One civilian man was possibly killed as a US drone struck and killed up to seven members of al-Shabaab at Kilometre 60 or K60, in Lower Shabelle, 60km south west of Mogadishu on the road to Marka/ Mercer, international media reported. The action came hours after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had told a conference on Somalia in London that airstrikes against al Shabaab “would not be a good idea.”
A local civilian told Reuters that fighter jets roared overhead before a loud blast ripped through the night air. Hassan, a local resident said: “First we saw a huge flash and then a big explosion shook the ground… Later we saw a huge crater and nearby trees were burned.” Al Shabaab confirmed the strike but “said it was not clear if the dead were its fighters or civilians.”
Initially, no civilian harm was reported. But more than a year after the attack German journalists identified a civilian killed in the event. Mohammed Abdullahi, 50, had taken his animals to pasture when the drones struck, according to a joint investigation by newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and Germany’s national broadcaster NDR. The investigation was based on testimonies by the victim’s son, a 34-year-old goat herder.
As Süddeutsche wrote (translation): “Mohamed Abdullahi, at the age of fifty, is one of the elders of his clan. He is a highly respected man: people come to him when there is conflict – the best grass or water, the essentials of nomadic life. He says who is right and who has to give in, and his award is valid. There is no other law here in the bush. On this day he has to go far until he finds fresh grass for his camels, almost an hour. Maxamed Abdullahi is a tall, sinewy man with short hair and a narrow beard. He wears the long robe of the nomads and cheap black sandals “made in China”. He protects himself from the sun with a turban or hat, while camel hats he usually wraps his bedding around his head. Then he has something to take to nap…
“When Maxamed Abdullahi is not back the next morning, Salman and his siblings set out to find him. On the way they learn of a bomb attack, but they still do not bring this message in connection with the missing father. Then they meet a woman who brings her camel milk to the city to sell. She tells us that the body of a civilian lies at the point of attack. Their own dead always bring the al-Shabaab people away, they are buried as martyrs solemnly. Civilians leave them lying, often for days.
Salman Abdullahi and his clan follow the directions of the milk saleswoman, and encounter the carcasses of a few dead camels, and on the torn corpse of a man at the point of attack: The upper body lies like a thrown on a tree, the rest underneath. Only the face is reasonably intact. Salman Abdullahi recognizes his father immediately. Staring with shock and unable to touch his father’s body, he watches as others from his clan pick up the body parts, place them in a cart, cover them up, and bring them home. The al-Shabaab militia have banned them for a proper funeral, so they hastily pick up a grave and bury Maxamed Abdullahi. Killed by the Americans in an attack from Germany, left calm by the militants of the Al-Shabaab militia.
Maxamed Abdullahi does not leave his son a single picture. He never owned a camera, and he has never been photographed. Photos bring bad luck, as many Somalis think. And yet, there is a digital memory: On the video recordings of the on-board camera shortly before the impact of the Hellfire rocket, a tall, narrow nomad to be seen, wrapped in traditional Somali robes, the bedding wrapped around the head, black cheap sandals to the feet. Taken a moment before his death. It is the only portrait that will remain of Maxamed Abdullahi, stored in the digital archive of the US military, or perhaps on a now-sorted computer, at least somewhere in Ramstein. In Germany.
If the directional microphone of the drone was employed, it can even be heard on these recordings, what happened down there. The explosion, screams of pain, the silence afterwards. What ever. If the co-pilot has switched to thermal imager, the crew was able to watch how the temperatures changed after the attack. How the bodies of people became colder and colder.”
An American official in Washington confirmed the attack was carried out by a United States drone. A second official said an “international” member of al Shabaab was the target of the strike, though he said a white Kenyan reported killed in the attack was not the target.
A range of sources reported that the strike had killed between four and seven al Shabaab militants. Al Shabaab identified one of the dead as Moroccan Sheikh Abu Ibrahim. According to Reuters: ‘A very senior Egyptian was killed. Three Kenyans and a Somali also died.’ AFP reported that the strike targeted an al Qaeda commander in his vehicle, destroying the car and killing him.
Among those reported killed was a militant initially named only as Sakr and described as ‘the Egyptian.’ The Bureau of Investigative Journalism later revealed his full name was London-born Mohamed al Sakr, the best friend of and former deputy of Bilal al-Berjawi (himself killed on January 22nd 2012.) A February 2013 investigation by the Bureau, published by the Independent, uncovered that Sakr had – like al Berjawi – had his British citizenship stripped by the UK’s Home Secretary Theresa May prior to his assassination. He was one of more than 20 people to lose their British citizenship on the orders of successive Home Secretary. The practice has been compared to “medieval exile” by leading human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce.
Sakr’s parents later said they believed the loss of his UK citizenship had left their son vulnerable to attack by the US. “I’ll never stop blaming the British government for what they did to my son. They broke my family’s back,” his father told the Bureau.
The strike coordinates were reportedly provided by two al Shabaab militants Ishaq Omar Hassan, 22, and Yasin Osman Ahmed, 23. The two were also accused of providing targeting information for the CIA to kill Bilal al Berjawi, and were executed in July 2012 along with 33-year-old Mukhtar Ibrahim Sheikh Ahmed – accused of spying for Britain’s MI6. Alabama-born jihadist and US citizen Omar Hammami, also known as Abu Mansour al-Amriki, revealed a rift within Al Shabaab when he released a video in which he declared that his life was at risk as a result of an internal search for moles. “I record this message today because I feel that my life may be endangered by Harakat Shabaab al-Mujahideen due to some differences that occurred between us regarding matters of the sharia and matters of strategy.” Al Shabaab tweeted that al-Amriki “was not endangered”.
Yet reports emerged the following day that the al Qaeda-linked group had arrested al-Amriki and taken him into custody. It was later claimed that Hammami was executed by Al Shabaab on April 5th 2012.
In August 2017, a German court refused to hear a case relating to the potential unlawful killing of farmer Abdullahi in a US strike from German soil. As Süddeutsche Zeitung noted (translation): “Abdullahi’s lawyers are not satisfied with this answer. The files show that ‘none of the prosecutors has conducted an effective investigation into this case,’ says Natalie von Wistinghausen, who Abdullahi and Eberhard Kempf represent.”
Süddeutsche later added: “The death of the Somali camel herder was ‘at best indirectly’ caused by a – possible – omission of the Federal Republic of Germany, the court ruled. This meant: It may be that Germany has a little something to do with it. Because US Air Base Ramstein is clearly the data hub for drone missions in Africa. But just not enough, that the son of the victim should therefore be checked by a German court, how much Germany really has to do with it. The son has no legal standing, was the conclusion of the Cologne court.”
The incident occured at approximately 3:00 am local time.