Posts Tagged ‘shabab’

A new piece for AfPak Channel at Foreign Policy magazine, this time looking at the odd phenomenon of why so many German jihadis appear in extremist videos, while so few Brits do. At any rate, I find it curious. Interested if anyone comes across any more material, as this is a topic I will continue to follow.

Britain’s Camera-Shy Jihadis

BY RAFFAELLO PANTUCCI, MARCH 24, 2011 | Thursday, March 24 – 11:17 AM | Share

A few weeks have passed since the discovery on extremist forums of the image of alleged martyr “Musa, the British.” While Britain’s intelligence service MI5 confirms that they believe that at least 4,000 young Britons have been drawn to fight and train at militant camps in Waziristan and Afghanistan prior to 2009, they have thus far been remarkably coy in their appearances in propaganda videos produced by jihadi media outlets. This stands in stark contrast with the German jihadist contingent, which seem to revel in their celebrity and repeatedly feature injihadist media outlets, as well as self-publishing tracts describing their experiences. Parsing this difference between these two groups (and the related question of why only Adam Gadahn appears amongst the estimated hundred or so Americans Bob Woodward was told have ventured to Waziristan) might offer some deeper insights into the machinations of the networks drawing young western Muslims to Pakistani training camps and help analysts better understand trends of growth or shrinkage of such networks.

The shot of “Musa” was the first image of a British jihadi “martyr” linked to Afghanistan or Pakistan since the videos emerged of Mohammed Siddique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, two of the July 7, 2005 London subway bombers. The two men were part of the pipeline of young British fighters drawn to training camps in Pakistan, though ultimately they were directed to carry out an operation back home in the U.K. rather fight and die on the field in Afghanistan. However, these three men aside, there have been few images released by al-Qaeda or its affiliates that have included British jihadis. In Somalia, a young British-Somali blew himself up in October 2007, though the video took almost two years to surface and in Tel Aviv, two British-Pakistani Muslims attempted a suicide attack on Mike’s Place bar in 2003. In contrast, ever since about 2007 when German fighters started to surface in growing numbers in Waziristan, there has been an ever-growing digest of jihadi media in German and featuring a select group of German nationals.

Why there is such a divergence between the U.K. and Germany is hard to understand. One possible answer is that the German jihad in Waziristan is still in an earlier phase its British counterpart. According to Guido Steinberg of the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik and a former adviser to the German Chancellery, the network to send young Germans to Waziristan only really got established in 2006. In an interview, he described that before 2006 the networks were a haphazard affair, suggesting that the network is still relatively immature, and might therefore need more advertising to attract young recruits. In the U.K., on the other hand, jihadi networks have been drawing young Britons to fight in South Asia since the early-to-mid-1990s — almost two decades of militant travel have established a strong network.

But this German network now exists in force, and security forces in Germany have a large body of returnees and missing individuals whom they believe are training in Pakistan’s tribal areas that they are worried about. An unknown number of individuals are still being drawn to Waziristan, withofficials at home concerned about more than 30 that have been trained and a further 200 who have been radicalized. In September 2007, the possible threat that this network posed was illustrated by the case of the Sauerland Cell, a group of Germans who were planning an attack on an American base in Germany– having been tasked to do this by their commanders in the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU). An offshoot of the Islamist Movement of Uzbekistan, the group’s primary target is Uzbekistan, though it has now been operating in Waziristan alongside al-Qaeda and Taliban groups for some time.

Operationally, the constant appearance of young Germans in videos in Waziristan merely gives the German authorities a useful list of individuals to place on international watch lists and investigative leads into networks back in Germany. From this perspective, al-Qaeda’s British recruits have proved to be much more useful in international plotting. Their bashfulness before the camera means that their identities are still theoretically hidden and therefore they are still deployable in terrorist plots. In the period from 2004 to 2007, most major al-Qaeda linked terrorist plotting in the U.K. were linked to British citizens who had trained in Waziristan. Al-Qaeda and its affiliate networks may have concluded that the German contingent is less useful operationally in the West.

Ideologically, it is likely that the videos in some cases have even had a counterproductive effect insofar as some of the images may have reduced Western fears of the group, to the point of ridicule in some situations. The surreal sight of German-Moroccan jihadist Bekkay Harrachstanding before a red matinee curtain in a suit while he threatened Germany to vote correctly in an election was not followed by any visible attacks. For an audience of both potential jihadists and the general public, the impression was of empty threats that will not have strengthened the group’s hand.

