Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 5 Issue: 10


According to local sources, a March 3 U.S. naval attack on Somalia missed its target—Kenyan terrorist suspect, Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan. Kenyan police claim U.S. intelligence intercepted Nabhan’s mobile communications, leading to a strike on the southern Somali town of Dobley by two Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from an American submarine (Daily Nation [Nairobi], March 6).

There are conflicting reports about the number of dead and wounded civilians in Dobley, which was taken days earlier by Islamist militants fighting Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG). Nabhan is wanted for his alleged role in a series of terrorist attacks in 2002, including the suicide bombing of an Israeli-owned Mombasa hotel and an attempt to shoot down an Israeli airliner taking off from Mombasa’s Moi International Airport. He is also a suspect in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. The elusive Nabhan escaped a U.S. helicopter gunship attack on Ras Kamboni in January 2007.

Reaction within Somalia to yet another U.S. attack has been critical; according to one local media source: “The argument could easily be made that such preemptive acts weaken, not strengthen, the already fragile TFG position in Somalia. The U.S. government is on one hand offering assistance to the TFG to secure the country, but is exposing the TFG as the ineffective, weak and disorganized entity it really is” (Garowe Online, March 9). The attack comes just as TFG President Abdullahi Yusuf has launched efforts to negotiate with the Islamists through the mediation of elders of the Hawiye tribe. President Yusuf claims foreign al-Qaeda members are waging a wide-scale war against the TFG administration (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, March 9).


A U.S. naval deployment in international waters about 60 miles off the coast of Lebanon has increased political tension within that country as well as unsettling its neighbors. The guided missile destroyer USS Cole, victim of an al-Qaeda suicide attack in 2000 that claimed 17 lives, arrived off the coast of Lebanon at the beginning of this month.

Opposition to the U.S. naval deployment has come from an unexpected quarter. On March 5, a Basra-based Shiite militia calling itself “Hussein’s Cry Brigades” threatened to attack U.S. warships docked at the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr if the naval deployment off Lebanon was not brought to a close (al-Alam TV [Tehran], March 5). A masked and well-armed group of insurgents warned that the United States had only “days” to remove the Cole before attacks would commence. The destroyer was withdrawn the same day, but only to be replaced by an even stronger naval force that includes the guided missile destroyer USS Ross and the missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea.

Though U.S. spokesmen have described the naval mission as “a show of support for regional stability,” it is widely understood in Lebanon to be a demonstration of support for Lebanon’s ruling March 14 coalition, currently engaged in a political stand-off with Syrian-supported politicians, including Hezbollah, which has vowed revenge on Israel for the assassination of Hezbollah militant Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus on February 13 (Daily Star, March 4). The deployment is also viewed as an expression of support for Israeli military action in Gaza. Senior Hezbollah leader Sayyid Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah described the deployment as “no less than a declaration of war and a new attempt to break the resistance and anti-American groups in the region” (Press TV [Tehran], March 3). Other Hezbollah leaders have also been vocal in deploring the “provocative” deployment (al-Manar TV, March 4).

Umm Qasr was once the pride of industrial Iraq, a deep-water port that allowed Iraqi goods to avoid the contested Shatt al-Arab waterway. Seattle-based Stevedoring Services of America now operates the port under a no-bid contract granted by the U.S. Agency for International Development. There are reports that the port has been thoroughly infiltrated by members of the Jaysh al-Mahdi, a Shiite militia that siphons off port revenues to finance the anti-U.S. insurgency (Middle East Business Intelligence, March 7).