Al-Shabaab commander suspected of running businesses in Nairobi

Ahmed Iman Ali, also known as Abu Zinira. PHOTO

What you need to know:

  • Security sources say Ahmed Iman Ali, also known as Abu Zinira has been operating businesses through proxies.
  • For a while now, security agents have been surveilling the various businesses.

A prominent Kenyan al-Shabaab commander is suspected to be running multimillion-shilling businesses in Nairobi from his hideout in Somalia to finance the terrorist group, the Nation can reveal.

Security sources say Ahmed Iman Ali, also known as Abu Zinira – the fugitive who graduated with an Engineering degree from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology before joining al-Shabaab – has been operating the businesses through proxies.

The businesses include boutiques, go-downs, and makeshift stalls dealing in second-hand clothes and shoes, as well as a nursery school.

For a while now, security agents have been surveilling the various businesses situated at a shopping complex in Nairobi’s Majengo and stalls at Gikomba market.

The businesses attracted the attention of the agents after Musa Mutevi aka Bame, whose activities were being monitored on suspicion he fundraises for al-Shabaab, was spotted co-ordinating collection of money.

In a security brief seen by the Nation, Bame is named as the leader of a group recruited by Iman to co-ordinate secret fundraising for the suspected terrorists in Nairobi.

In Somalia, other beneficiaries of the businesses in Nairobi include known fugitives who are on the most-wanted list. They include Ramadhan Kioko aka Pinji, Eric Achayo Ogada, Mohamed Tajir Ali aka Wahome, Ramadhan Shuaib aka Giggs and Juma Ayub who is also known as Otit Were and KB.

While the local group’s mainstay is to collect rent from Iman’s businesses, some of its members are actively involved in selling merchandise. But there was another hint that ostensibly stuck out like a sore thumb, causing security agents to direct their radar at the premises.

The group expanded its enterprise to a nearby road, on a stretch that connects Pumwani and Gikomba market, and erected some 30 stalls which have been rented out to second-hand clothes and shoe sellers. These makeshift stalls have encroached on a lane of the road, effectively curtailing motorists moving in and out of the market.

The Nation has visited the area and established that the group has stationed marshals to block and allow vehicular traffic in intervals on either end.

It is estimated that from these new structures, Iman’s gang collects at least Sh150,000 every month. The funds are remitted to Somalia through informal money transfer systems, mobile money transfers, and couriers.

The security brief also opens old wounds because it says there are fears that Pumwani Riyadha Mosque, which six years ago was linked to al-Shabaab operations, has been penetrated afresh by Iman’s network that has taken up positions in the committee managing the facility.


“Although the mosque does not support al-Shabaab activities, Sheikh Iman’s remnants within the committee and those working as rent collectors continue to finance al-Shabaab activities – both in Kenya and Somalia – through intimidation,” the brief said.

The mosque committee is thought to collect at least Sh2 million every month from godowns, boutiques, a nursery school as well as open stalls at Gikomba Market. This is legitimate business and there is no suggestion it funds terrorism. In the past, the mosque has distanced itself from any terrorist activities.

However, security agencies say Iman’s sympathisers have marked proceeds of some businesses in the same area to be exclusively to fund al-Shabaab. This is estimated to be about Sh350,000 per month from a nearby shopping complex on top of what is collected in the makeshift stalls. Opposition from moderate Mosque committee members is usually countered by threats of elimination.

“Iman owns and receives funds collected from at least 10 stalls. The proceeds from the stalls makes his stay in Somalia comfortable and partly facilitate his propaganda video releases,” according to security reports.

The funds, it is believed, are also for recruiting, training and logistics on terror activities in Kenya and Somalia.

At present, Iman is the head of video production at al-Shabaab’s media department while leading the Kenyan contingent in Somalia.

His last production on YouTube, which was pulled down by the website for propagating violence, showed Iman dressed in military fatigues and holding an M-16 rifle while celebrating the death of Kenyan soldiers in Somalia, where they are fighting the al-Shabaab. He is responsible for the preparation of media themes, most notably the propaganda videos after the September 2013 Westgate mall attack and also Mandera killings in which Christians were separated from muslims and slaughtered. In the clips, which are no longer available, he suggested the attacks were to avenge the killing of radical Muslim clerics in Kenya.

Iman is widely known as a student of Aboud Rogo, one of the clerics killed in Mombasa in unclear circumstances, and is born of a Meru father and Bajuni mother. He has two wives and four siblings including a sister who is married in Mombasa.

Until 2009, Iman was the organising secretary of the Pumwani mosque committee but disappeared without notice — only to surface in Somalia.


The United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea at the time said Iman funneled funds from the mosque and the Muslim Youth Council (MYC) to al-Shabaab.

The latest report says MYC metamorphosed, initially to Al-Hijra and later Al-Ghuraba. MYC was first fronted as a community-based organisation which employed professional counsellors with the aim of rehabilitating wayward youth in Majengo slum. This was, however, uncovered as Iman’s channel of using the human and financial resources to advance al-Shabaab’s agenda.

The Committee was at the time in the headed by elders who made all decisions. But a bloody conflict broke out after they realised Iman’s underhand dealings and raised the alarm. The old guard lost and it is after which Iman and his group took charge.

“In 2009, MYC founder, Sheikh Iman, who is currently a senior al-Shabaab leader in charge of media propaganda, masterminded the ouster of PRMC (old guard) over alleged corruption and mismanagement of funds. In their place, Iman influenced the election of already radicalised MYC members, including himself as the organising secretary; a move that was followed by systematic targeting of dissidents to root out any opposition. In the meantime, Sheikh Iman was still sending recruits to fight alongside al-Shabaab in Somalia,” the report says.

The conflict was widely covered in the media at the time. Iman’s success, albeit away from the public eye, earned him a senior position in al-Shabaab’s hierarchy after he was appointed de facto leader of terror cells and networks in Nairobi.

At this stage, Iman was supposed to work under the tutelage of radical clerics Aboud Rogo, Abubakar Sharif and Samir Khan, whose murders between 2012 and 2014 are still under investigation.

This is the time MYC’s clandestine operations were made public by the police and Iman escaped to Somalia. He was followed by many of his recruits.

Three years later, on January 10, 2012, al-Shabaab announced a merger with MYC and MYC was renamed Al-Hijra, a move that security agencies interpreted as a camouflage due to “sustained scrutiny which disrupted its activities.”

Despite the change of name, the group continued sending recruits and funds to Somalia and established infrastructure for future attacks. Furthermore, it re-established Al-Ghuraba as a wing in charge of combat operations. This is the group suspected to be behind an explosion at a rally in Uhuru Park in the run up for the 2010 Constitution referendum in June 2010.

Before he fled to Somalia, Iman is believed to have spread his network to Wajir, Garissa, Mombasa and Mandera where his followers lured unsuspecting youths into al-Shabaab.


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