MOGADISHU, Somalia — The killing of an al-Qaida mastermind who planned the devastating bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa drew praise from Kenyans and Somalis, while Somalia’s president showed documents linking the dead man to militants who are trying to topple his nation’s fragile, U.N.-backed government.
Fazul Abdullah Mohammed eluded capture for 13 years and topped the FBI’s most wanted list for planning the Aug. 7, 1998, U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. His death, reported Saturday by Somali officials, was the third major blow to al-Qaida in six weeks. The worldwide terror group was headed by Osama bin Laden until his death last month.
But Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed said Sunday that Mohammed also posed a grave threat to Somalia, which has been ravaged by two decades of anarchy and conflict. Ahmed congratulated government soldiers for killing Mohammed on Tuesday at a Mogadishu security checkpoint.
“His aim was to commit violence in and outside the country,” Ahmed said, showing reporters documents and pictures he said government troops recovered from Mohammed.
Ahmed did not let reporters check the documents, but he held up photos he said were of Mohammed’s family and operational maps for the militants in Mogadishu.
Ahmed also held up a condolence letter he said Mohammed sent after bin Laden’s death. He didn’t say who it was addressed to, but said Mohammed co-authored the letter with a known Islamist leader in Somalia, Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys.
Aweys, a veteran Islamist in Somalia since the 1990s, was the leader of the Hizbul Islam militant group that merged with al-Shabab last December. Aweys did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Lawmaker Abdirashid Sheik said Muhammed’s death was good for Somalia.
“Somalis have every reason to be happy today because foreign elements within al-Shabab are the real obstacle to stability in Somalia,” he said. “Foreigners’ universal ideologies don’t suit Somalia’s local interest. We ask them to leave us alone. We can solve our own problems by ourselves.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also honoured the victims of the bombings during a visit to the American compound in Tanzania.
She put flowers on a large rock just inside the main gate of the embassy, said a silent prayer and spoke with three Tanzanian employees who were at the embassy when it was bombed.
Clinton told embassy workers that the U.S. has not forgotten its pledge “to seek justice against those who would commit such atrocities.”
She added: “Last month al-Qaida suffered a major setback with the death of Osama bin Laden and yesterday we received news of another significant blow.”
The attacks in Tanzania and Kenya killed 224 people. Most of the dead were Kenyans. Twelve Americans died.
One of the survivors, Douglas Sidialo, was blinded by the bombing in Kenya’s capital of Nairobi.
“God the creator has delivered Fazul Abdullah Mohammed to his destiny the same way he delivered bin Laden to his destiny,” he said. “When you kill by the sword, bullets and bombs you die through a similar tragedy.”
Sidialo, who said he once wanted to skin bin Laden alive, said Sunday he has “moved on” and now would have preferred to see Mohammed captured alive and asked to account for his decisions.
“Any death is not a cause of celebration,” he said.
Thousands were wounded when a pickup truck rigged as a bomb exploded outside the four-story U.S. Embassy building. Within minutes, another bomb shattered the U.S. mission in Tanzania’s commercial capital, Dar es Salaam.
“Killing terrorists only breeds more terrorists. We must find a lasting solution to this menace,” said Sidialo.
Another Nairobi resident, Philip Nyakundi, said he welcomed the news.
“Let these people be wiped out on the face of the earth, innocent kids were killed here … in 1998 on August 7th. Let these people be wiped!” he said.
Mohammed, a native of the Comoros Islands, had been on the run for more than a decade with a $5 million bounty on his head. He was thought to be hiding in Somalia, whose ineffective government has been unable to stop terror groups from operating.
Mogadishu residents said Sunday they hoped Mohammed’s death would also bring peace after decades of conflict.
“I am undoubtedly happy with his death because he was a killer, a plotter and a violence organizer,” said Ali Abdi, 27, a trader. “The death of a blood-absorber like Fazul will help peace and demoralize terrorism. As Somalis, we suffered a lot as the result of actions like his violent ones.”
Somali civilians are regularly caught in the crossfire between militants and forces defending the U.N.-backed government. The top militant group, al-Shabab, also uses harsh punishments, such as executions, in a bid to coerce the public into submission.
Somalia has been mired in violence since 1991, and al-Shabab militants are trying to topple the weak, U.N.-backed government.
Another resident, Abdirahman Ali Hassan, said al-Qaida “ruined our country and mutilated our people.
Hassan said Mohammed “was going to extend our country’s violence and our deaths and his survival could cost the lives of many people.”
Representatives of al-Shabab did not immediately confirm Mohammed’s death, but Somali Information Minister Abdulkareem Hassan Jama said DNA tests confirmed that Mohammed was killed.
“His killing is removal of a problem, a person that was causing death and destruction to the people of Somalia, the region and the world,” he said.
Mohammed was killed Tuesday at a security checkpoint in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, and Somali officials admit that they didn’t immediately realize who he was. The body was even buried before it was later exhumed.
Mohammed’s death is the third major blow against al-Qaida in the last six weeks. Navy SEALs killed bin Laden on May 2 at his home in Pakistan. Just a month later, Ilyas Kashmiri, an al-Qaida leader sought in the 2008 Mumbai siege and rumoured to be a longshot choice to succeed bin Laden, was reportedly killed in a U.S. drone attack in Pakistan.
The strike against Kashmiri was not the direct result of intelligence material seized from the bin Laden compound, U.S. and Pakistan officials say. If the account of the killing at the security checkpoint killing is confirmed, it would appear Mohammed’s death is also not the result of new intelligence.
Associated Press writers Matthew Lee in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Malkhadir M. Muhumed in Nairobi, Kenya contributed to this report. Television News cameramen and editors Josphat Kasire and Joe Mwihia also contributed to this report from Nairobi.