Jehad Mostafa, a 37-year-old U.S. citizen who used to live in San Diego, has held leadership positions with Somali terrorist group al-Shabaab for a decade, prosecutors said Monday when announcing unsealed criminal charges against him.
Mostafa, who remains at-large, was first charged in 2009 for providing material support to al-Shabaab, and Monday’s superseding indictment alleges that he continued through at least early 2017 to support the Somali group, which seeks to control territory within Somalia in order to establish a society based on its strict interpretation of Sharia law. Al-Shabaab was designated by the U.S. in 2008 as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) and by the United Nations and European Union in 2010.
“We believe this defendant is the highest-ranking U.S. citizen fighting overseas with a terrorist organization,” said U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer. “Al-Shabaab’s reign of terror threatens U.S. national security, our international allies and innocent civilians.”
Mostafa, who has several aliases including “Ahmed Gurey,” “Ahmed,” “Anwar,” “Abu Anwar al Muhajir,” and “Abu Abdallah al Muhajir,” is believed to be in Somalia, prosecutors said. Also Monday, the U.S. reiterated its USD 5 million reward for information leading to Mostafa’s arrest and conviction. The reward for Mostafa was first issued in March 2013, prosecutors noted.
Mostafa was raised in the San Diego area, attending high school and college there. He left San Diego after graduating from college, in 2005 at the age of 23, prosecutors said, first traveling to Yemen, and then to Somalia, where he fought against Ethopian forces. Mostafa eventually joined al-Shabaab, the militia group in Somalia that pledged allegiance in 2012 to al Qaida.
Al-Shabaab, which means “the youth” in Arabic, over time has engaged in external operations in neighboring countries as well, prosecutors said. Though the attacks were concentrated in East Africa, it claimed responsibility for incidents that resulted in injuries to Americans, including those with ties to San Diego, according to prosecutors. Al-Shabaab has a network of supporters across East Africa, Kharon reported in August 2018.
Mostafa played a critical role in the group, including in its media operations, training of soldiers and participating in attacks against Somali and African Union forces, according to investigators. Mostafa also appeared in a 2011 press conference with an al-Shabaab leader purporting to be an al Qaida emissary. The FBI became aware this year of his participation in, and leadership of, al-Shabaab’s explosions department. Mostafa was implicated in the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in attacks in Somalia, and improving their use as a tool of terror, according to investigators.
Analysts from the Counterterrorism/Middle East team contributed to this report.