The militant behind the Nairobi assault was deemed too radical and hot-headed even by Osama bin Laden, who rebuffed his request for a formal alliance with al-Qaeda.
By Alex Spillius
Somalilandsun – The global terror leader warned Ahmed Abdi Godane, the “emir” of al-Shabaab, against forcing sharia law on the local population before it was ready.
In a letter found in bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad after his death, he said Godane should “remain devout, patient and persistent in upholding high moral values … towards the community”.
Bin Laden advised the young, aspiring global jihadist not to harm too many Muslim civilians in his attacks on Amisom, the African security mission in Somalia, suggesting he should “review this matter”.
The letter was dated August 7, 2010, a month after al-Shabaab suicide bombers killed 74 people watching the World Cup final in Kampala, which the group said were launched in retaliation for Uganda’s participation in Amisom. That attack – three years before the devastating Keya mall atrocity – led to Washington placing a $7 million bounty on Godane.
The declassified bin Laden document was among 17 published by the Combating Terrorism Centre at West Point, the US military academy.
His recommendations to Godane, a Somalian thought to be aged 36, partly reflect a slight mellowing in tactics before his death in May 2011. But bin Laden thought a public association would have benefited neither of them, despite Godane’s admiration, made clear in apparent in a 2009 al-Shabaab video declaring he was “at your service Osama”.
Bin Laden’s concerns about Godane’s impetuousness were shared by other al-Shabaab leaders.
“Both were critical – they said he was going too fast and being too harsh in his implementation of sharia law,” said Stig Hansen, author of a book on al-Shabaab and a professor at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences.
“The real problem was Godane was ignoring the due process of the group’s sharia courts and imposing ad hoc solutions,” he said.
As al-Shabaab lost ground to Amisom, Godane’s military decisions were questioned and internal arguments intensified, reaching a bloody climax this summer.
In June, Godane loyalists killed two co-founders of the movement, including his former deputy and long time friend, Ibrahim Al-Afghani, and chased away Mukhtar Robow, the spokesman.
Afghani had criticised the leader’s fatwas against pop music, foreign films and even televised football. Muslim men, it was decreed, had no business watching other men “jumping up and down”. More wholesome forms of recreation were encouraged, such as Koranic recital contests.
Earlier this month Godane eliminated Alabama-born Omar Hammami, better known as al-Amriki (the “American”), who had criticised his methods. A British citizen of Pakistani origin going by the name Osama al-Britani, was reportedly killed in the same incident.
The attack on the Westgate mall is seen by some analysts as an attempt to reinvigorate al-Shabaab, whose territory has dwindled since Godane took over in 2008 when his predecessor was killed by an American air strike.
Perhaps for that reason, there are no known photographs of Godane, who communicates by audio messages – very rarely on video – and written musings on jihadi forums.
Born in 1977 in the breakaway republic of Somaliland, he reportedly worked selling charcoal in his home city Hargiesa before winning a scholarship to study economics in Pakistan in 1998 or 1999 funded by a Saudi Arabian religious foundation.
Former colleagues have said that he spent some of that period receiving military training in Afghanistan. He later reportedly worked as an accountant in a firm that specialised in overseas remittances, a key part of terror-funding.
Before his time in South Asia he joined a now disbanded radical group in Somaliland called al-Itihaad al-Islamiya. He was implicated by the US State department in the killing of Richard and Enid Eyeington, a British couple who ran a popular school in Somaliland.
According to unconfirmed reports from Somali media, Godane has a home in Sharjah, in the United Arab Emirates, where his wife and their children have lived since 2008. The reports also claimed he visited them twice in 2010, using a Kenyan passport.