In contrast, when British jihadis with links to Afghanistan and Pakistan have appeared in propaganda videos, it has been when they are featured in videos that claim to celebrate their deaths in the pursuit of jihad. And none of them or their many compatriots have written lengthy tracts describing their adventures seeking fields of jihad like Mounir and Yassin Chouka, a pair of German-Moroccans currently fighting alongside the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) in Waziristan, or the fallen Eric Breininger, the young German convert who hid out fighting alongside the IJU regularly releasing odd videos showing off about how much fun he was having. His subsequent obituary was an epic document that helped clarify a bit to German authorities how the networks of Germans going to fight had evolved.

But it was not always so. Dhiren Barot, the British Hindu convert to Islam who in the mid-1990s ran away to Kashmir to join Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani militant group responsible for the deadly terrorist attacks on Mumbai in 2008, subsequently wrote a book about his experiences. Other British Muslims radicalized during the 1990s served as “correspondents” for www.qoqaz.com orwww.azzam.com, the infamous British-based websites that supported jihad in Chechnya and Afghanistan, writing about their experiences in hagiographic terms. And prior to that, videos and cassettes that are still available online describe the experience of British jihadis (amongst others) going to fight in Bosnia.

None of this is very surprising — these Western warriors have been convinced by the al-Qaeda narrative that they are carrying out sacred acts in the name of a good cause, and it should be expected that they want to show off about it before a camera. Having seen countless others in such videos before they leave, it is not shocking that they want to add their names and images to the lists to inspire future terrorists. But, for British jihadists at least, this need seems to have faded away, with occasional rumors or newspapers stories around single individuals. Unlike their German comrades whose names are becoming tabloid currency, Britons like “Musa” have largely fallen silent.

Raffaello Pantucci is an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR).

 

I have a longer article in the latest Jane’s Intelligence Review exploring the phenomenon of young men (and even if reports are to be believed one woman) going to join the Shabaab in Somalia. The focus of the article is on the phenomenon more recently, using court docs from cases in the US, UK, Sweden and Denmark and trying to explore the shift from people being drawn from ethnic duty at their homeland being invaded by Ethiopia to jihadist rhetoric espoused by al Shabaab which seems to be drawing a more diverse community. At the end it looks at some of the plots that seem to have emerged from the Shabaab networks in the west (something I have touched upon before). I have written a growing amount on this topic which I find fascinating, as we appear to be watching live the evolution of a group from regional to global jihadists. The question is how much it is pushing itself in this direction, or how much is it happening because the networks are going violent by themselves and dragging the group with them.

Unfortunately, the article is behind a firewall (the link is below for those who have access). I have asked for a copy to distribute here, and will hopefully be able to post it once it has been cleared by them.

Youth movement – Somalia’s foreign fighters

Key Points
  • Somali jihadist group the Shabab is continuing its efforts to recruit foreign fighters who can be moulded into ideologically committed units for its war against the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and African Union peacekeepers in Mogadishu.
  • Radical networks in Western countries have channelled recruits and money to the group since January 2009, when the Ethiopian military withdrew from Somalia and some moderate Islamists were given prominent positions in the TFG.
  • While the Shabab used recruits from other East African countries to carry out the Kampala bombings in July 2010, there is currently little evidence to suggest it is sponsoring attacks on the West, although its support networks in Europe and Australia have been implicated in domestic terrorism.

The latest video from militant Islamist group the Shabab showcases recruits from all over the world. Raffaello Pantucci discusses why the Somali organisation has such wide appeal and what implications this jihadist cross-fertilisation may have for Western governments.

