U.S. confirms death of al Shabaab leader Godane in Somalia air strike


The Pentagon confirmed on Friday that Ahmed Godane, a leader of the al Shabaab Islamist group, was killed in a U.S. air strike in Somalia this week, calling it a “major symbolic and operational loss” for the al-Qaida-affiliated organization.

“We have confirmed that Ahmed Godane, the co-founder of al-Shabaab, has been killed,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement.

Godane was a co-founder and leader of the group, which has carried many bombings and suicide attacks in Somalia and elsewhere, including the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya, in September 2013 that killed at least 39 people.

Godane publicly claimed responsibility for the Westgate attack, saying it was revenge for Kenyan and Western involvement in Somalia and noting its proximity to the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

His death left a huge gap in al Shabaab's leadership and was seen as posing the biggest challenge to its unity since it emerged as a fighting force eight years ago.

Abdi Ayante, director of the Heritage Institute for Policy Studies in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, said Godane's death would be “a game changer in many ways for al Shabaab.”

“What is likely to happen is a struggle for power,” he said a day before the Pentagon's confirmed Godane's death. Ayante said fragmentation was also possible in the absence of a leader with Godane's experience and ruthless approach to dissent.

U.S. forces carried out the military operation targeting Godane in Somalia on Monday, but the Pentagon did not confirm his death until Friday, saying it was still assessing the results of the air strike.

Kirby said in his statement that “removing Godane from the battlefield is a major symbolic and operational loss to al Shabaab.”

A separate statement from White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the operation that killed Godane was the result of “years of painstaking work by our intelligence, military and law enforcement professionals.”

Earnest said the administration would continue to use financial, diplomatic, intelligence and military tools to address the threat posed by al Shabaab.

The U.S. State Department declared al Shabaab a foreign terrorist organization in 2008.

Somalia's government, with support from African peacekeepers and Western intelligence, has battled to curb al Shabaab's influence and drive the group from areas it has continued to control since it was expelled from Mogadishu in 2011.

Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey

Obama says U.S. will ‘take out’ Islamic State leaders


President Barack Obama said on Friday the United States would hunt down Islamic State militants in Iraq and “take out” their leaders with the goal of dismantling the organization as it had done with al-Qaida and was doing in Somalia.

In some of his toughest comments since Washington began air strikes last month to halt an Islamists' advance in northern Iraq, Obama set out a long-term plan to degrade and ultimately destroy the movement that has captured swathes of Iraq and Syria.

“We are going to achieve our goal. We are going to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL, the same way that we have gone after al Qaeda,” Obama told a news conference after a NATO summit in Wales.

“You initially push them back, you systematically degrade their capabilities, you narrow their scope of action, you slowly shrink the space, the territory that they may control, you take out their leadership, and over time they are not able to conduct the same kinds of terrorist attacks as they once could,” he said.

He also confirmed that the United States had killed the co-founder of Somalia's al-Shabaab Islamist group, Ahmed Godane, in an air strike this week.

Reporting by Phil Stewart and Steve Holland; Writing by Paul Taylor

Netayahu offers condolences to Kenya as Nairobi mall crisis nears end


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered his condolences to Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta over the al-Qaida-linked terror attack on a mall in Nairobi.

“Israel empathizes with the Kenyan people’s pain and with your own personal loss due to the terror attack. We value your nation’s determined struggle against terrorism,” Netanyahu said in a phone conversation on Monday night, according to his office.

The call came as security forces at the upscale Westgate mall worked to secure the area, free hostages and apprehend the terrorists.

At least 62 people are known killed in the attack and siege which began on Saturday afternoon, though the death toll could rise once the siege is completely over.

An explosion and gunfire were heard in the mall at about 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, the Associated Press reported, despite Kenyan government reports that the crisis was over.

Kenya’s Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed said that two to three Americans and a British citizen of Arab origin were among the gunmen.

The French news agency AFP reported that Israel agents were involved in the rescue operations, something that was neither confirmed nor denied by Israeli officials.

One Israeli was injured and three others escaped harm, according to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Several Americans also were injured.

Militants from al Shabab, a Somalia-based terror group linked to al-Qaida, claimed responsibility for the attack. Al Shabab said the attack was revenge for Kenya’s military operations in Somalia that began nearly two years ago.

Smoke pours from Kenya mall as forces ‘close in’


Thick smoke poured from the besieged Nairobi mall where Kenyan officials said their forces were closing in on Islamists holding hostages on Monday, the third day since Somalia's al Shabaab launched a raid that has killed at least 62 people.

It remained unclear how many gunmen and hostages were still cornered in the Westgate shopping center, after a series of loud explosions and gunfire were followed by black smoke billowing from one part of the complex.

