At a barely noticed conference earlier this month in Kampala, Uganda, the African Union's Special Representative for Somali - Wafula Wamunyinyi - is quoted as saying that the presence of al-Qaeda in that country is real, something about which the world, "[S]hould be put on notice."
He claims that individuals have been recruited to the Somali-based group al-Shabaab from nations such as the United States, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Kenya, Uganda and the Sudan. These foreign fighters, according to Wafula, now number 1200, half of whom he claims are Kenyan.
In the SperoNews report, journalist Martyn Drakard details some of those involved in the command structure of the Somali Islamist group, based on information from the AU Special Representative:
"Wafula listed the foreigners holding important positions within Al Shabaab as Sheikh Mohamed Abu Faid, Saudi born, who is the financier and current 'manager' of the group. The head of security and training operations is Abu Musa Mombasa, who arrived recently from Pakistan to replace Saleh Ali Nabhan who was killed in US military operations. Abu Mansur Al-Amriki, an American, heads the finance and payroll department of the foreign fighters, while Mohamoud Mujajir, a Sudanese, is in charge of the recruitment of suicide bombers, he said. Also on the list is Ahmed Abdi Godanem an Al-Qaeda graduate from Afghanistan, and Abu Suleiman Al-Bandiri, a Somali of Yemeni descent."
There is no doubt that foreign fighters have been aiding al-Shabaab: A senior member of that organization admitted as much back in May, as AFP reported, though Sheikh Hussein Ali Fidow categorized those fighters differently: "Those who say our Muslim brothers are foreigners are wrong. They came to assist their brothers in Somalia."
Brethren of the coast, indeed. The American mentioned above - Abu Mansur Al-Amriki ("the American") - is reported to have been born Omar Hammami and raised as a Baptist in Daphne, Alabama (near Mobile), before taking up an extreme form of Islam and leaving the U.S. to, eventually, end up in Somalia. Saleh Ali Nabhan - the head of training new fighters - was killed in mid-September by US Special Forces (see my earlier post about this here).
The biggest problem in dealing with piracy in the seas off Somalia is addressing what's going on ashore, and identifying those who are aiding in the destabilization of the region is of paramount importance. None of the information here is classified or secret, but it is a telling sign that there is intense intelligence-gathering going on in the region. Knowing the names of these individuals is (if correct) a big part of the proverbial intel iceberg.