National Security

U.S. Targets al Shabaab Leaders With Sanctions

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The U.S. State Department hit East African al Qaeda affiliate group al Shabaab with a series of sanctions to hold the group accountable for recent terrorist attacks.

The State Department announced on Tuesday that it issued sanctions on two members of al Shabaab's senior leadership, classifying them as "specially designated global terrorists." The action freezes any assets the two have in the United States and prohibits commercial transactions between the leaders and Americans, according to the Associated Press.

The two newly sanctioned terrorists are Abdullahi Osman Mohamed and Maalim Ayman. Mohamed works as al Shabaab’s chief propagandist, senior explosives expert, and special adviser to the organization's so-called emir. Ayman leads an al Shabaab unit that killed an American soldier and two U.S. contractors during an attack on a Kenyan military base in January. 

Designated a foreign terrorist organization in 2008, al Shabaab has operated for years in Somalia, Kenya, and Uganda as an extremely violent wing of al Qaeda. Despite several American counterterrorism operations in East Africa, the group presents one of the most significant challenges to American regional interests.

Al Shabaab is notorious for its 2013 attack on a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, that killed 67, and is suspected to be responsible for bombings in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 2017 that killed nearly 600 people.

The sanctions come as the Trump administration considers pulling all American troops from Somalia. U.S. African Command (AFRICOM) houses over 700 American troops in Somalia, largely focused on countering al Shabaab operations.

"The U.S. approach and commitment to degrading al Shabaab remains strong," AFRICOM spokeswoman Lt. Christina Gibson said in a statement earlier this month. "We remain committed to supporting our African partners to enhance regional security and stability."