In late November 2010, Somali militant Islamist group Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen released its latest video from the battlefields of Somalia. Like previous films, this one featured foreign fighters (known as the ‘muhajirin’ or emigrants) from various countries, who called on fellow Muslims to join the ‘jihad’ in Somalia. In the process, they highlighted how the failed state has become a leading destination for radicalised young men from around the world.
The Shabab’s keenness to recruit foreigners can be at least partly attributed to its desire to raise ideologically committed units that are loyal solely to the group’s leaders and immune to the clan rivalries that have divided Somalis for the past two decades. The Shabab is also in a far better position to process foreign volunteers than its counterparts in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere. Its control of virtually all southern Somalia is now uncontested and its activities behind the front lines are rarely disrupted by air strikes, allowing it to set up training facilities.
One such camp was seen in the video, which showed masked fighters training with individual and crew-served weapons. The video then introduced a multilingual cast of foreign fighters serving on the front lines in Mogadishu. The video also implied that recruits would be well-fed and generally looked after. Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, the Shabab’s official spokesman, said: “Almighty Allah has blessed us out of his bounty with a handful of noble muhajirin… we pledge to Allah to protect them with our blood, and to carry them upon our shoulders, and protect them from that which we protect ourselves and our families.”
While the Shabab appears to be recruiting foreigners primarily for street fighting in Mogadishu, the radical networks that are channelling volunteers and material support to the group are also becoming involved in terrorist conspiracies in their home countries.
Invasion
When it first emerged, the Shabab was a small hardline Islamist militia in Mogadishu with links to Al-Qaeda operatives wanted in connection with terrorist attacks in Kenya and Tanzania. It subsequently became part of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) that rapidly took control of much of southern Somalia in 2006. While often described as the UIC’s military wing, it represented the most extreme part of what was an alliance of courts and their affiliated militias.
In December 2006, the Ethiopian military invaded to topple the UIC and install a Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Mogadishu. However, after their initial victories the Ethiopians became bogged down, and as resistance grew the Shabab re-emerged as an independent organisation that became Somalia’s most potent insurgent group, using suicide bombing tactics, sometimes with devastating results. In its increasingly slick propaganda, the group claimed that the United States had encouraged Christian-dominated Ethiopia to invade Somalia in what was yet another example of “crusader” aggression against Muslims.
Meanwhile, young ethnic Somali men living in Western countries began leaving for their ancestral homeland. A small number of them subsequently appeared in Shabab propaganda.
In March 2008, the group released a video featuring Abu Ayub al-Muhajir, a young English-speaking Somali whom the video said carried out a suicide bombing at an Ethiopian checkpoint on 10 October 2007. The UK media subsequently identified him as a UK national who had studied business at Oxford Brookes University.
The US-Somali Shirwa Ahmed has been identified by the US authorities as one of several Shabab suicide bombers who attacked targets in northern Somalia in October 2008.
Abdulrahman Ahmed Haji, a Danish-Somali who moved to Somalia in 2008 with his wife and children, was held responsible by TFG officials for a suicide bombing at a graduation ceremony for medical students at Mogadishu’s Shamo Hotel on 3 December 2009, an attack that the Shabab disowned after it provoked widespread outrage.
When journalists began investigating why Western Somalis were travelling to fight in Somalia, it became apparent that there was widespread opposition to the Ethiopian invasion in the diaspora communities. In a paper titled Al Shabab: the internationalisation of militant Islam in Somalia and the implications for radicalisation processes in Europe , published in February 2010 for the Danish Ministry of Justice, Danish researchers Michael Taarnby and Lars Hallundbaek stated: “The intense dislike and suspicion of the Ethiopians materialised in a high level of community support to the armed struggle intended to liberate the country from foreign invaders.”
This suggested that the support for the insurgency was largely an expression of the Somali nationalism that had been fostered by former president Muhammad Siad Barre (1969 to 1991), who wanted to establish a ‘greater Somalia’ at the expense of neighbouring countries. The result was the 1978 to 1979 Ogaden war in which Ethiopia inflicted a heavy defeat on Somalia.
