Members of the Islamic terrorist group al-Shabaab have named new leader Abu Ubeid Ahmed Omar to replace Ahmed Abdi Godane, the organization’s former spiritual leader who was killed last week in a U.S.-led drone strike in southern Somalia.

Ubeyd has some big shoes to fill. The late Godane was instrumental in transforming al-Shabaab from a fractured regional threat into a well-organized machine whose membership orchestrated attacks in Kenya and Uganda as well as in Somalia. In a statement released yesterday, an al-Shabaab spokesman stated that the group intends to maintain its well-cultivated relationship with al-Qaeda.

Somali national security minister Gen. Khalif Ahmed Ereg, as well as others in the region, have expressed gratitude for the United States military’s part in shaking the foundations Godane worked for years to cultivate:

The killing of Godane was a “delightful victory”, said Ereg. He called on militants still fighting for al-Shabaab to surrender to get a “brighter” life from the government.

Uhuru Kenyatta, the Kenyan president, thanked the US for killing Godane, saying his death provides “a small measure of closure” for victims of the Westgate Mall attack. Kenyatta’s nephew and his fiancée died in that attack.

Godane, who used a number of other aliases, led the planning and was responsible for the perpetration of the attack on Westgate, Kenyatta said.

“We owe the United States, and its soldiers, our heartfelt thanks for bringing an end to Godane’s career of death and destruction; and finally allowing us to begin our healing,” he said.

“His death is a stark reminder that those who live by the sword shall perish by the sword,” Kenyatta said.

At this weekend’s NATO summit in Wales, nine key allies joined the United States in a commitment to push back the influence of Islamic State rebels in northern Iraq and Syria, but it’s unclear whether or not that support will extend to U.S. efforts to dismantle al-Shabaab’s influence in the Horn of Africa.

Al-Shabaab’s grip on Somalia steadily increased under the brutal leadership of Godane, leading many in the country to express concern over the almost certain retaliation against both the African Union- and U.S.-backed government institutions as well as private citizens:

Residents here wonder what went wrong: A year ago, it was rare to encounter roaming bands of gunmen in Mogadishu. However, that stability was always fragile at best, and gunmen began returning earlier this year as militants, who never really left, grew increasingly emboldened.

Now, pickup trucks packed with young men manning recoil-free anti-aircraft guns mounted in the back have again become a common sight. The gunmen regularly extort tolls from drivers and go on looting sprees in the city and countryside, unhindered.

“Al-Shabaab never went away as a credible threat in Somalia,” said Ahmed Soliman, an Africa specialist at Chatham House in London. “It was an illusion they would be removed within a year or two years and not pose a significant threat.”


General Ereg has cautioned that al-Shabaab is likely to plan retaliatory strikes against educational and medical facilities. The group has promised vengeance for the drone strike that killed its former leader and five other members, saying, “[a]venging the death of our scholars and leaders is a binding obligation on our shoulders that we will never relinquish nor forget no matter how long it takes.”

“By the permission of Allah, you will surely taste the bitter consequences of your actions,” said Abu Mohammed, one of al-Shabaab’s commanders.