WASHINGTON, September 2, 2014 — A United States drone strike reportedly was launched against leaders of Al-Shabaab in Somalia, but it remains unclear if any of the leaders were injured or killed in the attack.
The strike took place on Monday near the port city of Barawe, an Al-Shabaab stronghold where a meeting of top officials was taking place.
The United States declared Al-Shabaab a terrorist organization in 2008, after the group launched attacks with the hope of turning Somalia into a fundamentalist Islamic state.
The group claimed responsibility for the invasion of the Westgate Mall in Nairobi almost a year ago where an estimated 67 people were killed.
The Obama administration has targeted the leaders of Al-Shabaab two other times over the past year.
The United States feels confident that the latest strike hit what it was aiming for but will not declare success until more confirmation comes in.
Who are these leaders the United States so want to eliminate?
Ahmed Abdi Godane: Leader
Ahmed Abdi Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubair, is the senior leader in Al-Shabaab, and the group identifies him as the emir. Godane was one of the original founders of Al-Shabaab and has served as the group’s leader since an American airstrike killed Al-Shabaab’s last emir, Aden Hashi Ayro, in May 2008.
Godane is from Hargeisa in Somaliland, and is a member of the Isaaq clan. His clan’s territory is beyond the control of Al-Shabaab. Godane studied in Pakistan on a scholarship funded by wealthy Saudis, and returned to Somalia in 2001. An International Crisis Group report has described him as uncharismatic and reclusive.
He makes the most of his statements in recorded audio messages, which are distributed through online jihadist forums. It is believed that Godane has a home in the United Arab Emirates, where his wife and their children live. He has visited them twice in 2010, using a Kenyan passport with a different name to enter the country.
Godane has pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. He also vowed that his group would launch a direct attack against the United States.
Sheikh Mukhtar Robow: Deputy Leader (Deputy Emir)
Sheikh Mukhtar Robow, also known as Abu Mansur, is the deputy leader of Al-Shabaab and the former spokesman for the group. Robow was one of the original founders of Al-Shabaab.
The U.S. State Department has issued a reward of $5 million for information leading to his location, but the United Nations has not designated him as a terrorist.
Robow has used the alias Mukhtar Abdullahi Ali with an Eritrean passport with a birthplace of Keren, Eritrea although all of that data is believed to be untrue.
He established the first militant Islamist training camp in Somalia, al Hudda, in Huddur in 1996. Robow reportedly left Somalia in 2000 to train with the Taliban in Afghanistan, only returning to Somalia after the Taliban fell from power.
Robow has publicly endorsed the role of foreign fighters in Al-Shabaab’s campaign although this has caused rifts between Robow and leader Godane. Robow has even issued a fatwaagainst Godane’s attempt to kill foreign jihadists, including American fighter Omar Hammami.
He supports attacks against any government that meddle in Somali affairs, including Uganda and Kenya. Robow is committed to a state governed by shari’a law, and will fight anyone who opposes it.
Ali Mohamed Rage: Spokesman
Ali Mohamed Rage, also known as Ali Dhere, is Al-Shabaab’s head spokesman. Neither the United States nor the United Nations has designated him as a terrorist.
He replaced Sheikh Mukhtar Robow, also known as Abu Mansur, as al Shabaab’s spokesman in 2009 due to a dispute between Robow, and leader Godane.
Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys: Senior Member and former leader
Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, a former leader of Al-Shabaab, turned himself in to the Somali government on June 26 after infighting broke out within the group.
Aweys was the leader of Hizb al Islam until the group’s merged with Al-Shabaab in December 2010. Aweys still maintains a large base of support.
The United States added him to its Specially Designated Global Terrorist list on November 7, 2001. The United Nations designated Aweys as a terrorist under on November 9, 2001, naming him an “individual associated with al Qaeda.”
He led a wing of the Al Ittihad al Islamiya (AIAI), an al Qaeda associated group. In 1993, al Qaeda operatives allegedly approached Aweys and offered their full support to AIAI if he would direct attacks against American targets. He reportedly refused the offer, arguing that “the time is not right to start conducting jihad.”
Aweys supports a shari’a-based government in Somalia, and refuses to recognize the current leadership because foreign powers support it.
He has publicly supported suicide bombings and pledged allegiance to Osama Bin Laden on several occasions. Aweys invited Al-Qaeda militants to join the Islamist jihad in Somalia when Bin Laden was still alive.
Conflict arose within the organization when Aweys disagreed with current leader, Godane’s idea that jihad in Somalia was limited to those forces led by Godane, as well as the disagreement between the two on the issue of Aweys belief in limiting civilian casualties. As a result, Aweys, along with other senior al Shabaab leaders Mukhtar Robow and Ibrahim al Afghani, issued a fatwa against Godane’s attempt to kill foreign fighters. The situation turned violent and Aweys was forced to flee Barawe
The Somali government has not released any statements saying what they plan to do with the former al Shabaab leader.
Fuad Mohamed Qalaf: Senior Member
Fuad Mohamed Qalaf, also known as Shongole, is a senior member in al Shabaab.
The State Department has offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to his location.
He took asylum in Sweden in 1992, but returned to Somalia in 2004 to fight with the Islamic Courts Union (ICU).
Shongole has been among Al-Shabaab’s strongest criticis of media organizations, referring to them as agents of the “infidels.” In May 2009 he called on Al-Shabaab militants to hunt down members of the Waaga Cusub news outlet for its coverage of his group’s tactics.
Shongole’s intentions are unclear after internal infighting of the organization where he sides with the ousted leader. Shongole severly criticized Al-Shabaab’s current leader, Godane after multiple attacks were launched against Hizb al Islam while the group’s leader at the time, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, was negotiating a merger with other al Shabaab leaders.