Indeed, two Somalis put on trial in the UK in 2008 on charges of raising tens of thousands of pounds for the Shabab emphasised their nationalist motives for supporting the war against the Ethiopian invaders. However, at the same time they were accused of using the Al-Qimmah website, a predominantly Somali language jihadist forum that supports the Shabab, as well as Al-Qaeda and other affiliated groups. It was also stated during the trial that they had accumulated a vast volume of radical material from the internet, which they said they wanted to take to the resistance fighters in Somalia.
The key defendant, who faced two juries after the first failed to reach a verdict, was identified in the Swedish press as being known to the Swedish authorities as a member of a radical network they had encountered years earlier in a separate case. In court, it was revealed that when he was first arrested by British police in 2008 he apparently said: “Is it the British or Swedish police who want me? In Sweden we were active with the Islamic Courts.”
The juries did not find either of the defendants guilty.
It appears the Shabab’s radical Islamist message was resonating with young diaspora Somalis. For example, in his video released in March 2008 the English-speaking Abu Ayub said: “Know that I am doing this martyrdom operation only for the sake of Allah and his religion [not] for nationalism, tribe, and money or fame.”
He was not the only one to be motivated by ideology. According to court documents released by the US Department of Justice, US-Somali suicide-bomber Shirwa Ahmed left Minneapolis as part of a group of radicalised young men in December 2007 to train with the Shabab. These documents also stated they were the first in a wave of young US citizens in Minneapolis who were drawn to Somalia, spurred on by older former fighters who assured them they would find “true brotherhood” and that “to fight jihad will be fun”. The FBI believes that at least 20 young men have been persuaded by this rhetoric, a number of whom are still thought to be in Somalia, according to statements made when indictments against a Shabab support network in Minnesota’s sizeable Somali community were unsealed in August 2010.
Swedish networks
More details about the Shabab’s radical diaspora support networks emerged in the form of documents released in December 2010 after a Swedish court convicted Mohamoud Jama and Bille Ilias Mohamed of plotting to carry out terrorist attacks in Somalia. In their mid-20s, the two Swedish-Somalis admitted travelling to Somalia, but stated that they did not support terrorist activity.
Prior to 2010, the two men were subject to a long-term investigation by the Swedish Security Service (Säkerhetspolisen: SAPO) into a network of extremists that had developed in and around Rinkeby, a part of Stockholm nicknamed ‘Little Mogadishu’ by locals. The radical cleric Sheikh Fuad Mohamed Qalaf (alias Shangole) was based at the Rinkeby mosque before returning to Somalia in 2004. He has since emerged as a senior leader in the Shabab.
According to court documents published after Jama and Mohamed’s convictions, the main contact between the Shabab and Sweden was a Somali-Swede named Ismail Ahmed Yassin who was born in Somalia in 1979. He migrated to Sweden in 1994 and became a Swedish citizen in 2007. Well-integrated into Sweden’s Somali community, he worked as a youth leader around the Rinkeby mosque and nearby Creative House community centre. While working there, others in the community noticed that he started to adopt more radical views, leading to his eventual dismissal. According to court documents, Yassin continued to organise events and raise awareness of the situation in Somalia, including a conference on Islam in July 2008 that was attended by more than 90 young men.
A few months later, in October 2008, Yassin travelled via Kenya to join the Islamist fighters in Somalia. According to intercepts and court documents released by Swedish authorities, having moved to Somalia, he established himself as the main conduit for Swedes seeking to join the Shabab. Describing himself as ‘amir al-muhajirin’ (leader of the foreign fighters) in intercepted conversations, Yassin exhorted others to swear allegiance to the group and raise money, and provided updates on the group’s activities on the front line.
Using the pro-Shabab Al-Qimmah internet forum and telephone calls through a network of friendly interlocutors, Yassin maintained regular communication with individuals in Sweden who sent money and fighters to the group, according to Swedish court documents.
Among those to travel along this pipeline was Shoaib Ali Sheikh Mohamed, a Somali born in 1981 who moved to Sweden in 1992 and became a Swedish citizen in 1998. In October 2008, Sheikh Mohamed returned to Somalia via Kenya to join the Shabab. In an intercepted August 2010 telephone conversation released in court documents, Yassin and an associate in Sweden discussed the ‘martyrdom’ of Sheikh Mohamed in a clash with Ugandan forces in July 2009.
In December 2008, two months after Yassin and Sheikh Mohamed moved to Somalia, they were followed by Ali Yasin Ahmed, a slightly younger Swedish-Somali, about whom less is known. Intercepted telephone conversations used in the trial against Jama and Mohamed indicate that he witnessed an attack led by Sheikh Qalaf and that he was familiar with the Danish-Somali alleged suicide-bomber Abdulrahman Ahmed Haji. In January 2010, the Swedish press cited officials as saying that around 20 Swedes had joined the Shabab.
