A number of Americans have traveled to Somalia to join up with al Shabab as well as al Qaeda, according to a senior U.S. administration official.
The official, in a background briefing with reporters on Tuesday evening, said this is something “we have watched very, very closely.”
Al Shabab has claimed responsibility for the bombings in the Ugandan capital Kampala on Sunday that claimed the lives of 76 people, including one American.
The official said U.S. law enforcement is “very vigilant for any indication of individuals from Somalia coming here to the United States to engage in these types of extremist and terrorist activities.”
The Obama administration has indications to prove al Shabab was responsible for the attacks in Uganda, but the U.S. had no forewarning of these attacks.
“Al Shabab was very much on our radar screen… but we didn’t have any advance warning about that attack,” the official said.
New Mexico-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki is the most high-profile of U.S. citizens to have joined al Qaeda. He is affiliated with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and is believed to be based in Yemen.
President Obama earlier this year approved the targeted killing of Mr. al-Awlaki.
A number of individuals within al Shabab have close links with al Qaeda and its affiliates — al Qaeda in East Africa (AQEA) and AQAP.
“These links between the organizations have existed for quite some time,” the senior U.S. official said, adding, “[Al Shabab’s] agenda is very similar to al Qaeda’s agenda. It advances a distorted and perverted version of Islamic goals.”
The official said there is a “blending together of these different individuals who are at the top of these organizations” and they are bringing young Somalis and others who are engaged in local conflicts into the al Qaeda orbit.
Al Shabab was formed in 2006 and since then has threatened the U.S. as well as carried out a number of violent attacks inside Somalia. But the attack in Uganda is its first outside Somalia.
The group has a domestic agenda that is focused on overthrowing the government in Somalia.
The U.S. official said al Shabab has a “dual persona” with a domestic agenda inside Somalia as well as a larger terrorist agenda.
Al Shabab has been responsible for deadly attacks on a number of Somali peace activists, journalists and the African Union’s peacekeeping mission, which has lost about 35 soldiers since 2007.
Mr. Obama has offered Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni support and all assistance.
The FBI has sent a special team to help at the crime scene.
Al Shabab was designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the State Department in 2008 and was sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council earlier this year.
• Ashish Kumar Sen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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