Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Somalia, Like Yemen, Growing as Training Ground for Terrorists

Concerns are growing in the intelligence community that Somalia could be acting like Yemen in terms of its expanding ability to serve as a training ground for terrorists able to pick up and head out of country to attack other nations.

Already one terror-related case involves a man from that troubled African country. The suspect, who was injured by police during his attack earlier this month, was carried into court where he faced attempted murder charges.

The 28-year-old Somali man is accused of terrorism. Allegedly carrying a knife and an axe, he broke into the home of a Danish cartoonist whose controversial images of Mohammad led to threats on his life.

The attack is believed to be the first documented case of an operative trained by the Al Qaeda-linked group Al Shabaab launching a mission outside of Somalia.

Until now, Al Shabaab was seen as a regional player.

"They are gaining global presence so to speak, at least getting a global reach, where Somalia can reach out, where Al Shabaab can reach out and conduct an attack. That's troubling," said Rick Nelson at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The Western face of Al Shabaab is an American, Omar Hammami, from Daphne, Ala. In propaganda videos, he goes by the name of Al-Amriki, which simply means "the American."

The FBI is investigating the disappearance of two dozen Somali Americans into the Shabaab camps in Somalia. The camps are also drawing recruits form England, Canada and Western Europe.

"Al Shabaab controls much of southern Somalia. It has, as I said. apparently set up camps from which they have run at least several hundred foreign fighters. They've introduced and uh, made use of suicide bombings which up until a few years ago were virtually unknown in Somalia," said Mark Bellamy, former U.S. ambassador to Kenya.

Al Qaeda is established in the Far East, along the Afghan-Pakistan border, in Iraq, in Yemen, through Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, which claimed responsibility for Flight 253. Al Qaeda is also hooked up in Somalia through Al Shabaab.

As for the connection to Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman Al-Zawahiri, some analysts say Al Qaeda in Yemen and Somalia are now taking their lead from the core players.

"AQAP and Al Shabaab are ultimately receiving influence and guidance from that senior leadership, and they're going to seek ways to coordinate together," Nelson said.

So is the group capable of launching its own attack like the flight on Christmas Day? It’s possible, said Bellamy.

"I should add that Somalia is probably not the best location from which to try to stage international jihad, , it's not, it's not connected, it's hard to get to," Bellamy said.


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