Withdrawal symptoms
In January 2009, the Ethiopian military withdrew from Somalia, leaving the TFG under the protection of the Ugandan-led African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) peacekeeping force. This facilitated an agreement that led to some of the more moderate UIC Islamists joining the TFG. Their leader, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, became the TFG’s president. With the foreign invaders gone and the new president promising to introduce Islamic law, there was widespread hope that the Shabab’s appeal would be significantly undermined.
The group was forced to shift the focus of its rhetoric towards AMISOM, claiming that its Ugandan and Burundian soldiers were continuing to perform the same role as the Ethiopians. The Shabab also denounced its erstwhile UIC colleagues who had joined the TFG as apostates who had sold out their religion.
There are signs of a general decline in diaspora support for the insurgency in the wake of the Ethiopian withdrawal. For example, the Swedish authorities recorded a conversation on 10 August 2010 in which Jama complained to a fellow Somali-Swede that “the diaspora helped us before, when the Ethiopians came, so that we could drive them away… because they hated Ethiopia so much… when they left, then came the Ugandans… but they hate the Ethiopians more than the Ugandans… they have never heard of the Ugandans… and now we get no help because they do not know what the war is about.”
While diaspora Somali support may have declined after the withdrawal, more radicalised individuals remained committed to the cause. Both Jama and Bille Ilias Mohamed, for example, travelled to Somalia after the Ethiopian withdrawal. Mohamed led the way, attempting to enter through Kenya in February 2009 and Uganda in March 2009 and finally succeeding on his third attempt in late April 2009. Jama appears to have had less difficulty, managing to get to Somalia with his wife and one-year-old daughter on their first attempt on 11 March 2009. Conversations intercepted between the men and their own confessions show a high degree of focus on religion and violent jihad and both admitted supporting the Shabab.
They were not the only Western Somalis to travel to Somalia that year. In November 2010, BBC radio broadcast an interview with a British-Somali woman who claimed that her brother, a biology graduate, announced in late 2009 that he and a friend were going to travel to Egypt to study religion. Leaving with few possessions or explanations as to where he had got the money for such travel, the young man telephoned his family sporadically over the next year saying first that he was in Egypt and then in Somalia. In mid-September 2010, the family received word through his travelling companion that he had been killed “by a flying missile”. The family has heard nothing more about his fate.
In addition, networks that allegedly raised funds for the Shabab continued to operate in the US after the Ethiopian withdrawal. Amina Farah Ali and Hawo Mohamed Hassan, both naturalised Somali women, were arrested in August 2010 as part of the Minnesota investigation into Shabab support networks. They await trial on charges of knowingly providing material support to a designated terrorist group and making a false statement when questioned by federal agents.
According to court documents, the two women maintained contact with key leaders in Somalia with whom they regularly held teleconferences to raise money for the group. The published indictments quote Ali telling an unindicted person in Columbus, Ohio, in an intercepted telephone conversation on 12 January 2009, to “always collect under the name of the poor” when gathering funds “for the mujahideen in Somalia”. The same indictments state that a month later, during a 10 February 2009 teleconference fundraiser, Ali told listeners to “forget about the other charities” and instead to focus on “the jihad”.
Ali is alleged to have raised enough funds to send at least USD2,750 to Somalia in February 2009, her most successful month, according to the figures listed in her indictment. Such a figure could indicate there was not a notable decline in the amount of money Ali was allegedly able to raise in the wake of the Ethiopian departure. However, the intercepted telephone call to Columbus suggests it was not always clear to the donors who the recipients of the money would be.
Both Ali and Hassan have pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Another Shabab fundraising network allegedly remained active until it was disrupted by arrests in July 2009, according to court documents. Their indictment states that Abdi Mahdi Hussein of Richfield, Minnesota, and Mohamud Abdi Yusuf of St Louis, Missouri were involved in sending money to the Shabab, mainly in 2008. The indictment also states that a payment of USD1,000 was sent to the Shabab in March 2009, after the Ethiopian withdrawal. The men are currently awaiting trial on charges relating to providing material assistance to the Shabab. Both have yet to register a plea.
Diversification
