Very little was known about the leadership of Jaysh Ayman, a Kenyan wing of Somalia-based al-Shabaab, until the US government listed Maalim Ayman from Mandera as the head of the notorious outfit that has carried out some of the deadliest terror attacks on Kenyan soil.
“Maalim Ayman is the leader of Jaysh Ayman, an al-Shabaab unit conducting terrorist attacks and operations in Kenya and Somalia. Ayman was responsible for preparing the January 2020 attack on Camp Simba in Manda Bay, Kenya, that killed one US military service member and two American contractors,” the US government said in a statement released on November 17.
Jaysh Ayman is also referred to as Jeysh Ayman, Jaysh Ayman, Jaysh Ayman al-Shabaab, Jaysh la Imani or Jaysh Ayman Majmo Ayman.
Ayman was named alongside Abdullahi Osman Mohamed as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs).
“Abdullahi Osman Mohamed, a senior al-Shabaab official, also known as “Engineer Ismail”, is the terrorist group’s senior explosives expert responsible for the overall management of al-Shabaab’s explosives operations and manufacturing. He is also a special adviser to the so-called “emir” of al-Shabaab and is the leader of al-Shabaab’s media wing, al-Kataib,” the statement said.
Whereas Maalim Ayman was born in 1973 in Mandera, Abdullahi Osman Mohamed is believed to have been born either in Garissa County or in Mogadishu, Somalia.
Counter-terrorism officials have told the Nation that Ayman is holed up in Somalia after several failed attempts to neutralise him.
In June 2019, there were suspicions that a suspected Kenyan air strike in the town of Jamame in Southern Somalia may have killed Ayman. The statement by the US government now confirms he was not killed in the attack.
While very little is known about Ayman, the face of Jaysh Ayman in the country has been Ramadhan Kufungwa.
Most of the Jeysh Ayman fighters hail from Bongwe village in Msambweni Sub-County, Kwale County, the home area of Ramadhan Kufungwa.
The Bongwe village fighters seem to live by the ethos of the Old Testament, particularly the book of Exodus 21:24, which advocates an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
The members of the Jaysh Ayman unit have been on an endless tit-for-tat campaign that pits them against Kenyan security agents.
For every man Jaysh Ayman militants kill, individuals strongly believed to be Kenyan security agents hunt down one or two more in retaliation.
To get to Bongwe from Mombasa Island, you cross the Likoni channel and drive for about an hour, after which you branch off from the main road as you enter Ukunda town. Then you drive for about seven minutes on a murram road to Bongwe, a not-so-large village dotted with houses fashioned from coral rocks and iron sheets.
One of the major landmarks here is Bongwe Primary School, the institution where Kufungwa received his basic education, before enrolling for religious studies at Ijtihaad Madrassa and Maganyakulo Madrasatul Tawheed Islaamiya.
Kufungwa is believed to be a key recruiter of youths from the coastal region for the al-Shabaab through his Kufungwa Recruitment Network.
Security sources believe Kufungwa travelled to Somalia in 2011 after undergoing religious studies at Ijtihaad Madrassa and Maganyakulo Madrasatul Tawheed Islaamiya in Kwale County.
He later returned to the country and became a fanatical follower of the late Muslim clerics Aboud Rogo and Abubakar Shariff aka Makaburi.
After Rogo and Makaburi were assassinated, Kufungwa sneaked back to Somalia, where he now leads a recruitment cell whose tentacles extend all the way to Tanzania.
According to our investigations, Kufungwa recruited hundreds of men from his and six neighbouring villages in Msambweni to join Jeysh Ayman.
“So many people joined the al-Shabaab group that it’s not possible to pinpoint a single homestead without a relative who has either benefited from, fought or spied for al-Shabaab,” an official from the Human Development Agenda (HUDA), a grassroots community organisation in Kwale County, said.