Kenya's interior minister told a news conference militants had set fire to mattresses in a supermarket on the mall's lower floors. The ministry later said the blaze was under control.

Two attackers had been killed on Monday, the minister added. Another assailant had died on Saturday.

The gunmen came from “all over the world”, Kenya's military chief said, adding: “We are fighting global terrorism here.”

President Uhuru Kenyatta dismissed on Sunday a demand that he pull Kenyan forces out of neighboring Somalia.

Kenyatta, who lost one of his own nephews in Saturday's bloodbath, said he would not relent in a “war on terror” in Somalia, where Kenyan troops have pushed al Shabaab onto the defensive over the past two years as part of an African Union-backed peacekeeping mission across the northern border.

Security officials near the mall said the explosions heard at lunchtime were caused by Kenyan forces blasting a way in, but Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku said he had no information on any blasts and a military spokesman declined to comment when asked if militants had set off charges.

Al Shabaab warned it would kill hostages if police moved in.

Echoing other officials, who have highlighted successes in rescuing hundreds of trapped people after Saturday's massacre, Ole Lenku said most of the complex was under the authorities' control and escape was impossible.

A senior police officer said the authorities, who have been receiving advice from Western and Israeli experts, were “closing in”. Ole Lenku said: “We are doing anything reasonably possible, cautiously though, to bring this process to an end.

“The terrorists could be running and hiding in some stores, but all floors now are under our control.”

Ole Lenku said all the attackers were men, after witnesses had reported seeing women brandishing arms in the attack.

But three sources, one an intelligence officer and two soldiers, told Reuters that one of the killed attackers was a white woman. This is likely to fuel speculation that she is the wanted widow of one of the suicide bombers who attacked London's transport system in 2005.

Asked if it was Samantha Lewthwaite, called the “white widow” by the British press, the intelligence officer said: “We don't know.”

CINEMA

President Uhuru Kenyatta refused on Sunday to pull Kenyan troops out of Somalia, where they have pushed al Shabaab on to the defensive over the past two years as part of an African Union-backed peacekeeping mission across the northern border.

Asked on Sunday about whether captives had been wired with explosives, he declined comment. Kenyatta said all the gunmen were in one place. But a Kenyan soldier told reporters near the mall on Monday that the assailants and hostages were dispersed.

“They're in the cinema hall, with hostages. There are other terrorists in different parts,” the soldier said. “They are on the upper floors, the third and fourth floors.”

Previously, officials had indicated that the militants may have been grouped in a supermarket on the lower floors.

The president, who lost a nephew in Saturday's killing, vowed to hold firm in the “war on terror” in Somalia and said, cautiously, that Kenyan forces could end the siege.

“I assure Kenyans that we have as good a chance to successfully neutralize the terrorists as we can hope for,” he said. “We will punish the masterminds swiftly and painfully.”

It was unclear who the assailants were. Al Shabaab – the name means “The Lads” in Arabic – has thousands of Somali fighters but has also attracted foreigners to fight Western and African Union efforts to establish a stable government.

A London man, Jermaine Grant, faces trial in Kenya for possession of explosives. Police suspect an al Shabaab plot to attack restaurants and hotels used by Westerners and have been hunting for another Briton, Samantha Lewthwaite, the widow of a suicide bomber who took part in the London 7/7 attacks of 2005.

Some British newspapers speculated on the role the “White Widow” might have played at Westgate. The term “black widow” has been used by Chechen militants in Russia for women taking part in bombings and assaults after the deaths of their husbands.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, confirming that at least three Britons were already among the dead, said: “We should prepare ourselves for further bad news.”

U.S. President Barack Obama called Kenyatta to offer condolences and support. Israel, whose citizens own stores in the Israeli-built mall and have been targeted by Islamists in Kenya before, said Israeli experts were also helping.

As well as Kenyans, foreigners including a French mother and daughter and two diplomats, from Canada and Ghana, were killed. Ghanaian Kofi Awoonor was a renowned poet. Other victims came from China and the Netherlands. Five Americans were wounded.

Kenya's president, son of post-colonial leader Jomo Kenyatta, is facing his first major security challenge since being elected in March. The crisis might have an impact on his troubles with the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

Judges there let his vice president, William Ruto, fly home for a week, suspending a trial on Monday in which Ruto is charged with crimes against humanity for allegedly coordinating violence after an election in 2007. Kenyatta is due to face trial on similar charges later this year.

MULTINATIONAL AFFAIR

Ole Lenku acknowledged “support” from foreign governments but said Kenyan forces were managing without it so far. Western powers have been alarmed by a spread of al Qaeda-linked violence across Africa, from Nigeria and Mali in the west, though Algeria and Libya in the north to Somalia and Kenya in the east.