There are also signs that the war in Somalia continues to be seen as a legitimate jihad by non-Somali radicals as well as diaspora Somalis. In June 2010, police in New York arrested Mohamed Alessa, a Jordanian-Palestinian, and Carlos Eduardo Almonte, a Dominican convert, as they prepared to board flights to Egypt, allegedly with the intention of travelling to Somalia to join the Shabab. According to their indictment, the two men had previously attempted to get through Jordan into Iraq to join jihadists there in 2007. Both await trial on charges of conspiring to kill, kidnap or injure persons outside the US and have yet to register a plea.
A month later, in July 2010, federal agents intercepted convert Zachary Chesser, a US citizen, as he attempted to board a flight from New York to Uganda. In a statement published as part of his indictment, Chesser said this was his second attempt to join the Shabab, the first being in November 2009, and that he had previously produced “things” for the group (most likely online material). He pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges in October 2010.
Less than a month later in August 2010, agents similarly intercepted Shaker Masri, a young Jordanian resident of Chicago who claimed to know Chesser and was also allegedly on his way to join the Shabab. He awaits trial on charges of supporting the Shabab and Al-Qaeda and has not yet registered a plea.
Examples of non-Somalis joining the Shabab have been seen elsewhere, with the UK authorities in particular saying the group is attracting people of various ethnicities. Having been shown classified reporting on the subject, the UK Conservative Party MP Patrick Mercer was quoted in September 2009 as saying: “There is now a mixture of British people, from numerous backgrounds, who are heading out there [to Somalia] and that is causing great concern.”
The Shabab seems to be encouraging this diversification. Eight of the nine masked foreign fighters who featured in the recruitment video released in November 2010 were identified as coming from Ethiopia, Kenya, Pakistan, Sudan, Sweden, Tanzania and the UK. The ninth spoke English with a North American accent. While some may be ethnic Somalis, the use of English and Swahili subtitles throughout the video suggests it was intended to appeal primarily to Anglophone and East African audiences. This may be an attempt to recruit foreigners with even less attachment to the clan system than their Somali diaspora counterparts.
The emphasis on Swahili could also reflect the Shabab’s desire to further carry out regional attacks such as the 11 July 2010 bombings in the Ugandan capital Kampala. In the wake of the Shabab’s first major operation outside Somalia, Ugandan military intelligence held a press conference in which three Ugandans and a Rwandan confessed to organising and carrying out the attack.
The danger of returnees
The Kampala bombings seemed to be a direct extension of the fighting in Mogadishu, with the Shabab trying to justify them as retaliation against the deployment of Ugandan troops. Nevertheless, counter-terrorism officials fear the Shabab’s Western recruits could carry out similar attacks in their countries of origin. Noting there are a “significant number of UK residents training in Shabab camps”, Jonathan Evans, the director general of the UK’s Security Service (MI5), said in a September 2010 speech to security professionals in London: “I am concerned that it is only a matter of time before we see terrorism on our streets inspired by those who are today fighting alongside the Shabab.”
While the Shabab does not currently appear to be sponsoring terrorist conspiracies against the West, there is already evidence that the radical networks that have formed to channel recruits and material support to the group are becoming involved in domestic terrorism.
In one of the more prominent cases, on 1 January 2010, Mohammed Muhideen Geele, a Danish-Somali in his mid-20s, broke through the front door of cartoonist Kurt Westergaard’s Aarhus home in Denmark armed with an axe. When he appeared in court in January, Geele was charged with terrorism and attempting to murder Westergaard, who had drawn a controversial cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad, and a policeman who responded to the incident. He denied the charges, saying he only intended to frighten Westergaard. On 4 February he was convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison.
Geele had previously been picked up in Kenya by counter-terrorism authorities conducting a sweep against Shabab networks ahead of a visit by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in August 2009. According to a report in the Swedish press, Geele was also seen in Sweden alongside the Danish-Somali Abdulrahman Ahmed Haji.
In the wake of the attack, Shabab spokesman Rage told the AFP: “I tell you that this incident is not something that could be related only to the Shabab or other Islamic organisations. It is a general obligation for all Muslims to defend their religion and the Prophet.”
