Yemen: Al Qaeda aiding Somalia militants, U.S. says
Al Qaeda’s powerful branch in Yemen has provided weapons, fighters and training with explosives over the last year to a militant Islamic group battling for power in Somalia, according to newly developed American intelligence, raising concerns of a widening alliance of terrorist groups.
Leaders of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen also have urged members of the hard-line Shabab militia to attack targets outside Africa for the first time, said U.S. officials who were briefed on the intelligence.
The information, they said, comes in part from a Somali militant who was captured en route from Yemen to Somalia and interrogated aboard a U.S. warship before being arraigned in New York on terrorism charges this month. Further intelligence was gleaned from detailed digital files found at Osama bin Laden’s hide-out in Pakistan after he was killed in May.
U.S. counter-terrorism officials, speaking on condition of anonymity in discussing intelligence matters, say text messages found on portable flash drives at the compound where Bin Laden was killed establish that he had sought to strengthen operational ties between Al Qaeda and the Shabab.
The heads of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, or AQAP, acted at times as Bin Laden’s go-betweens to the Somali fighters. Among those who tried to forge the alliance was Nasir Wahayshi, an AQAP leader who previously operated as Bin Laden’s personal secretary, said a former U.S. intelligence official who was briefed on the matter.
“There was a lot of traffic” about Somalia in the Bin Laden house, the former official said. Some of the thumb drives were smuggled out of Somalia and through Yemen before couriers hand-delivered them to Bin Laden in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, the ex-official said.
The CIA gained other information when Somali authorities allowed them to interview Shabab militants imprisoned in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, U.S. officials said. The CIA asked about the militants’ ability to launch attacks outside Somalia as well as the group’s command structure.