jihadist Omar Hammami, Ibrahim al Afghani, and a handful of other leaders. Hammami accused Godane of bypassing sharia, or Islamic law, and ruling with an iron fist. Godane had Hammami killed after the latter’s appeal to al Qaeda for intervention went unanswered. The internal leadership dispute petered out after Hammami and the rebel terrorist leaders were killed.
Godane was one of the world’s most wanted terrorist leaders. The US State Department’s Rewards for Justice offered a $7 million bounty for information leading to his capture and prosecution.
Jihadist groups have withstood loss of emirs
Kirby claimed that the death of Godane will strike a major blow against al Qaeda’s branch in Somalia.
“Removing Godane from the battlefield is a major symbolic and operational loss to al-Shabaab,” he said.
Al Qaeda and its branches and other jihadist groups have weathered the deaths of top leaders in the past, however. The killing of Osama bin Laden did not cause the group to collapse; in fact al Qaeda has expanded its footprint and controls more territory today than prior to bin Laden’s death in May 2011.
Al Qaeda in Iraq survived and thrived after the death of Abu Musab al Zarqawi in 2006 and withstood the loss of his successors, Abu Ayyub al Masri and Abu Omar al Baghdadi, in 2011. Today, its successor organization, the Islamic State, control vast areas of Iraq and Syria.
Groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Turkistan Islamic Party have grown even after their leaders were killed in US drone strikes in Pakistan.
The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan became a more dangerous organization under the command of Hakeemullah Mehsud after its founder and emir, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed in a US drone strike in August 2009. After Hakeemullah was killed in a drone strike in November 2013, the group split over the selection of Mullah Fazlullah to lead the group. But a splinter group, known as Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, appears to be well organized and just as dangerous as its predecessor.
Shabaab has also lost some of its top leaders to previous US counterterrorism operations. Among those killed have been Aden Hashi Ayro, the group’s military commander, and Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, al Qaeda’s former leader in East Africa and a top official in the group.