A university graduate who left home to command Al-Shabaab units in Somalia has moved closer to the Kenyan border, escaping imminent execution by fellow commanders after a fallout.
Ahmed Iman, alias Kimanthi, who acquired an Engineering degree from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (Jkuat) in Juja, Kiambu County, is on the run, together with a group of terrorists, the Sunday Nation has established.
He had a disagreement with Al-Shabaab supremos Ahmed Diriye and Mahad Karate, who are Somalis.
The two are said to have sent emissaries – Somali elders – in a bid to talk to Iman and convince him to mend fences with his colleagues, thereby consolidating Al-Shabaab factions against African Union (AU) forces fighting them.
However, one of the Jayshi Ayman terrorists who surrendered to Kenyan authorities last month confessed that the apparent extension of an olive branch is part of a bigger plan to have Iman executed.
Jayshi Ayman is a faction of Shabaab that operates in Boni, a forest area that extends from Lamu County in Kenya to southern Somalia.
This faction is loyal to Iman.
The Shabaab defector, according to sources privy to security interrogations, said the graduate is seeking amnesty from the Kenyan Government in exchange for information that would help in the war against the terrorist organisation.
The government has in the past offered to pardon and rehabilitate radicalised Kenyans who crossed the border to fight in lawless Somalia.
Somalia has not had a functional government since 1990.
“Recent reports indicate that Iman – who has largely operated in isolation, having fallen out with Al-Shabaab leadership – is increasingly getting desperate and willing to save himself by submitting to Kenyan authorities,” a confidential document circulating among agencies operating in Somalia says.
The report further says: “According to information by a returnee from the Jayshi Ayman militia group who surrendered himself to the Kenyan security on October 2017, Iman has reportedly moved towards the Kenyan border in an attempt to submit himself to Kenyan authorities.”
This is not the first time Al-Shabaab is turning against terrorists within its ranks.
Victims – most of them foreigners, including Kenyans – have been executed on suspicion that they are spies for the AU forces in Somalia.
Fazul Abdullah Mohamed, the most wanted terrorist and commander of Al-Qaeda’s network in East Africa, was killed in a setup similar to the one Iman is facing.
In his heyday, Fazul had the ear of the slain Al-Qaeda supremo, Osama bin Laden, and received direct orders from him, besides being in charge of the funds from his larger global terror network.
Godane Ahmed Abdi Godane, alias Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, who is Diriye’s predecessor, commanded Shabaab at the time.
He deliberately gave Fazul misleading coordinates to Al-Qaeda training camps in Somalia.
That way, the man, who was wanted over the 1998 bombing of the United States Embassy in Nairobi, in which 220 people died, landed in a camp manned by forces loyal to Somalia’s fragile government, where he was felled in a hail of bullets.
Godane was later killed in a joint operation by the United States soldiers and Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) in Somalia.
Iman and his fleeing colleagues are mainly foreign fighters.
Diriye and his associates have accused them of spying on Shabaab activities and passing the information to the KDF.
His situation has been worsened by the increasingly successful raids by the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) and US forces in the troubled country.
On Tuesday, 100 Shabaab terrorists were killed in an air strike by the US.
“In coordination with the Federal Government of Somalia, US forces conducted an air strike in Somalia against an Al-Shabaab camp at approximately 10.30 local Somalia time, killing more than 100 militants.
“The operation occurred 125 miles northwest of the capital, Mogadishu,” a statement from the US Africa Command says.
It further says: “US forces will continue to use all authorised and appropriate measures to protect Americans and to disable terrorist groups.
“This includes partnering with Amisom and Somali National Security Forces in targeting terrorists, their training camps and safe havens throughout Somalia, the region and around the world.”
The Sunday Nation learnt that the plot to execute Iman, who rose through the Shabaab ranks to become its posterboy before being confirmed a commander, was orchestrated in Jilib township, Somalia.
It was agreed at the meeting that the best way to capture Iman was by sending “friendly elders to reach out to him and convince him to reconsider his rebellion”.