The US government has imposed sanctions on two Shabaab leaders who helped plot a raid on an American military camp in Kenya’s Coastal Lamu County in January.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday listed Abdullahi Osman Mohamed and Maalim Ayman as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs). This means that any of their assets on US soil will be frozen, American entities are barred from dealing with them, and global businesses could face sanctions if they are found to be channelling financial or other support to the pair.
The US decision came after the two were seen as key masterminds on the raid on Camp Simba on Manda Bay, near Lamu. The camp is used by Kenyan and American forces.
On January 5, the camp was raided by militants who destroyed an aircraft at Manda Air Strip, and killed an American soldier and two contractors. Five of the militants were killed in the attack that was later repelled by the soldiers.
After months of investigations, US authorities pointed a finger at Maalim Ayman Jaysh Ayman, an al-Shabaab cell that often conducts raids on Kenyan and Somalia border towns, as one of those responsible for preparing the January attack.
It is not clear whether Ayman has assets in the US but he works with Kenyan and foreign fighters who may have links with financiers as far as the US.
The Manda Bay attack was reportedly conducted by Kenyan and foreign fighters who withdrew to Somalia after a reinforcement at Manda Bay repelled them.
Pompeo also listed Abdullahi Osman Mohamed for his role as a Shabaab expert in assembling explosives. He is known in his cell as “Engineer Ismail,” and helps assemble weapons from local material for ease of deployment.
A report by the UN Panel of Experts on Somalia last year indicated that Somalia’s Shabaab militants, affiliated to al-Qaeda, have managed to remain lethal in lean times by assembling explosives from local material that may otherwise be imported legally into Somalia. Because of this improvisation, the report said the Shabaabs have managed to conduct deadly raids on installations in spite of an arms embargo imposed on Somalia. They have also managed to infiltrate key sectors of the Somali government and launched a parallel revenue collection system.
Mohamed was also identified as an explosives manager and a special adviser to emir of al-Shabaab as well as the leader of the group’s propaganda wing. Despite seeing more loss of lives at Manda Bay, the Shabaab media wing al-Kataib declared “victory.”
“The US Government is committed to disrupting the illicit financing methods of al-Shabaab, limiting its ability to conduct further attacks against civilians, and supporting the Federal Government of Somalia in disrupting terrorism finance,” Pompeo said on Tuesday.
“Addressing the al-Shabaab threat will require working closely with our partners to degrade the terrorist group’s capacity and operations, combatting its control and influence in East Africa.”
The US designated al-Shabaab as a terrorist organisation in 2008 and has since focused on disrupting the illicit source of financing for the group.
However, the debate has often raged on how further the sanctions should go. Last year, the US sided with Somalia after Kenya wanted the sanctions on al-Shabaab elevated to be similar to those initially imposed on the Taliban and al-Qaeda, where no humanitarian assistance goes to areas they control.
Somalia countered by saying civilians would suffer more and a group of ex-American diplomats and NGO bosses lobbied for a US veto. Eventually, the UN Security Council failed to elevate the sanctions.
A UN resolution passed in 1993 during the Somali civil war has been updated several times to limit illegal arms supply to Shabaabs and financial support to the group.