For more than 15 years, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed slithered out of every US and Israeli undercover operation to nab him, often with minutes to spare. This week, his luck turned: Sentries at a Somali roadblock on the outskirts of Mogadishu shot him dead Wednesday when the pick-up truck in which he and a companion were travelling refused to stop. They killed him without realizing who he was. He was identified by DNA Saturday, June 10, DEBKAfile's counter-terror sources report: Fazul, 38, was one of Al Qaeda's most accomplished operational planners and commanders. His strategic skills ran to guile and tactics for bamboozling his enemies. For years, he pulled the wool over the eyes of American and Israeli terrorist hunters.
His passing leaves al Qaeda's branch in East and the Horn of Africa and Somalia leaderless and Ayman al Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's top lieutenant (who was not elected to succeed him), high and dry. Left now is the second important terrorist branch, the one led by Saif al Adel, who has chosen as acting al Qaeda leader and operates out of Waziristan.
A member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Fazul arrived in 1995 at the Indian Ocean Comoro Islands where he was born opposite Kenya. He settled in the capital of Moroni as a fisherman and married a local girl.
From there, he set about organizing and executing two major terrorist operations targeting Israel and the United States.
It took him a year to set up the hijack of Ethiopian Airways flight 961 en route from Addis Ababa to Nairobi. During its forced landing opposite the Comoros, five heads of Israel's Aviation Industries and a security guard were murdered, together with the CIA station head in the Ethiopian capital, Leslie Shed, and the deputy commander of the Ukrainian air force.
The group was on its way to a meeting with US, Ukrainian and Israeli teams, headed by the Ukraine president and Israeli defense minister, at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. They were to have discussed a deal whereby the Ukraine would supply Ethiopia with fighter jets which Israel would upgrade and the US would pay for.
To this day, all four governments have maintained a tight blackout on the terrorist attack because they have never discovered how Fazul obtained the top secret information about the passengers on the flight and their mission.
After that dossier was shelved, no one followed the investigation up with questions about the location the terrorists chose for landing the hijacked Ethiopian airliner, namely near the Comoro Islands. They would have discovered that waiting for the murderers of the Israeli executives, the American agent and the Ukrainian airmen were fishing boats prepared by Fazul in advance for them to vanish at top speed and go to ground on the islands.
Two years later, in 1998, Fazul planned and executed the twin attacks on the US embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi killing 224 people, the worst al Qaeda atrocity before 9/11. It was then that US intelligence picked up the first lead to the unknown terrorist mastermind. An FBI task force arrived in Moroni in 1998, two years after he set up his base there. But they were too late; the bird had flown having been tipped off to his peril. He was placed at the top of the FBI wanted terrorist list with a $5 million bounty on his head.
In 2002, Fazul returned to the attack, hitting again on Israeli targets in Africa.
He had a bomb car rigged for crashing into the Paradise Hotel of Mombasa, a favorite haunt of Israel visitors, following which rockets were launched against an Israeli Arkia passenger plane just taking off from Mombasa airport with 271 passengers. The rockets missed. They were fired from a plane Fazul and his team had chartered. Before escaping to Somalia, they flew the plane over the still smoking hotel and dropped explosives on the building.
These episodes were recounted in detail by DEBKAfile at the time they occurred.
In the summer of 2010, Fazul orchestrated multiple suicide attacks on a number of cafes in Uganda when they were filled with crowds watching the live broadcast of the World Football Cup final in South Africa.
His purpose was to punish Uganda for taking part in the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, where Faizal was leading the al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab effort to topple the shaky transitional government.
His death will weaken than effort and is good news for war-torn Somalia.