Wednesday, December 27, 2006
somehow the vital connection is made:
I decided to take up Matt's challenge to the D.C. press: Who are the mystery terrorists in Somalia, and what's their connection to the Islamic Courts Union?

First stop was the State Department. In June, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Jendayi Frazer visited East Africa and said that "it is very clear that there are foreign terrorists in Somalia." She specifically referred to three individuals suspected of involvement with the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania: Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan and Abu Tahai al-Sudani. All three are suspected of arriving in Somalia long before the ICU took power. Furthermore, the nominal leader of the ICU, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, used to be the vice-chairman of al-Itihaad, a bin-Laden jihadist organization that supposedly no longer exists. Shortly after 9/11, the administration placed al-Itihaad on the Terrorism Exclusion List, an authority under the Patriot Act that limits activity within the U.S., but not on the Terrorism List.

Just two problems. First, Frazer did not single out Aweys as a concern, despite being perhaps the most intuitive link to al-Qaeda. That suggests either that the information on him isn't all it's cracked up to be or that diplomatic concerns militated against linking the ICU through Aweys to al-Qaeda. So I called up the State Department and spoke to Leslie Phillips in the press office. She said that "we do not have any information on these terrorists. That's an intelligence matter." She neglected to explain why Frazer could talk about these guys publicly but the State Department had to defer to the intelligence community.

Fine. So I called Carl Kropf in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. When I asked Carl about who these guys were that we should be concerned about, he remarked, "huh, that's a good question," and proceeded to look into it for me. A couple hours later, he e-mailed me a New York Times story from June that told me what I already knew. He added, "We decline to offer any response on the relationship with the ICI." I'm guessing that he meant the ICU.

So there you have it, for now. The administration believes three terrorists are in Somalia, with unclear or unstated connections to the ICU. Then there's the issue of Aweys, whom the U.S. isn't officially making an issue, for unclear reasons. Decide for yourself if this is a good reason to instigate a regional war.
--Spencer Ackerman
Wait a minute. Are you saying that we've got a causal relationship to Ethiopia invading? I'm sure the current administration was thrilled when Ethiopia invaded--but are we bright enough to be instigating this sort of thing?
Blogger J'myle | 12:31 AM

No idea, really. And I doubt causal. But we're pretty involved here -- see Matt's blog for all this -- and chances are some on-the-ground emissary, probably without coordination from Washington, gave something that was interpreted as a green light. Just a guess.
Blogger Spencer Ackerman | 6:57 AM

So, uh, that's my tax dollars at work? So glad I decided not to take that job at the State Department.
Blogger James F. Elliott | 9:03 AM