Al Qaeda’s Shadowy East African Chief Slips Away Again

Clearly emerging from this week’s bloody battles for control of the Somali capital of Mogadishu is the laceration of the US-backed Somali Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism by a crazy-quilt of Islamist-al Qaeda militias.

As the death toll – mostly of civilians – rose from pitched battle and shelling, the “Islamic courts” were reported Thursday night, May 11, to have wrested 80 percent of the capital from the ARPCT against whom they declared a “holy war.”

These clashes are the bloodiest since Somalia collapsed into anarchy 15 years ago, sending central government into exile.

The ARPCT is an amalgam of Somali warlords backed by the American intelligence units running the war against Islamic terrorists in East Africa and the Horn of Africa from Nairobi.

Facing this coalition of warlords are the Islamist militias linked to the Joint Islamic Courts; some of their commanders are al Qaeda operatives, still hunted for orchestrating the large-scale US embassy bombing attacks in East Africa in 1998, and the 2002 strikes against Israeli targets in Mombassa, Kenya. They have found a save haven in Somalia and are harbored by local radical Islamists.

Among the wanted men is the ultra-slippery Muhammad Fazul, an Egyptian reputed to be Al Qaeda’s long-serving top operations officer for East Africa. Fazul is credited with masterminding and leading in person a long string of al Qaeda strikes in Africa from the early 1990s until the present day.

Fazul has been badly wanted, hunted from haunt to haunt by special US forces, the subject of one hot tip after another, since his first major engagement, the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu. This epic battle was fought by a local militia headed by Fara Aidid against US special forces, brought in to secure a UN relief aid contingent. It was the largest fought by US forces after Vietnam and the most costly in American lives.

Later, it turned out to have been orchestrated and led by al Qaeda.

In September 1998, shortly after the US embassy attacks, an American force burst into the house used by Fazul and his family on the Indian Ocean Islands of the Comoros. They arrived just after the birds had flown. The master terrorist had lived there as an ordinary fisherman. Maybe there he came up with the idea of planting al Qaeda operatives among the little fishing villages scattered along the shores of the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, as craftsmen, fishermen and builders of small boats. The terrorists were told to settle among the lowliest, poorest members of these coastal communities and stay there long enough to be accepted as locals.

To this day, al Qaeda operatives are buried in villages on the coasts of Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Yemen, and East and West Africa. They have acquired perfect cover for their real function as al Qaeda’s marine assault squads.

This week, the American intelligence unit in Nairobi pinned high hopes on the Somali Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and its reputedly smart and audacious leader, Muhammed Kanair Efroah, for overcoming the Islamic militias.

Most of all they sought intelligence on those militias and a fresh lead to the elusive Fazul, thought to be fighting with them.

Those hopes were dashed Wednesday, May 10, when Alliance ranks began falling back under the onslaught of the Islamic militias.

Thirteen years after the disastrous Battle of Mogadishu, Somalia again upset American plans to lay hands on a master terrorist and eradicate a key al Qaeda foothold in East Africa.

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