NAIROBI: Ahmad Abdi Godane, whose Al-Shabab group has said it carried out a deadly raid on a Nairobi mall, has transformed chronically-unstable Somalia into one of Al-Qaeda’s main global hubs.
Reportedly trained in Afghanistan with the Taliban, Godane – often known by the name Abu Zubayr – took over the leadership of the Al-Shabab in 2008 after then leader Adan Hashi Ayro was killed by a U.S. missile attack.
Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahri has recognized Godane as the head of the “mujahedeen” in East Africa, although letters released after Osama bin Laden’s death show the late Saudi Islamist leader had lower regard for the Somali’s abilities.
The camera-shy extremist, a slight man known to enjoy writing poetry and who is said to have once worked as an accountant for an airline company, espouses the language of global jihad.Godane claimed responsibility for July 2010 bombings in the Ugandan capital Kampala that killed 74 people.
Islamist gunmen stormed an upscale shopping center in Nairobi Saturday and took hostages in a four-day siege.It remained unclear, however, exactly who carried out the attack.
In 2010, Godane was rumored to have been pushed out of this post as top leader, but the U.N. Monitoring Group on Somalia said he has managed to hang on by developing Al-Shabab’s internal secret service.
The panel’s latest report in July said Al-Shabab’s Amniyat, or secret service, is “structured along the lines of a clandestine organization within the organization with the intention of surviving any kind of dissolution” of the group.
However, the same report noted that Godane had faced discontent from several of his top commanders, notably over his open threats to Omar Hammami – the Alabama-bred public face of the Al-Shabab who was killed by fellow fighters earlier this month – and for unjustly detaining newcoming foreign militants.“
Al-Shabab is not divided into several factions but is one body ruled by Ahmad Godane,” one of his aides told AFP Wednesday, in a bid to dispel rumours Al-Shabab had splintered.
Rather than leading troops in the field Godane instead often communicates through audio recordings, a leadership style that garners little respect from those Somali fighters who want a leader to fight on the battlefield.
Instead Godane, educated at an Islamic school in Pakistan, enjoys reading, listening to and reciting Somali poetry, especially those verses that chronicle resistance to British and Italian colonial rule.
The soft-spoken man – wanted in his homeland Somaliland for murder and an attempted bombing attack – lists the 19-century anti-British colonial fighter Sayid Mohammad Abdulle Hasan, the “Mad Mullah,” as a role model.
Like the “Mad Mullah,” Godane hails from the northern breakaway region of Somaliland, seen as a rare area of stability in the anarchic and war-torn Horn of Africa nation of Somalia.
He once ran a small supermarket in the Somaliland’s capital Hargeisa with his longtime friend and key architect of the Al-Shabab, Ibrahim Haji Jama Mead, also known as Ibrahim Afghani, due to his training in Afghanistan.
Seen as an important driver of the recruitment of new members and close to foreign fighters within Al-Shabab, he is also believed responsible for a 2008 purge of commanders deemed ideologically too soft.
The U.S. State Department lists Godane as one of the world’s eight top terror fugitives.
He is included in a third category of men on whom information warrants a $7-million reward, alongside Nigeria’s Boko Haram leader, but under the Taliban’s Mullah Omar, for whom a tip is worth up to $10 million, and Zawahiri, who fetches $25 million.Godane is also wanted for the 2003 murder of British couple Richard and Enid Eyeington, who were shot dead at the school they taught at in Somaliland.