Officially, al-Shabaab calls the famine declaration a conspiracy. It may have occurred to al-Qaeda that the Somali jihadists’ willingness to starve the country into submission might be bad for business, or there may have been private appeals from al-Shabaab.
In any event, what is of additional interest to U.S. officials in this case is the identity of the al-Qaeda emissary in a recent video, who speaks nearly perfect English. It is all too likely we will see or hear from him again, and increased cooperation between al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab poses its own set of problems inside the region and beyond. “Who is “the Foreigner,” al-Qaida’s new aid emissary to Somalia?,” by Laura Rozen for The Envoy, October 25:
Despite recent high-profile successes in U.S. efforts to remove key al-Qaida leaders from the battlefield, American counter-terrorism officials are increasingly concerned about al-Qaida affiliates finding fertile ground in unstable, weakly-governed parts of Africa. So terrorism analysts are paying particular attention to a fluent English-speaking al-Qaida emissary who appeared on a video in famine-ravaged Somalia last week, NPR’s Dina Temple-Ralston reports.
On a video distributed to Islamist websites last week, the light-skinned man described himself as an emissary of bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri. As NPR correspondent Temple Ralston reports Tuesday, the man’s Islamic name translates to “the Foreigner,” and in his slightly north African accented English, he said he had been sent to Somalia by Zawahiri to distribute aid to southern Somalia’s starving population, much of it under the control of the al-Qaida-linked Somali militant group al-Shabab:
So imagine the reaction when a little over a week ago an unusual video appeared on Islamic websites. It was of a white man with a scarf twisted over his face standing before bags of grain and piles of clothes in a desert in Somalia. In the video, he was addressing the hungry at a local feeding station. He said his name was Abu Abdulla al-Muhajir, or “the foreigner.” And there was one thing US officials noticed about the man almost immediately: He was speaking nearly perfect English.[…]
His English wasn’t quite unaccented and his word choice wasn’t quite right “” but it was close. The young man went on to tell the crowd that al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri had sent him to Somalia to distribute food and clothing. “Al-Qaida, under the leadership of Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri, continues to highlight the plight of the (community) and continues to support them with every means at their disposal,” he said.
“Counter-terrorism officials say the release of this tape could mean al-Qaida is forging closer ties” with Somalia’s al-Shabab, Temple-Ralston reports.
And indeed, the release of the tape comes as al-Shabab is accused of stepping up a campaign of kidnappings that target foreign tourists and aid workers providing famine relief in neighboring Kenya.
Several such kidnapping incidents have recently threatened Kenya’s critical tourism industry, and have also hampered international famine relief efforts in the Horn of Africa. […]
However, the president of Somalia’s weak transitional government on Monday dismayed western allies when he urged Kenya to halt its military incursion in southern Somalia, the Associated Press reported. Somalia’s transitional regime ostensibly works with a 9,000-member African Union peacekeeping force to fight al-Shabab to maintain minimal control of the capital of the civil war-stricken country.
“American and European officials on Tuesday joined some Somali residents in expressing dismay over comments from Somalia’s president that called on foreign military allies to stop twin advances against Islamic insurgents,” the AP’s Katharine Houreld reported from Nairobi Tuesday. Somalia President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed “on Monday publicly told Kenya to halt its military advance in southern Somalia. Diplomats say he also privately asked African Union troops not to move beyond the Deynile neighborhood of Mogadishu, where they are fighting al-Shabab militants for control.”
So who is Zawahiri’s English speaking aid emissary to Somalia, “the Foreigner?” U.S. military and intelligence officials are intently trying to find out.
“If you ask me what keeps me up at night, it is the thought of an American passport-holding person who transits to a training camp in Somalia, gets some skill, and finds their way back to the United States to attack Americans,” U.S. Africom commander Gen. Carter Ham told the Center for Strategic and International Studies earlier this month, Temple-Ralston reported.