MOGADISHU, Somalia — Making a rare threat against the United States, a senior member of Somalia's Islamic insurgent group that has carried out terrorist attacks abroad said Thursday that holy war will come to America and that Islam's flag will one day fly over Washington.
The al-Shabab fighter, who has a $5 million U.S. bounty on his head, said in a speech broadcast on the rebels' radio station that al-Shabab fighters would carry out jihad, or holy war, in Kenya and Uganda "and afterward, with God's will, to America."
"America is waging a war in the Horn of Africa because they are responsive to the Quran verses saying that the Islamic flag will fly in every corner of the world," Fuad Mohamed Khalaf, also known as Fuad Shongole, said, referring to Islam's holy book.
U.S. officials have long feared that any of the several dozen Somali-Americans who have left the U.S. to join the extremist fighters could travel back to the United States to carry out terror attacks. Senior al-Shabab leaders have rarely, if ever, publicly threatened to carry out attacks in the U.S.
The threat comes amid a heightening of security by the U.S. Embassy in neighboring Kenya.
The U.S. ambassador in Nairobi, in a letter sent to embassy employees last week, said he has requested additional Kenyan and American security personnel and is reducing the size of the embassy staff because of an increase in terrorist threats in Kenya. The letter said additional police are already patrolling around the embassy and that more assets would arrive from Washington.
U.S. Ambassador Robert Godec called the number of recent terror attacks, threats and warnings in Kenya "deeply concerning."
Al-Shabab carried out multiple suicide bombings in Kampala, Uganda during the 2010 World Cup final, killing 70 people. Al-Shabab gunmen in September attacked Westgate Mall in Nairobi, killing at least 67 people.
The U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, which was relocated after al-Qaida's 1998 bombing attack on both the facility and the embassy in Tanzania, killing 224 people in total, sits far off the road and is surrounded by thick walls. Armed Marines have recently begun patrolling the grounds wearing bullet-proof vests and helmets.
The U.S. Treasury Department in 2010 imposed sanctions on Shongole, which froze any assets he had in U.S. jurisdictions. Shongole sought asylum in Sweden in the 1990s and has Swedish citizenship. He returned to Somalia in the mid-2000s to fight with the Islamic Courts Union, a militant group that preceded al-Shabab.
In his radio message, Shongole also threatened to launch more attacks in Kenya and Uganda. Both countries contribute troops to the African Union force waging war against al-Shabab inside Somalia.
"We swear by the almighty Allah that we'll move the war into Kenya, so let's see who suffers most," said Shongole, who spoke before a noisy crowd of supporters. "If one Somali girl is killed by their soldiers in Somalia, we shall murder their girls at home."
Straziuso reported from Nairobi, Kenya.