NAIROBI - Ahmed Abdi Godane, whose Shebab group has said it carried out a deadly raid on a Nairobi mall, has transformed chronically-unstable Somalia into one of Al-Qaeda's main global hubs.
Reportedly trained in Afghanistan with the Taliban, Godane - often known by the name Abu Zubayr - took over the leadership of the Shebab in 2008 after then leader Adan Hashi Ayro was killed by a US missile attack.
Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri has recognised Godane as the head of the "mujahedeen" in East Africa, although letters released after Osama bin Laden's death show the late Saudi Islamist leader had lower regard for the Somali's abilities.
The camera-shy extremist, a slightly built man who is known to enjoy writing poetry and is said to have once worked as an accountant for an airline company, espouses the language of global jihad.
Godane claimed responsibility for July 2010 bombings in the Ugandan capital Kampala that killed 74 people.
On Saturday Islamist gunmen stormed an upscale shopping centre in Nairobi and took hostages in a four-day siege that left at least 67 dead. The Shebab claimed on its Twitter account that 137 hostages were killed.
It remained unclear however exactly who carried out the attack.
With the Kenyan authorities yet to release information on the composition of the group, there was contradictory information on the possible involvement of foreign jihadists and members of the Somali diaspora and even a breakaway Shebab group.
In 2010, Godane was rumoured to have been pushed out of this post as top leader, but the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia said he has managed to hang on by developing the Shebab's internal secret service.