Al-Shabab Chief Partially Seen on Video for First Time

Somalia’s al-Shabab militants have released a video that for the first time gives a partial view of the group’s leader, Abu Ubaidah.

The video, released Tuesday, shows Ubaidah meeting with Shabab fighters in a forest before the group’s failed Sept. 30 raid on Ballidogle, an airbase used by U.S. forces in Somalia.

The video shows Ubaidah’s hands and shoulders but blurs out his face. His voice his heard addressing the would-be attackers, telling them to target U.S. military personnel in the attack.

“Our biggest target today is the Americans, not the apostates,” he says. “The only reason we have exerted all this effort and undertaken all this preparation today is to attack the American troops. Therefore you must carry out the operation with great efficiency.”

The U.S. has offered a reward of up to $6 million for information leading to Ubaidah’s capture. Ubaidah, previously known as Ahmed Diriye, became al-Shabab’s emir in 2014 after the death of the previous leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane.

Godane was one of many al-Shabab fighters and leaders who were killed in attacks by U.S. aircraft and drones.

The new video does show the faces and names of about a dozen militants who participated in the Ballidogle attack. Somali and U.S. officials said all the militants who took part in the attack were killed before penetrating the base.

Background checks

Meanwhile, Somali authorities have launched a background check system to stop the infiltration of al-Shabab and other militant groups into government offices.

The program creates a database storing personal information as well contacts and addresses of federal government employees. VOA Somali’s Investigative Dossier program spoke to four government employees who were question by the Somali intelligence agents who took their details, photos and fingerprints.

Apart from personal information, the employees were also asked about possible links with al-Shabab and Islamic State.

“I was asked if I have links with al-Shabab, if I travelled to al-Shabab territory, if al-Shabab called me, if they asked for money,” says one of the civil servants who did not want to be named. “They asked if anyone in our family have connections with al-Shabab.”

Other government employees interviewed by Investigative Dossier confirmed they were asked the same questions.

The background check system was initiated several months ago but the rigorous interviewing of government employees was started following the July 24 suicide attack in Mogadishu mayor’s office. That attack killed late Mayor Abdirahman Omar Osman.

A female government official who gave false identification to the government carried out the attack.

Infiltration of al-Shabab concerns Somali government officials. Just last week, a military court in Mogadishu convicted the mayor of the town of Mahaas, in the Hiran region, for playing a role in an April 2019 explosion that killed his deputy. Abdirahman Elmi Awale was sentenced to life in prison.