Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan
Status: Deceased (2009)
Organisation/s: Al-Qaeda (in East Africa); Al-Shabaab
Travel History: Unknown
Nabhan formed part of a 90s Al-Qaeda cell deployed to assist the emerging Islamist insurgency that would eventually be Al-Shabaab, combat the presence of U.S forces in Somalia. Nabhan facilitated communication between Osama bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda cell while also exploring ways in which the cell could undertake their own missions. This manifested in Al-Qaeda’s first international attack on the U.S embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya, which Nabhan was suspected of being involved in orchestrating.
Nabhan was known to be directly involved in Al-Qaeda’s second attack in 2002 on the Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel in Mombasa where he launched surface-to-air missiles with Issa Osman Issa at an Airkia Airlines Boeing 757-fortunately missing their target. Shortly after, three suicide bombers drove through the gates of the hotel, detonating their explosives killing 10 Kenyans and 3 Israelis.
Nabhan came into the fold of the Islamic Courts and its emerging Al-Shabaab which saw fit to mobilse against U.S intelligence operations conducting counter-terrorism operations to eliminate Al-Qaeda operatives responsible for the embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya. Al-Qaeda operatives like Nabhan served as chief advisors and a key link between the Somali insurgents and Al-Qaeda central in Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden seemed to caution against the militancy of Al-Shabaab. However, the Ethiopian invasion of Mogadishu in 2006 triggered Al-Shabaab into a full-blown insurgency in which the remaining Al-Qaeda operatives had to manage a delicate balance between supporting Al-Shabaab and maintaining the support of Osama bin Laden.
In September 2008, a video surfaced of Nabhan pledging bayat (loyalty) to Osama bin Laden in Al-Shabaab’s first attempt at an official affiliation with Al-Qaeda. This was largely ignored by Osama bin Laden in his subsequent statements in which he expressed support for “jihadists in Somalia”, avoiding to mention the group by name. This was contrary to Ayman Zawahiri’s response in which he acknowledged the group and called them “my brothers, the lions of Islam in Somalia” as early as November 2008.
Nabhan served as a chief military strategist for Al-Shabaab until he was killed in a raid by U.S special forces in September 2009.