Nairobi saw one of the first major attacks by al Qaeda, when it killed more than 200 people by bombing the U.S. embassy in 1998. While some analysts said the latest raid may show al Shabaab lashing out in its weakness after the successes of Kenyan troops in Somalia, the risk of further international violence remains.

Julius Karangi, chief of the Kenyan general staff, called the gunmen “a multinational collection”. He said they had set the fire as a distraction but could now have no hope of evading capture: “If they wish, they can now surrender,” he said.

“We have no intention whatsoever of going backwards.”

On Sunday, President Kenyatta said 10 to 15 assailants were holding an unknown number of hostages in one location, apparently the supermarket. On Monday, it was not clear whether they may be more dispersed, including on the upper floors.

A spokesman for al Shabaab warned they would kill hostages if Kenyan security forces tried to storm their positions. “The mujahideen will kill the hostages if the enemies use force,” Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage said in an audio statement posted online.

On Twitter, the group posted: “They've obtained large amounts of ammunition and are, by the blessings of Allah alone, still firm and still dominating the show.”

The Red Cross and Ole Lenku put the death toll so far at 62. The Red Cross said it had also recorded 63 people as missing.

Survivors' tales of the assault by squads of attackers throwing grenades and spraying automatic fire have left little doubt the hostage-takers are willing to go on killing. Previous raids around the world, including at a desert gas plant in Algeria nine months ago, suggest they are also ready to die.

SECURITY CHALLENGE

It remains unclear who the assailants are. Al Shabaab – the name means “The Lads” in Arabic – has thousands of Somali fighters but has also attracted foreigners to fight Western and African Union efforts to establish a stable government.

A London man, Jermaine Grant, faces trial in Kenya for possession of explosives. Police suspect an al Shabaab plot to attack restaurants and hotels used by Westerners and have been hunting for the “white widow” Lewthwaite.

The term “black widow” has been used by Chechen militants for women taking part in attacks after their husbands have died.

Kenya's president, son of post-colonial leader Jomo Kenyatta, is facing his first major security challenge since being elected in March. The crisis might have an impact on his troubles with the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

Judges there let his vice president, William Ruto, fly home for a week, suspending a trial on Monday in which Ruto is charged with crimes against humanity for allegedly coordinating violence after an election in 2007. Kenyatta is due to face trial on similar charges in November.

Al Shabaab's siege underlined its ability to cause major disruption with relatively limited resources, even after Kenyan and other African troops drove it from Somali cities.

“While the group has grown considerably weaker in terms of being able to wage a conventional war, it is now ever more capable of carrying out asymmetric warfare,” said Abdi Aynte, director of Mogadishu's Heritage Institute of Policy Studies.

Others said divisions within the loose al Shabaab movement may have driven one faction to carry out the kind of high-profile attack that may help win new support.

Al Shabaab's last big attack abroad was a double bombing in Uganda that killed 77 people watching soccer on TV in 2010.

Reporting by Edmund Blair, James Macharia, Duncan Miriri, Richard Lough, Drazen Jorgic, Humphrey Malalo, Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Kevin Mwanza in Nairobi, Pascal Fletcher in Johannesburg, Feisal Omar and Abdi Sheikh in Mogadishu, Roberta Rampton in Washington, Anthony Deutsch at The Hague, Myra MacDonald in Tbilisi and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Writing by Edmund Blair and Alastair Macdonald; editing by David Stamp

Kenya jails two Iranians for life for plotting attacks


Two Iranian men were sentenced to life in prison by a Kenyan court on Monday for planning to carry out bombings in Nairobi and other cities last year.

Ahmad Mohammed and Sayed Mousavi were found guilty last week of planning the attacks and also possessing 33 lb of explosives. They were arrested in Nairobi in June.

Kenyan investigators said at the time of their arrest that it was unclear whether the pair had ties to al Qaeda-linked militants in Somalia or were part of another network.

Their lawyers said the two, who had both pleaded not guilty, would appeal against their sentence.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said the verdict was “unacceptable,” Iran's state television reported.

“The two citizens entered Kenya on a valid visa for tourism purposes last year and were arrested as part of a pre-planned plot with baseless accusations,” he said, adding he expected Kenya's new government to review the case in a “desirable way.”

Israel's domestic intelligence service Shin Bet said at the end of last year that Kenya had arrested “two senior (Iranian) Revolutionary Guard Corps operatives who were in the midst of preparing a terrorist attack on an Israeli target in Kenya”.

