Wednesday, October 09, 2013
Ikrima, the militant targeted by US special forces
in a failed weekend raid, is a Somali-based thinker, planner and operator who
has relentlessly plotted attacks on neighbouring Kenya, intelligence services
and analysts believe.
Kenyan and Western security agencies have identified Ikrima
- the nom de guerre of Abdikadar Mohamed Abdikadar - as the link man for
commanders of the al-Shabaab Islamist group in Somalia with al-Qaeda and
Kenya's home-bred militants.
They have not established that Ikrima, a Kenyan of Somali
origin who spent several years in Norway, was involved in last month's attack
on a Nairobi shopping mall that killed 67 people, for which al Shabaab has
A Somali official said Ikrima came from a clan in the
semi-autonomous Puntland region and, echoing a regional diplomat, said he was
connected to al-Shabaab's Amniyat "secret service", an elite unit
blamed for high profile strikes in Mogadishu.
Ikrima has plotted to attack Kenya's parliament, assassinate
senior Kenyan politicians and hit U.N. offices in Nairobi, according to a
Kenyan intelligence report leaked to media and also obtained by Reuters.
These plans failed, but so too did the US Navy SEALS mission
into Barawe, a militant stronghold on Somalia's southern coast. The special
forces team pulled out after a gun battle without capturing Ikrima, named after
a figure in Islamic history who first fought against Prophet Mohammad but then
converted to become one of his most valiant commanders.
"He is a planner who is relentless in coming up with
operations in Kenya," said Matt Bryden, a former coordinator of the United
Nations Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group. "He is one of the thinkers,
planners, operational practitioners."
One defector from al-Shabaab, who now works with Somali
intelligence, described Ikrima as a well-connected man in his 30s able to
mastermind operations across the border into Kenya.
In 2004, he travelled to Norway where he applied for asylum
but left in 2008 before there was a decision on his application, Norway's TV2
reported. When in Norway, he lived in the Oslo area but visited Somalia, it
Norway's foreign ministry and the Norwegian Directorate of
Immigration declined to comment.
Experts say he was mentored by al-Qaeda operatives Fazul
Mohammed and Saleh Nabhan, both now dead, who played roles in the 1998 US
embassy bombing in Nairobi and a 2002 attack on an Israeli hotel and passenger
jet in the coastal city of Mombasa.
Mohammed was seen as the lynchpin of al-Qaeda in east Africa
before Somali government forces killed him in 2011, while Nabhan died in Barawe
in 2009 when US special forces staged a helicopter-borne strike.
One US official said Ikrima was known to Washington as a
major al Shabaab plotter. Another called him an "external operations"
planner but said the United States had no specific intelligence linking him to
the 21 September Westgate mall attack.
The Somali official said he was a senior member of the
special unit Amniyat and specifically head of operations in neighbouring
countries since at least 2012.
The diplomat said he had seen intelligence linking Ikrima to
the bombing of a UN base in Mogadishu in June that killed 22 people, also
linked to Amniyat.
Intelligence agencies have not revealed when Ikrima crossed
from Kenya into Somalia. He appeared on UN investigators' radar around 2009
when he was believed to be part of a small circle of foreign fighters who won
influence within al-Shabaab.
Since then, he is believed to have continued to nurture
links with al Hijra, a Kenyan group aligned to al-Shabaab.
"He is known to have travelled back and forth between
Somalia and Kenya. Some of the people he associated with were known to be
operational leaders of al Hijra," said Bryden, who is now director of
Sahan Research, a Horn of Africa-focused think tank in Nairobi.
Ikrima's relationship with al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Godane,
is unclear, although Godane is known to hide sometimes in Barawe where the US
forces landed on Saturday. An al-Shabaab spokesperson said no senior figure was
present when they arrived.
Since taking control in 2008, Godane has purged al-Shabaab
of dissenters to his leadership and, experts say, has tried to rebrand the
group as a global player in the al Qaeda franchise with the Westgate attack.
"It sits alongside al Shabaab's strategy of leveraging
the old al-Qaeda in east Africa network in order to stage their attacks
abroad," said Natznet Tesfay at risk consultancy IHS.
That could have made Ikrima useful for Godane, although
command structures in al Shabaab are opaque. One US official said Ikrima may
have operated independently of Godane.
J Peter Pham of the Atlantic Council think tank said Ikrima
had a range of links including with another active group, al-Qaeda in the
Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
"Ikrima seems to have his own connections both to al
Hijra and to al-Qaeda, including what is left of the central leadership in Pakistan
and AQAP in Yemen," he said.
In a security document leaked a week after the Westgate
raid, Kenya's National Intelligence Service warned that suspected al-Shabaab
militants were in the country.
The NIS detailed plots masterminded by Ikrima to attack parliament,
a restaurant popular with Somali officials, the UN headquarters in Nairobi and
Kenyan politicians. The plans, the NIS said, had been sanctioned by al-Qaeda in
Among Ikrima's accomplices, Kenyan intelligence said, was
Samantha Lewthwaite, a British Muslim convert labelled the "White
Widow" by the British press. Interpol have issued a "red alert"
arrest warrant for her.
The report also linked him to Jermaine Grant, another Briton
awaiting trial in Mombasa charged with planning an attack in Kenya in December.