The Star (Nairobi)

Somalia: Al Qaeda Commander Killed in Blast

A top al Qaeda commander and successor of the late Harun Fazul as the regional leader was assassinated in Mogadishu in a power struggle that had gripped the terror group.

Bilal ElBerjawi, a British national of Lebanese descent was killed in a car bomb in Elasha Biyaha, 15 kilometres south of Mogadishu on Saturday.

The killing is suspected to be an inside job following intensified divisions within the ranks of top Al-Shabaab and Al-Qaeda leaders. In the recent past, three rival factions have emerged within the terrorist ranks in Somalia pitting local versus foreign dominated militants. It is believed that there is a faction led by one Omar Hammami alias Abu Mansur Al-Ameriki who is allied to Ahmed Aw Abdi Godane (Alias Abu Zubeyr)- Al-Shabaab de-facto leader, the Al-Qaeda linked faction led by Berjawi and the Kenyan group led by Ahmed ImanAli who has links with Muslim Youth Council (MYC) of Majengo.

Berjawi took over the leadership ofAl-Qaeda in Somalia following the killing of senior Al-Qaeda leader, HarunFazul on 11 June, 2011 in a Mogadishu road block by Transitional Federal Government forces. Fazul succeeded Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan who was killed by US special commandos on 14 September, 2009. The car bombing that led to the killing of Berjawi is suspected to be the work of top Al-Shabaab leaders including the overall Emir of the group, Ahmed Godane alias Abu Zubeyr.

Al-Qaeda led by Berjawi and Al-Shabaab Somalia wing opposed to Godane's leadership have in the recent past made several attempts to replace Godane as the overall Al-Shabaab leader but foreign fighters led by Al-Ameriki came to his rescue threatening to pull out foreign foreignersallied to them out of Somalia and cutting off external funding to the terror group. Berjawi and local Somali Al-Shabaab leaders including Mukhtar Robow,Fuad Shongole, Ali Dheere and Hassan Dahir Aweys have condemned his leadership of being high handed and resisting change.

In early December, 2011, Al-Shabaab militia group leaders opposed to Godane held a week long meeting in Baidoa,Southern Somalia where they proposed leadership change, change of name toImaarah Islamiyah (Islamic Authority) and reduction of external influence(foreign fighters) in the management of the group. Ahmed Godane was the only Al-Shabaab leader who did not attend the meeting and sent a message opposing the resolutions of the meeting.

Berjawi's came to Somalia in 2006 andf ought alongside the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) the predecessor of Al-Shabaabmilitia group. He was involved in the formation of the Kenyan cell of Al-Qaeda.He controlled vast resources channelled through him to Somalia that gave his faction massive influence and an advantage over other group fighting to takecontrol of the terror group.

The death of Berjawi has further intensified divisions within the ranks of Al-Shabaab and foreign fighters in Somalia and the East Africa region following claims that Godane and top Al-Shabaab leaders were either directly involved in the planning and execution of Berjawi or provided vital information that led to his killing.

The Al-Shabaab websites of Somali memo and their twitter account of HSM Press Office has confirmed the killing of Berjawi but claimed that a US drone attack was involved in his killing. Multiple sources on the ground have reported that the car bombing was as a result of an improvised explosive device(IED) or land mine planted on the path of the vehicle and not a drone attack as claimed by the militia group.

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