Somalia: Al-Qaeda Affiliate Attempts to Kill U.S. Diplomat in Attack That Left 6 Dead

An elderly man from a Somali tribal clan carries an AK-47 and the Islamist black flag with the words "There is no God but Allah and Mohamed Is the Prophet of Allah" as he vows to fight the Somali government forces and African Union peacekeeping troops in Mogadishu's Maslah Square …
AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh

Al-Shabaab assumed responsibility for an assassination attempt this week on an American diplomat in the Somali capital of Mogadishu that killed six and wounded six others, including the city’s mayor.

The Somalia-based al-Qaeda branch identified James Swan, the United Nations special representative for Somalia and an American diplomat, as the primary target of Wednesday’s suicide bombing.

Citing a brief statement disseminated by the terrorist group’s Shahada News-Telegram, the Long War Journal on Wednesday quoted al-Shabaab as saying, “The U.N. Special Envoy James Swan, an American, survived an assassination attempt and many government officials were killed and wounded, including Mogadishu’s mayor, after targeting them in an explosion.”

The attack took place at a heavily fortified local government headquarters in Mogadishu.

Mogadishu Deputy Mayor Mohamed Tulah told state-run Radio Mogadishu that Mayor Abdirahman Omar Osman met with city officials to discuss security challenges before the attack, according to Voice of America (VOA).

“Minutes” before the blast Swan met with the mayor and the officials, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

In a statement carried by various news outlets, the Ameican diplomat proclaimed:

I deplore this heinous attack which not only demonstrates a violent disregard for the sanctity of human life, but also targets Somalis working to improve the lives of their fellow Somalis in the Mogadishu-Banadir region.

The United Nations stands with the people and government of Somalia in their rejection of such terrorist acts, and our thoughts are with the victims of this attack.”

It remains unclear how the jihadis managed to bypass security screenings and infiltrate the heavily-fortified mayor’s office.

AP revealed:

A suicide bomber walked into the office of Mogadishu’s mayor and detonated explosives strapped to his waist, killing six people and badly wounding the mayor minutes after a visit from the new United Nations envoy, Somali officials said Wednesday.

The attack claimed by the al-Shabab extremist group occurred after the envoy to Somalia, James Swan, paid the mayor a “courtesy call” and left the compound, an [anonymous] official at the mayor’s office told The Associated Press.

Along with his deputy, authorities rushed Mayor Osman to the hospital with critical wounds, police Capt. Mohamed Hussein reportedly said.

AP alluded to the possibility of an insider threat, noting:

Some security officials said the attacker might have coordinated with corrupt officials, offering them bribes for access. …The security officials said Wednesday’s attack appeared to be a shift in tactics, as the extremists in the past had rarely managed to infiltrate heavily fortified government buildings without first detonating one or more vehicle bombs.

Recent developments about al-Shabaab suggest America’s air campaign is beginning to take a toll on the group. The airstrikes have reportedly triggered infighting between al-Shabaab factions and an unprecedented increase in executions of suspected spies, including of some of its members.

War on the Rocks, a news outlet that features articles by writers with the first-hand experience in foreign policy and national security, including veterans, noted in 2018:

The [Trump] air strikes also stoke fears of spies and infiltrators, which can lead to witch hunts that damage group cohesion. … There are also reports of an increase in defections from al-Shabaab, which exacerbates tensions within the group.

Anti-al-Shabaab pressure also comes as clans and locals in areas controlled by the group are reportedly rejecting the jihadis’ rule. Al-Shabaab is considered one of the deadliest terrorist groups in Africa and one of the most potent al-Qaeda branches.

Wednesday’s attack came a few days after al-Shabaab jihadis detonated another bomb near Mogadishu’s international airport, killing 17 people.

Soon after taking office, Trump intensified American military efforts against al-Shabaab in March 2017, ending restrictions imposed by his predecessor Barack Obama.

Trump expanded the mission beyond self-defense to offensive strikes, effectively providing greater flexibility to target the group and back the multinational African Union troops and Somali forces.

War on the Rocks noted:

The campaign is having a disruptive effect on the group, but has, at best, reached a stalemate. Al-Shabaab’s setbacks have been largely tactical and will remain so unless the Somali government addresses its endemic weaknesses in the realm of security and justice.

Under the Trump’s unprecedented air campaign, al-Shabaab airstrikes this year (already at least 46) and ensuing fatalities (more than 200) are expected to surpass the historic 45 strikes that killed 326 jihadis in 2018.

Since June 2017, U.S. airstrikes have killed 800 al-Shabaab jihadis in Somalia, the U.S. military said in March.

Overall, airstrikes against al-Shabaab under Trump have more than tripled when compared to those under his predecessors.

The U.S. has been targeting al-Shabaab with airstrikes and ground raids since 2007. U.S. troops in Africa are only able to carry out offensive strikes in Somalia and Libya.

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