The State Department today added two senior officials in Shabaab, al Qaeda’s official branch in East Africa, to the US government’s list of designated terrorists.
One of the two, Ahmed Diriye, is Shabaab’s overall leader. Diriye rose to that position after Ahmed Abdi Godane, Shabaab’s previous head, was killed in a US airstrike in September 2014. Shabaab quickly reaffirmed its allegiance to al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri after Diriye, who is also known as Sheikh Ahmad Umar and Abu Ubaidah, was named as Godane’s successor.
In its announcement today, State notes that Diriye “shares Godane’s vision for al Shabaab’s terrorist attacks in Somalia as an element of al Qaeda’s greater global aspirations.” Godane and al Qaeda publicly announced their merger in February 2012, but declassified documents recovered in Osama bin Laden’s compound, as well as other evidence, show that the two had a close working relationship well before then.
Shabaab remains openly loyal to Zawahiri despite recent suggestions that the group is going to leave al Qaeda’s ranks and join the Islamic State. Propaganda videos released by the terrorist organization this year are littered with images of Zawahiri and other senior al Qaeda leaders.
The State Department provides some biographical details on Diriye. “Prior to replacing Godane, Diriye served in several positions within Shabaab, including as Godane’s assistant, the deputy governor of Lower Juba region in 2008, and Shabaab’s governor of Bay and Bakool regions in 2009,” State notes. “By 2013, he was a senior adviser to Godane, and served in Shabaab’s ‘Interior Department,’ where he oversaw the group’s domestic activity.”