A document found after Somali troops killed Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, al Qaeda’s former leader in East Africa and a senior Shabaab commander, details a plot to conduct multiple Mumbai-like attacks that target civilians in London. The plot highlights how al Qaeda and Shabaab seek to strike civilian targets outside Somalia, and foreshadowed Shabaab’s attack on the Eastgate Mall in Kenya this week.
The document and several others found in Fazul’s possession after he was killed by Somali troops at a checkpoint in Mogadishu in June 2011 were obtained by the Toronto Star. A copy of the document was also obtained by The Long War Journal. The Canadian newspaper reported that “dozens of documents, Internet frame grabs and media reports in English, Arabic, Somali and Swahili, along with more than 50 video clips” were also found in Fazul’s car.
Fazul’s document detailing a plot in London is titled “International Operations.” In the opening paragraph, he notes how Shabaab’s external terror teams are to emulate “the tactics used by our brothers in Mumbai.” In the Mumbai attack, small teams of Lashkar-e-Taiba fighters armed with assault rifles, grenades, and bombs fanned out across the city and attacked civilians. More than 170 people were killed during the Mumbai siege, which lasted for three days. Shabaab targeted train stations, a theater, two posh hotels, and a Jewish center during the attack.
“Our objectives are to strike London with low cost operations that would cause a heavy blow amongst the hierarchy and Jewish communities using attacks similar to the tactics used by our brothers in Mumbai,” the first paragraph of Fazul’s memo said. “These will either be many individual random untraceable operations or the group will be trained to cause maximum damage to a single target.”
The Long War Journal noted on the first day of the Shabaab siege on the Westgate Mall that the attack was very similar to the Lashkar-e-Taiba assault on Mumbai in November 2008.
Targets of London plot
Fazul said that the “first target” in London would be “Jewish communities with tens of thousands of Jews crammed in a small area” in the Golders Green and Stamford Hill neighborhoods of the city.
“Our plan is to hit the elite of the Jewish community by targeting the most expensive restaurants on the Jewish festival of HANNUKAH and then moving around the Golders Green shooting random Jews while throwing petrol bombs into crowded places and groups,” the document said. “This will be in retaliation for the crimes committed in Gaza a gift to the Palestinian people and a show of solidarity to our brothers and sisters in Palestine.”
The “second target” was the Eton School, “where the most powerful elite from royalty to business tycoons send their sons to study.” The attack was to be carried out on “induction day or an open day … as we can kill the parents and their children aged 16+.”
“This will strike a heavy blow at the ‘who’s who” of the political and business world,” the document said.
Shabaab’s “third target” was “the Ritz Hotel or Dorchester,” two upscale hotels in London.
“ We plan to hit this Hotel on New Year’s, Valentine’s Day or even Hanukkah,” it said. “The plan is to hit the hotel when it’s fully booked to ensure maximum casualties.”
Shabaab planned to kill “top diplomats, ambassadors, celebrities, millionaires and many key players from all around the world” who are known to frequent the hotels.
In one plan, the Shabaab fighters were to book a room, set one of the bottom three floors aflame with “petrol bombs,” and then block the exits and elevators. Then, “the martyrdom seeker would then make his way to the exits and start killing any one fleeing the area.”
Another option was for Shabaab fighters to sweep the hotel with gunmen, who would also throw petrol bombs as the advance. A third option was to set off a fire alarm and then attack the guests as they gathered outside.
“These methods are all designed to cause maximum damage,” the document noted.
Additionally, Fazul suggested that Shabaab assault teams storm the Burundi, Ethiopian, and Ugandan embassies. The three countries are part of the African Union Mission in Somalia and have fought to eject the group from major cities and towns throughout the country.
Training and equipment
Fazul detailed the training, equipment, and logistical support in both Somalia and England needed to carry out the London attacks.
“Each martyrdom seeker will be trained in Somalia preferably for 2 months and he will only know his mission. The men we plan to send back will not know any other mujahideen involved only his own mission or they would be trained as a group depending on the type of operation they will carry,” the document stated.
Additionally, the “brothers will be pushed through many battles to see how they react under pressure and they will be analyzed to see if they can keep their composure.”
Fazul notes that the group is in “a race against time as the brothers [who would conduct the attacks in London] must be sent back before their visas expire.” This is an indication that Shabaab would use Brits to conduct the attacks in London. Shabaab would have an ample pool of Brits to recruit from. In August 2013, the head of MI5 estimated that “as many as 100 Britons of Pakistani, Bangladeshi and West African backgrounds are said to have travelled to Somalia,” to train and fight with Shabaab, The Telegraph reported.
Once in Somalia, the recruits are to be kept in a “safe house” and “will have absolute minimal contact with brothers in Somalia.” Training includes reading the Koran, weapons instruction, hand-to-hand combat, counter-surveillance, reconnaissance, and signals security. Fazul even names “Khattab Masri” (likely an Egyptian) as a candidate to train recruits on hand-to-hand combat.
Kampala and Nairobi attacks similar to London plan
The London plot was never executed by Shabaab, and was very likely disrupted by the deaths of Fazul and his deputy, a Brit known as Bilal al Berjawi who was killed in a US drone strike in January 2012. Additionally, African Union forces launched a major offensive against Shabaab in the summer of 2011, which likely diverted resources to conduct external operations.
But Shabaab has carried out two major attacks in East Africa that are similar to what Fazul had laid out in his “International Operations” planning document.
In July 2010, a pair of suicide bombers attacked two cafes in Kampala, Uganda as soccer fans were watching the World Cup. At least 74 civilians were killed and more than 60 were wounded in the deadly blasts.
And last Saturday, Shabaab assault teams struck the Westgate Mall in Nairobi. Wealthy Kenyans and foreigners, including businessmen and diplomats, are known to frequent the mall.
Shabaab officially merged with al Qaeda in February 2012 but had unofficially joined the group at least as far back as 2008. Top al Qaeda leaders such as Fazul and Nabhan have also served in Shabaab’s upper echelons prior to the official merger.