MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Somalia’s al Shabaab insurgents called on Wednesday for more foreign militants to join them in the failed Horn of Africa state after U.S. forces killed one of the region’s most wanted al Qaeda suspects.
The U.S. commando operation that killed Kenyan-born Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, 28, in remote southern Somalia on Monday has triggered an angry response from Islamist rebels fighting the nation’s U.N.-backed government.
The raid likely gained Washington valuable counter-terrorism intelligence, but it risked further inflaming anti-Western opinion in a country of growing concern to the West.
Nabhan, wanted over a 2002 truck bombing that killed 15 people at an Israeli-owned beach hotel in Kenya and a simultaneous failed missile attack on an Israeli airliner as it left nearby Mombasa, was allied with al Shabaab.
Washington says al Shabaab is al Qaeda’s proxy in Somalia.
“We call for all Muslim fighters in the world to come to Somalia,” Sheikh Mahad Abdikarim, commander of al Shabaab forces in Bay and Bakol regions, told a news conference in Baidoa town.
He also referred to an African Union peacekeeping mission that is backing President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed’s administration.
“If Burundians and Ugandans, who are not Muslims, are allowed to stay in Somalia, who can refuse our Muslim brothers to join us in the struggle?” Abdikarim asked.
Nabhan’s mother, Aisha Abdalla said her son was innocent of the accusations made against him.
“We categorically deny that my son was an Al-Qaeda leader or involved himself in terrorist activities. I gave birth to him,”
Speaking at a northern Mombasa suburb where Nabhan spent his childhood, she demand his body be handed to the family, if indeed he had been killed as reported.
Monday’s raid marked an apparent change in tactics for the U.S. military, which has previously targeted wanted militants in Somalia using missiles, as opposed to helicopter-borne troops.
Western security agencies say the country, where fighting has killed more than 18,000 civilians since the start of 2007, has become a safe haven for militants, including foreign jihadists, who use it to plot attacks in the region and beyond.
The U.S. military has launched several airstrikes inside Somalia in the past against individuals including those blamed for the U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
In May last year, U.S. war planes killed the then-leader of al Shabaab and al Qaeda’s top man in the country, Afghan-trained Aden Hashi Ayro, in an attack on the central town of Dusamareb.
Under Ayro, al Shabaab had adopted Iraq-style tactics, including assassinations, roadside bombs and suicide bombings.
Abdikarim, the al Shabaab commander, denounced Washington.
“Anybody who believes that America has a veto ... is an infidel with no faith. We must prepare to liberate Afghanistan, Palestine and the al Aqsa mosque,” he told reporters.
Violence has killed more than 18,000 Somalis since the start of 2007 and driven another 1.5 million from their homes.
That has triggered one of the world’s worst aid emergencies, with the number of people needing help leaping 17.5 percent in a year to 3.76 million or half the population.
Editing by Matthew Jones