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Target Of U.S. Raid In Somalia Called A Top Attack Planner

A Kenyan intelligence official says that the "high-value terrorist leader" whose residence was targeted in a Navy SEAL raid Saturday was the senior al-Shabab leader Abdikadir Mohamed Abdikadir, who used the alias Ikrima.

Ikrima is a Kenyan of Somali descent who boasts connections to both al-Shabab in Somalia and to a Kenyan jihadist group called al-Hijra. Kenyan authorities announced Friday that two of the four terrorists killed in the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi were al-Hijra militants.

A U.S. government official later confirmed that Ikrima was in fact the target, says NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman.

Matt Bryden, director of Nairobi-based think tank Sahan Research, says that the Nairobi mall attack two weeks ago demonstrated a "dangerous convergence of al-Shabab, al-Hijra and the old al-Qaida East Africa networks," which may lay a foundation for future cooperative attacks in East Africa.

Bryden, former coordinator of the United Nation's Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group, said Ikrima is "one of those rare figures" with links to all three jihadist networks, and as such, is a prime target for assassination or capture.

A leaked Kenyan intelligence report confirms that Ikrima was plotting "multiple attacks" inside Kenya, "sanctioned by al-Qaida" in Pakistan, and "involving financial and logistical support from South African operatives." The report continues:

"By December 2011, the planners had acquired safe houses in Nairobi & Mombasa, trained the executors, received explosives from Somalia and commenced assembly of and concealment of explosives."

According to the report, Ikrima's small "terror cell" included two British nationals: an explosives expert named Jermaine John Grant and the infamous White Widow, Samantha Lewthwaite. (Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has confirmed that a "British woman" may have been among the fighters at the Westgate Mall.)

Bryden said that although there is no evidence linking Ikrima to the mall attack, his "central position" between multiple jihadist networks makes it "quite possible he played a leadership role."

Pentagon officials said that the Navy SEAL raid was planned a week after the mall attack.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Gregory Warner is the host of NPR's Rough Translation, a podcast about how things we're talking about in the United States are being talked about in some other part of the world. Whether interviewing a Ukrainian debunker of Russian fake news, a Japanese apology broker navigating different cultural meanings of the word "sorry," or a German dating coach helping a Syrian refugee find love, Warner's storytelling approach takes us out of our echo chambers and leads us to question the way we talk about the world. Rough Translation has received the Lowell Thomas Award from the Overseas Press Club and a Scripps Howard Award.