Wanted al Shabaab leader behind Manda Bay attack in Lamu killed

Sh1.56 billion had been offered for information that could lead to his arrest.

In Summary
  • The suspect, Maalim Ayman, had planned numerous attacks in Somalia and Kenya.
  • Maalim Ayman was on a U.S. State Department Rewards for Justice wanted list, with a $10 million reward offered for information leading to his arrest or conviction.
Image: FILE

Somali and U.S. forces have killed a senior leader of the militant Islamist al Shabaab group, Somalia's information minister said.

The suspect, Maalim Ayman, had planned numerous attacks in Somalia and Kenya.

Maalim Ayman was on a U.S. State Department Rewards for Justice wanted list, with a $10 million reward offered for information leading to his arrest or conviction.

The department said he was responsible for preparing an attack on a military base in Kenya in January 2020 in which three Americans - one U.S. military service member and two contractors - were killed.

The attackers raided Manda Bay military base on January 5, 2020, and killed the victims.

The attack also wounded three people and destroyed six aircraft; at least six insurgents were killed.

About 20 to 30 al-Shabab militants were able to slip through a forest and fired rocket-propelled grenades onto the Magogoni Airfield at the base.

In the first two minutes, the RPGs killed Army Specialist Henry Mayfield in a truck and killed two contractors, Dustin Harrison and Bruce Triplett, in an aircraft.

Another soldier and a civilian contractor were wounded.

About a kilometre down the road, another smaller group of militants fired on Camp Simba, a section of the adjacent Kenyan navy base where U.S. forces are housed.

"Maalim Ayman ... was confirmed to have been killed in a joint operation by the Somali National Army with assistance from US forces on December 17th," Daud Aweis said on his X account.

"Ayman was accountable for planning multiple lethal terrorist attacks in Somalia and nearby countries," he said.

The U.S. military's Africa Command (AFRICOM) had conducted an air strike, an AFRICOM spokesperson said.

The strike was conducted against the militant group near Jilib town in southern Somalia, AFRICOM and the Somali Information Ministry said.

The U.S. military command in Africa, AFRICOM, confirmed that the strike near Jilib killed one al-Shabab militant and said there were no civilian casualties.

“This is another step to defeat the terrorist group that undermines Somalia’s peace and development,” AFRICOM said in a statement.

“U.S. Africa Command will continue to assess the results of the operation and will provide additional information as appropriate. Specific details about the units involved and assets used will not be released in order to ensure operational security,” the statement said.

Al-Shabaab has not commented on the reported killing.

Earlier this year, the U.S. State Department’s Rewards for Justice program offered a reward of up to $10 million “for information leading to the arrest or conviction in any country of Maalim Ayman or any individual who committed, attempted or conspired to commit, or aided or abetted in the commission of the January 5, 2020, terrorist attack on U.S. and Kenyan personnel at the Manda Bay Airfield in Kenya”.

The U.S. accused Ayman of being responsible for preparing the Manda Bay Airfield attack, which killed a U.S. soldier and two U.S. Defense Department contractors.

It wounded two other U.S. service members and a third Defense contractor.

The Manda Bay Airfield is part of a Kenyan Defense Forces military base used by U.S. armed forces to provide training and counterterrorism support to East African partners, respond to crises and protect U.S. interests in the region, according to the State Department.

The U.S. identified Ayman as the leader of Jaysh Ayman, an al-Shabaab unit that conducts terrorist attacks and operations in Kenya and Somalia.

Jaysh Ayman (Army of Ayman) includes foreign militants recruited by al-Shabaab largely from East Africa.

Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the Manda Bay attack and published a purported video of the group’s emir, Ahmed Umar Abu Ubaidah, personally meeting the attackers before the operation.

The al-Shabaab video claimed the attackers included a Yemeni, an Ethiopian, a Tanzanian and Somali.

Ayman is the second al-Shabaab commander connected to the Manda Bay attack who has been killed in a U.S. strike.

In March 2020, the U.S. reported an operation that it said had killed Bashir Qoorgaab, who was linked to the planning of the operation.

A U.S. airstrike in May injured the head of al-Shabaab's external operations, Osman Mohamed Abdi, known as Moallim Osman.

During the Manda Bay attack, It took about 20 minutes for the Marine special operations team to get to the airfield and begin to fight back against the militants, who had made it onto the flight line and into buildings.

As Kenyan and additional U.S. security forces responded, al-Shabaab attacked again.

It took until midnight for the military to search the airfield and adjacent buildings and declare the area secure.

During the counterattack, one Marine and one Kenyan service member were wounded.

Military investigations found poor leadership, inadequate training and a "culture of complacency" among U.S. forces undermined efforts to fend off the 2020 attack by militants.

Two military reviews of the attack by al-Shabab militants are scathing in their conclusions that there were failures across the board at the Manda Bay air base, where senior military leaders said there was a "deeply rooted culture of a false sense of security".

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