Rage issued a much stronger denial when confronted with claims that the Shabab had sponsored a mixed Somali-Lebanese group arrested and detained in August 2009 in Australia in connection with a plot to attack the Holsworthy Army Barracks outside Sydney. The case emerged from an investigation by Australian security services into a network allegedly channelling funds and fighters to the Shabab. According to detailed Australian press reports based on police briefings, the security services became aware of the network after Wissam Fattal, a Lebanese former kick-boxer, attracted attention in his local mosque with his radical proclamations.
Fattal and four other men were tried on charges relating to the Holsworthy Barracks plot in 2010. During the trial, it was revealed that mosque-goers overheard Fattal trying to arrange travel to Somalia through Saney Aweys, a Somali refugee living in Australia. Fattal later described the conflict in Somalia as a “true jihad” to a police informant who had infiltrated the group. However, while Aweys was able to organise travel for others, Fattal could not get the visas he needed. The prosecution claimed that this rejection prompted him to begin planning an attack in Australia.
Among those Aweys sent to Somalia was Yacqub Khayre, a young former drug addict he had taken under his wing. According to the prosecution, Aweys tasked Khayre with obtaining a fatwa from a scholar in Somalia to justify the attack that Fattal was planning in Australia. However, Khayre proved an unreliable recruit, apparently running away from his training camp at least twice, leading Aweys’ contacts to tell him that the young man was “a risk to you, us and the whole thing”, according to recordings played in court.
Aweys also tried to obtain such rulings from clerics with whom he was in telephone contact, including Sheikh Hayakallah in Somalia, to whom he outlined the firearms attack they were planning on the army base. The jury found Fattal, his Lebanese lieutenant Nayef el Sayed and Aweys guilty of conspiracy to commit a terrorist act in December 2010. Khayre and another man of Somali descent were acquitted.
In a more recent case, Munir Awad, a Lebanese-born Swede, was arrested and charged along with two others by Danish police on 29 December 2010 for his role in an alleged plot to attack the Copenhagen offices of Jyllands-Posten , the Danish newspaper that published Westergaard’s cartoon.
Awad was first detained in Somalia in 2007 along with his 17-year-old pregnant wife Safia Benaouda, the daughter of the leader of Sweden’s Muslim Council. The two were part of a group of foreigners picked up by Kenyan troops as they fled the fighting in Somalia. In explaining why the couple had found themselves in the middle of such violence with Safia pregnant, she told The New York Times : “We wanted [to do] something more authentic.”
Awad and his wife appeared in Pakistan in September 2009, when they were stopped at a checkpoint as they travelled to South Waziristan. Again, the Swedish authorities intervened to bring them home.
Awad pleaded not guilty to charges relating to the Copenhagen plot in December 2010 and is now awaiting trial in Denmark.
Awad’s arrest came just days after Dutch security forces moved to disrupt what they believed was a network of Somalis in Rotterdam who were plotting a terrorist attack in the Netherlands. While all but one of the men were released and handed over to immigration authorities, the arrests highlighted the concerns of the Dutch authorities about radicalisation in the country’s estimated 20,000-strong Somali community.
According to one community leader in the Netherlands quoted in Dubai-based newspaper The National , a new radical element comprising young men who “use religion purely for political purposes” has “recently” entered the community. There were also instances in 2009 of the Somali community reporting their concerns about radicalisation among its youth to the authorities in an attempt to prevent them from travelling to Somalia to fight.
Conclusion
There do not appear to be any reliable estimates of the numbers of foreign fighters in Somalia, with some figures in the hundreds and others in the thousands. It is also unclear whether the flow of recruits has increased or decreased since the Ethiopian withdrawal. What is clear is that some continue to travel to Somalia and the Shabab is keen to recruit more, presumably to fill out the ranks of its core units, but possibly also to ensure that radical networks in the West continue to raise funds on its behalf.
There is currently little evidence that the Shabab is following the example of the Al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan’s tribal areas who are directing their Western recruits to return home to carry out attacks. However, the Shabab’s supporters have already been implicated in a number of conspiracies in Western countries, suggesting that the conflict in Somalia is helping to forge and radicalise networks that are committed to a so-called ‘global jihad’ against anyone or anything they perceive to be anti-Islam.
This means that the Shabab has the necessary human resources should it decide to cement its reputation as a transnational jihadist organisation by carrying out attacks against the US and its allies. The bombings it carried out in northern Somalia in October 2008 and in Kampala in July 2010, beyond its normal areas of operation, showed the results could be devastating.

