Fazul killers had no idea he was mastermind of Nairobi bombings

Business

By CYRUS OMBATI

Security experts are hailing the killing of Fazul Abdullah Mohamed, 38, the terrorist who masterminded the bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, as a major blow to Al-Qaeda's network in the region.

It is not clear who will claim the hefty Sh435 million ($5 million) price put on his head by the US federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) as one of the most wanted Islamic militants in the world, because his killers initially had no idea who it was they had gunned down.

However, US President Barack Obama will likely point to the killing of Fazul as more evidence of global success in the war against Al-Qaeda. And it came just four weeks after US special forces shot and killed the group’s acknowledged leader, Osama bin Laden in a daring raid that boosted Obama’s flagging popularity at home.

Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (left) and another unidentified man after they were shot dead in Mogadishu, Somalia. Fazul was behind the 1998 US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. [PHOTO: AP]

Fazul’s bizarre death also ended one of the most expansive and complicated hunts for a terrorist many security agencies feared for his slippery nature and disguise.

Security experts said the fact that he was moving around with Sh3.5 million in US bank notes point to his prominence in East Africa’s wing of Al-Qaeda. It took a little bit of luck to kill one of the most wanted militants in the world.

Fazul and his associate Musa Hussein Abdi a.k.a Musa Dheere, were gunned down at a checkpoint manned by Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) troops in northwestern Mogadishu overnight on Tuesday, after they defied orders to stop.

Gen Abdikarim Yusuf Dhagabadan, Somalia’s army chief is quoted as saying officials did not at first know whom they had killed.

"We buried him," he told The Associated Press. "But soon after checking his documents, (we) exhumed his body and took his pictures and DNA. Then we learned that he was the man wanted by the US authorities.

"It is a victory for the world. It is a victory for Somali army," he added.

Operational planners

A senior US government official also told the BBC that it was a "very big deal" and commended the actions of the Transitional Federal Government.

"Fazul Abdullah Mohammed’s death removes one of the terrorist group’s most experienced operational planners in East Africa and has almost certainly set back operations," the official said.

After landing in Tanzania’s capital, Dar es Salaam, on the second leg of a tour of Africa, Mrs Clinton told reporters: "(His) death is a significant blow to al-Qaeda, its extremist allies, and its operations in East Africa. It is a just end for a terrorist who brought so much death and pain to so many innocents in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam and elsewhere — Tanzanians, Kenyans, Somalis, and our own embassy personnel."

Security experts said Fazul’s death was a big deal and removes one of the terrorist group’s most experienced operational planners in East Africa. His deputy, Omar Awadh Omar a.k.a Abu Sahal is in Jail in Uganda.

Details about Fazul’s personality remain scanty and conflicting, although the FBI described him as fond of casual wear and baseball caps.

Retaliation

But even as several authorities celebrated the his killing Kenyan security agencies have warned of possible retaliation and are on full alert.

"Security agencies have been on alert since Thursday night because there are indications these criminals may try to attack," said Commissioner of Police Mathew Iteere.

Iteere said the fear is real and that is why they want all Kenyans to be alert and aware of the situation.

"Let every Kenyan be part of this effort to contain the terror gangs. If you see an abandoned bag, suspicious character or you know anyone that you suspect is up to something bad, let us know," he said.

A hierarchical leadership structure released by security agencies yesterday following the death of Fazul showed he was the last man who remained active in a network of more than a dozen terror suspects.

Fazul was the last to be killed of the three Al Qaeda operatives wanted for the 1998 suicide attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania to have been killed.

In September 2009, US Special Operations Forces killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan during a raid south of Mogadishu. He was on the FBI’s "most wanted" list for his association with the attack on an Israeli-owned hotel in Kikambala along Kenya’s coast that killed 15 people in 2002, as well as the 1998 US embassy blasts.

Fazul is believed to have masterminded the attack on the Kikambala hotel. And in early 2007, Abu Tahla al Sudani was killed during fighting with Ethiopian forces.

In the structure, it showed some of his followers were Kenyans who are in custody in Uganda over bombing of revelers watching a Fifa World Cup finals match in Kampala that left more than 70 dead.

Those in the list include Omar Awadh Omar, Yahya Suleiman Mbuthia, Idris Magondu, Hussein Hassan Agade, Mohamed Adan Abdow, Habib Suleiman Njoroge and Mohamed Hamid Suleiman who stood trial for the bombings.

Fazul was the leader of the network that also included two of the suicide bombers who died in the Kampala bombing. Issa Ahmed Luyima a.k.a Abu Zargawi, a Ugandan who confessed to being part of the network that carried out the Kampala bombing is also in the list. He is among 30 suspects including 12 Kenyans charged over the bombings and remanded at Luzira Prison.

Suleiman Hijar Nyamandondo, a Tanzanian national who was also charged with murder and attempted murder in relation to Kampala blasts also appears in the list.

Evaded

Just like other Kenyans, Nyamadondo was extradited to Uganda by the Tanzanian government soon after his arrest last July. The hierarchy developed indicates that a man known as Badrudin who is identified as the Al-Qaeda head of intelligence in Nairobi, reported to directly to Fazul, as did a Bilal El Berjawi whose exact responsibilities are not clear.

Multiple sources said plans to bomb Kampala started being made in 2008 after US forces killed Saleh Nabhan who was then second-in-command to Fazul in the Al-Qaeda power hierarchy in the region.

Yesterday, detectives handling terror matters said police in Nairobi had received the reports of the death of Fazul and Dheere on Thursday, but remained mum as they alerted other commanders in the country to be vigilant and alert. They said the killing of Fazul calls for both celebrations and extra vigilance given some of his sympathisers are Kenyans living in the country.

Sources say Fazul, who had a laptop and a modified AK-47 entered Kenya at will through its porous northeast border with Somalia.

He evaded a police dragnet in 2008 after jumping from the first floor of a residential building in Malindi where he had sought medical attention, before intelligence officers got wind of his presence.

Police blundered and enabled him to escape after they arrested a minor whom he had sent to a local cyber cafÈ, thinking he was Fazul.

By then, Fazul was watching the drama from the balcony.

Officers who participated the operation say after jumping from the balcony, Fazul hitched a ride in a saloon car to a nearby mosque from where he managed to escape by road to Lamu and later to Somalia.

By then, police were busy interrogating the minor thinking he was the one. A dragnet that was thrown in the area immediately, and that remained for days later did not bear any fruits.

The owners of the house where Fazul stayed was later arrested and charged in court with harbouring a criminal.

Police confiscated two of his passports and a laptop among other belongings. The police operation took place only days before the 10th anniversary of 1998 Embassy bombings.

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