The US Treasury Department announced on Friday that it is imposing financial sanctions on a Kenyan described as both a key figure in Somalia’s al Shabaab insurgency and the leader of a mosque in Nairobi’s Eastleigh estate.
Hassan Mahat Omar is said by the department to have decision-making authority regarding the internal, political and operational affairs of al Shabaab, which the United States calls a terrorist organisation.
The US move on Mr Omar comes as Tourism minister Najib Balala threatened to sue the UN Monitoring Group for Somalia and Eriteria for linking him to the activities of al Shabaab.
Mr Balala told journalists at the Mvita Clinic in Mombasa that he had instructed his lawyers to start legal proceedings against the UN group.
It claims in a report that Mr Balala attended a fundraiser in support of Riyadha mosque in Nairobi’s Pumwani area in September 2009 and donated Sh200,000 which was wired to an account operated by the Islamist movement that controls much of southern Somalia.
“I am a Kenyan Cabinet minister who is always peaceful and tolerant. At no time have I caused any trouble or harmed anybody.
I am always available, but the UN Monitoring Group did not make any effort to seek me for a comment on such a serious matter,” said Mr Balala.
But international law expert Prof Kithure Kindiki cautioned that the minister’s legal proceedings against the UN may not go far since the institution and its staff are shielded from prosecution while in the course of performing their duties.
“It is zero work. He cannot sue the UN for defamation,” said Prof Kindiki.
One can only sue the UN on grounds of commercial disputes such as a breach of contract but not for criminal law issues unless they involve international crimes, Prof Kindiki said.
Mr Balala said he donated the Sh200,000 in good faith to support the rehabilitation of the mosque, adding that at no time had he supported the activities of al Shabaab.
He said that as a Muslim leader he was in the forefront in condemning the recruitment of youths to join al Shaabab and wondered why the UN linked him to the terrorist group.
The minister said his donation was banked at Habib Bank for the purpose of the rehabilitation of the mosque and dismissed the report that the cash was wired to al Shaabab.
“I am a Muslim and therefore I will continue to support development projects which benefit our community. But I will never fund terrorist activities because I am a peace-loving person,” he said.
In the report, Mr Omar as well as others are said to use the Eastleigh mosque to “raise funds, recruit and disseminate propaganda on behalf of al Shabaab,” the department said in a statement.
Mr Omar was born in Garissa and carries a Kenyan passport, according to the statement that forbids US citizens from engaging in financial transactions with Mr Omar and freezes any assets he may have under US jurisdiction.
The Treasury Department took the same action with regard to Omar Hammami, an American citizen known as Abu Mansur al-Amriki. He is said to serve as a military tactician and financial manager for al Shabaab.
Separately, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously on Friday to re-establish the UN Monitoring Group on Eritrea and Somalia for a 12-month period.
Reported by Kevin J. Kelly in New York, Jacob Ng’etich in Nairobi and Mathias Ringa in Mombasa.