The Long War Journal
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
A Swedish citizen released by the government last year is currently a senior leader of a Somali Islamist terror alliance currently fighting against the newly formed government.
Swedish police arrested three Swedish citizens in February 2008 on charges of funneling money to Al Shabaab, the Somali terrorist group with close links to al Qaeda. One of the men was released shortly afterward, and the remaining two men were released in June 2008 because "the evidence was insufficient" to prove the men had made the transfer, SvD Online reported. The suspects were put on parole, banned from travel, and ordered not to hamper the investigation or destroy evidence. In September 2008 the investigation against the three men was dropped.
Since being released, two of the men have become senior leaders of the newly formed Hizbul Islam. One of the men has been identified by SvD Online as Yasin Ali, while the other has not been named. Ali has been identified in a photograph released by Hizbul Islam, appearing with senior leaders of Hizbul Islam and a large stockpile of weapons.
When notified of the men's involvement with Hizbul Islam, Ronnie Jacobsson, the Swedish prosecutor who dropped the case against the men, said that it would be difficult to convict the men simply for involvement with Hizbul Islam.
"I need to consider this a while," Jacobsson told SvD Online. "But simply being a member of a group that has been identified as criminal is not sufficient to convict someone of wrongdoing."
Other Swedish citizens have been senior members of al Qaeda-linked terror groups. Mohamed Moumou , who was better known as Abu Qaswarah, served as the second in command for al Qaeda in Iraq. Qaswarah trained in the al Qaeda-run Khalden terrorist training camp in Afghanistan and was designated as a terrorist by the US. In October 2008, Qaswarah died after he detonated his suicide vest during a US raid on an al Qaeda command center in Mosul.
The United States Treasury has described Qaswarah as a senior leader of the Stockholm- based Brandbergen Mosque, a major site of suspected terrorist activity.
Hizbul Islaam is a relatively new organization, created only in January of this year. The group was created by the merger of four separate Islamic groups: Hassan Aweys' Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia-Eritrea, Jabhatul Islamiya ("Islamic Front"), Mu'askar Ras Kamboni (Ras Kamboni Brigade), and Anole. Hizbul Islam is led by Sheik Omar Iman Abu Bakar.
While there is little information available on the Somali Islamic Front and Anole, the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia-Eritrea and the Ras Kamboni Brigade are two radical Islamist groups with close ties to al Qaeda.
The Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia is an offshoot of the Islamic Courts Union and was founded by Hassan Dahir Aweys. Aweys and Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the current president of Somalia, were the leaders the Islamic Courts Union before it was ousted from power during the Ethiopian invasion in December 2006. A former colonel in the Somali Army, he is known for his radical views and promotion of sharia, or Islamic law. Aweys has been designated as a terrorist by the US and has close links to al Qaeda's senior leaders.
Under the leadership of Aweys and Sharif, the Islamic Courts Union implemented sharia law throughout southern Somalia. Islamic Courts suicide bombers attacked the weak Transitional Federal government, while the Islamic Courts ran terror training camps, courted foreign fighters, and released videos through al Qaeda's propaganda arm. Aweys, confident in his victory, called for the creation of a "greater Somalia" in the Horn of Africa.
The Ras Kamboni Brigade is a radical Islamist group that was founded by Sheikh Hassan Turki, a former senior leader in the Islamic Courts and its predecessor, al Itihaad al Islamiyah. Turki operates terrorist training camps in southern Somalia and was likely the target of a US airstrike in March 2008.
In late February the Hizbul Islam joined forces with Al Shahaab in the battle with the African Union (AU) peacekeepers that left nearly 50 dead and 300 wounded. Not only do Shabaab and Hizbul Islam reject the AU, they also reject President Sharif and his faction of the ARS for reconciling with the Somali government.
Al Qaeda has consistently backed the jihad front in Somalia through funding, personnel, and weapons. In February of this year, al Qaeda's second in command, Ayman al Zawahiri, released a videotape congratulating Shabaab for the capture of southern Somalia. He also stated the importance of capturing particular regions in the country, specifically Baidoa.
In September of 2008 Shabaab formally reached out to al Qaeda senior leadership in an effort to better integrate with the network and its strategic nodes across Africa and the Middle East. The effort came in the form of a 24-minute video that features Kenyan al Qaeda operative Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, who is wanted by the U.S. Government for his involvement in the 1998 African embassy attacks and 2002 Mombasa attacks. Shabaab is formally seeking to join al Qaeda.