The agency did not say whether the two Iranians it referred to were Mohammed or Mousavi, but an Israeli official speaking on condition of anonymity had told Reuters in Jerusalem when the two were convicted that they were thought to be the same.

Dozens of people were killed last year in a spate of bombings and attacks in the capital, the port city of Mombasa and the frontier region with Somalia.

The Nairobi government mostly blamed those incidents on the Somali al Shabaab rebels, who Kenyan troops have been battling inside Somalia as part of a peacekeeping force.

(Additional reporting by Zahra Hosseinian; Writing by James Macharia and Edmund Blair; Editing by Alison Williams)

Jews must respond to the crisis in Somalia


A tragedy is unfolding in the Horn of Africa, where hundreds of thousands of children are at immediate risk of death. The disastrous combination of the worst drought in 60 years, high food prices and regional conflict has left 12 million people, including more than 2 million malnourished children, in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

A huge migration is now taking place from the areas of southern Somalia that have been engulfed in famine to the capital, Mogadishu, and to neighboring Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti. Mothers carry their infants for days or weeks on end, desperate to find them nourishment, clean water and medical assistance. Some have been forced to make an unthinkable “Sophie’s choice” about which child to feed and which to allow to die—a decision no parent should ever have to make.

The next rains are not due to arrive until October, meaning that no new harvests can be expected in the region before the end of the year. Unless aid to affected areas increases significantly, the famine will likely spread and intensify, putting many more young lives in jeopardy. However, despite the scale of this catastrophe, the drought and famine in the Horn of Africa have not consistently made headlines, nor have these scourges caught the attention of many Americans. The international donor community, so quick to mobilize after similar disasters, has been slow to respond to the situation in Somalia this summer. This catastrophe is not on the public agenda, but it urgently needs to be.

With this in mind, I turn to the Jewish community—my community—for support in our efforts to save the lives of children threatened by conditions beyond their control. After serving nearly two decades in Jewish communal life, I have spent the past five years as president and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, which is one of several entities trying to get aid to the afflicted area.

My worldview, personally and professionally, has been shaped by a commitment to tikkun olam—healing the world. It comes from my mother, who was a child in Vienna during Kristallnacht. She survived the Holocaust by being sent to the United States in 1939, at the age of 6, along with her 4-year-old brother and a woman she never saw again after they arrived. They were raised for two years in an orphanage for Jewish refugee children on New York’s Lower East Side. My mother’s dislocation as a little girl left both of us with the profound desire to do whatever we could to protect and care for other vulnerable children.

Today, it is in the Horn of Africa where children’s survival is most in peril. More than 400,000 refugees, the vast majority of whom are women and children, are crowded into three refugee camps in Kenya. They desperately require nourishment, medicine and access to clean water and sanitation facilities to survive. Aid organizations are there, providing those services—along with child-friendly spaces and educational opportunities—but the needs are tremendous.

In Somalia, the epicenter of the emergency, tens of thousands of people—mainly children—have died in the last few months. UNICEF and other humanitarian groups are reaching thousands of malnourished children with nutritional supplies. One highly effective weapon is a nutritional peanut paste that has the power to pull a child back from the brink of starvation. Packed with protein and vitamins, it is ready to use and does not need to be refrigerated or mixed with water. This miracle paste is saving lives. But many more are threatened and will perish if we don’t act quickly.

The Jewish community must take notice of the plight of these children. As Jews, we have been at the forefront of humanitarian causes and responses to international disasters. Humanity is facing a devastating crisis in the Horn of Africa. We cannot fail to fulfill our Jewish responsibilities now.

(Caryl M. Stern IS president and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF.)

Israeli, Jewish groups team to help famine-plagued Somalia


An Israeli aid group and Canadian Jewish federations are teaming to help ease the famine in Somalia.

IsrAID is partnering with the Canadian Jewish organizations UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and UIA Canada to bring food and water to suffering populations in Africa. The relief efforts are targeting Somalians who are crossing the border into Ethiopia and Kenya in order to escape the famine.

IsrAID is communicating with the United Nations and government officials to determine distribution logistics and the types of food that are needed.

The United Nations has declared a state of famine in several regions of Somalia; some expect the entire Somali South to be similarly declared in two months.

Droughts, rising food prices, conflict and other factors and have left approximately 11 million in need of assistance in Somalia and neighboring countries. Large numbers of Somalians—approximately 2,000 a day—are fleeing to Kenya seeking food and aid.

IsrAID also has funded refugee camps in Kenya to house approximately 40,000.

The UJA Foundation of Greater Toronto said it is providing $25,000 to the Somali relief effort. The foundation has been a strong supporter of IsrAID, raising at least $2 million to provide relief in areas of natural disaster such as Japan, Haiti and New Orleans.

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