The alleged Somali mastermind of the attack on a Kenyan mall connected with jihadists while studying in Pakistan and later fought in Afghanistan and Kashmir, according to a media report on Thursday.
Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, known as Godane, earned a scholarship in the 1990s to study in Pakistan, where he "connected with jihadist circles", analysts were quoted as saying by Washington Post.
Godane then travelled to "Afghanistan to train and fight, as well as to Kashmir", the report said. The militant commander, thought to be in his mid-30s, returned to Somalia in 2002 and joined the Islamic Courts Union, an Islamist group that controlled large swaths in the southern part of the country. He held senior positions until late 2006, when the transitional government drove the Islamists out.
Hard-liners from the group then formed Al Shabab, which claimed responsibility for the attack on the Westgate mall in Nairobi that killed 67 people, including three Indian nationals.
The report described Godane as "a man of contradictions". He is "bookish, eloquent in both Arabic and Somali, recites poetry and is known to quote from obscure academic journals".
But he also ruthlessly killed most of his rivals to seize control of Al Shabab, the Somali militia linked to Al Qaeda. Al Shabab said the attack in Nairobi was revenge for Kenya sending troops into Somalia. But the report said the carnage was just as much to do with the struggles inside the militia and Godane's desire to make Al Shabab -- and himself – stronger and more relevant in the global jihad.
"The attack was Godane's way of solidifying his recent quelling of internal dissent and firmly placing the organisation as a global jihadist entity," said Abdi Aynte, director of the Heritage Institute for Policy Studies, a Mogadishu-based think tank.
Al Shabab's larger footprint under Godane comes as Al Qaeda's central branch in Pakistan and Afghanistan is increasingly diminished.
Image: Security forces round up suspects outside the mall