It appears the leader of the radical Islamist militant group, al-Shabaab, has been captured in Puntland, Somalia.
Puntland is a semi-autonomous region located in north-east Somalia. The Puntland Security Minister, Khalif Isse, said that the terrorist leader was captured during a raid on a safe-house in the port city of Bossaso.
Abdikafi Mohamed Ali is reportedly the leader of operations for the group’s wing located in Puntland. The insurgent group, which is made up of some Somalis, but has become a transnational organization focused on Jihad, and attracts many foreign fighters. Al-Shabaab has been the last, but major obstacle in solidifying the shaky central government of a country that has been torn by civil war for decades.
One Puntland soldier was killed in the raid, and Bossaso remains on lockdown while soldiers search for other militants that may have been in hiding and are trying to escape. No traffic is being allowed in or out of the city while authorities conduct extensive searches.
The primary strength of the insurgents used to lie in southern and central Somalia, but as Somali and African Union forces have gained much ground recently, al-Shabaab has been forced to move north into Puntland. They reportedly occupy a base west of Bassaso in a mountainous forest wilderness.
The group has been linked to al-Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist networks in the area, and many believe piracy remains a primary source of their funding. For several years, an 18,000 strong force of African Union troops has been slowly pushing the militants throughout the country. A reported 3,000 of those troops have been killed in the clashes, and many Somali citizens denied access to humanitarian relief due to the fighting. Much of the conflict took place during one of the worse droughts to hit the region in decades.
While various clans were the participants in the brutal civil war that gripped the country throughout the 1990’s, the latter half of this decade has seen the line of conflict shift to radical Islam. Like many similar groups, al-Shabaab demands Sharia law in all places it controls; desires to wage Jihad against the West; and does not hesitate to commit takfir– the practice of killing fellow Muslims who are declared infidel.
Their brutality towards citizens, guerilla tactics and terrorist acts make them a difficult opponent to completely clean out of the country. Many opponents of their group, both citizen and military, have been killed in the past several years. They have also deliberately banned aid from Western nations, starving much of the population in areas they control.
Though the African Union and Puntland security forces are still making headway, the battle against al-Shabaab may continue to rage for years to come.