A CIA fighter, a Somali bomb maker, and a faltering shadow war

US analysts estimate that Al Shabab commands between 5,000 and 10,000 fighters. Under Mr. Mohamed, their bombs have become more sophisticated and more powerful.

The group is using its hold over the port of Mogadishu to smuggle large volumes of Chinese-made explosive materials and triggering devices, two US officials said. In October 2020, Somali authorities intercepted 79 tonnes of sulfuric acid, an ingredient in roadside bombs.

In January, a bomb hit an armored convoy with Danab commandos trained in the United States, heading towards Baledogle, a base 70 miles from Mogadishu.

The explosion seriously injured Danab’s commander, Major Ahmed Abdullahi, who was airlifted to Turkey, and killed a South African employee of Bancroft Global Development, an American contractor who recruits and trains Danab fighters. South African Stephen Potgieter is the seventh Bancroft employee to die in Somalia since 2009, said Michael Stock, the company’s chief executive.

Mr. Mohamed’s growing reputation for chaos and bloodshed has made him a highly respected leader in the Shabab ranks, Somali and Western officials have said.

For those who pursue him, he is an elusive figure, always out of reach.

As in Afghanistan, the American campaign in Somalia has been plagued by its own deadly hiccups.

After a US missile struck a farm near Jilib in southern Somalia in February 2020, the military said it had killed a “terrorist”. A few months later, the military admitted that it had in fact killed an 18-year-old schoolgirl named Nurto Kusow Omar Abukar.

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