A slightly longer post for Free Rad!cals looking at the Shabaab’s new television channel and trying to explore its gradual evolution towards international violence. I have a longer piece on the topic of Shabaab and foreign fighters coming up soon for Jane’s.

A Threat Coming to Your TV Screen

In September last year, the Director General of the Security Service (MI5) made a speech in which he highlighted,

In Somalia, for example, there are a significant number of UK residents training in al-Shabaab camps to fight in the insurgency there. al-Shabaab, an Islamist militia in Somalia, is closely aligned with al-Qaeda and Somalia shows many of the characteristics that made Afghanistan so dangerous as a seedbed for terrorism in the period before the fall of the Taliban. There is no effective government, there is a strong extremist presence and there are training camps attracting would be jihadists from across the world.

This speech was the latest proof of high-level concern about the Islamist al-Shabaab (the youth) militia in Somalia, which has evolved quite rapidly from regional insurgency to aspirant regional al-Qaeda affiliate. The most recent evidence of its evolution was the revelation last week that the group both had a new logo and was launching its own television channel. As the official press release put it,

The “al-Kataib News Channel” came to teach.. to tell.. and to incite.. in honor of the martyrs who covered battlefields with their blood in various fronts; east and west, south and north. This came in defense of the victories of the Mujahideen who broke the pride of the infidel West, scattered its papers and made their senior commanders lose their minds. This in support of the Muwahideen’s patience and persistence in the land of pride.

This news comes in the wake of a continuing escalation in activity from the group. I have written in the past about the group in a number of different formats, each highlighting different aspects of the group’s morph from regional insurgent to global actor. It has gone from being one amongst many in the civil war in Somalia, to being an actor able to launch attacks first in semi-autonomous Puntland, to being able and willing to launch attacks in neighboring Uganda, to maybe even being connected to international attacks. There has been an almost constant digest of stories of al-Qaeda leaders hiding out amongst the group in East Africa, rhetorical video exchanges between al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab, and evidence of other al-Qaeda affiliates moving to set up shop in Somalia. On the ground, stories point to the group’s increasing extremism and imposition of Shariah law, now a television channel, and all the while it seems able to draw a wide community of foreigners to its ranks.

International Threat? Members of al-Shabaab in Training

The trajectory it seems to be headed is an attack on the international stage. As Evans put it, the group ‘shows many of the characteristics that made Afghanistan so dangerous as a seedbed for terrorism,’ and consequently it understandable that it is high on the list of threats that keeps him up at night. But at the same time, the question that should be asked is whether we are wishing ourselves towards a conclusion that in fact is not in the interests of the group?

Yes, it does seem as though the Shabaab’s trajectory is invariably taking it towards attacking the West, and at least one of its leaders has openly threatened America. As Omar Hammami, aka Abu Mansour,put it to the New York Times, “it’s quite obvious that I believe America is a target.”

But why would the group attack the West? On the one hand it would give it a greater profile and prestige, all which would invariably bring it a greater degree of support and contacts, but at the same time such an attack would bring the additional nuisance of foreign interference and attention. It already has a great deal, but compared to AQAP or AQ core in Waziristan it remains a secondary issue for western counter-terrorists. So much so that aspiring Western fighters wanting to go to jihad consider Somalia an easier place to go than the other jihadi battlefields. As far as Western security services are concerned, the greatest concern is from radicalised networks affiliated with the group that chose to move into action in their home states, rather than going to Somalia to fight. Examples of this would be in Denmark in the case of young Somali-Dane who tried to kill Kurt Westegaard, one of the cartoonists responsible for the infamous Mohammed cartoons, and the cell in Australia who were trying to get to Somalia, but failed and instead decided to try to do something at home. In addition, there is the mixed group in Demark who were apparently targeting Jyllands-Posten, and at least one of whom had tried to link up with Somali networks in the past.

But in all three cases, it is unclear to what degree al-Shabaab central command was involved. This does not mean that they are absolved of activity outside Somalia – certainly the Kampala attack seems to have had a high degree of Shabaab involvement – but it remains uncertain that the group wants to start attacks in the west. The risk it would seem is from radicalized networks who decide to do things at home of their own volition (like the Australian or Danish networks), or might be coopted by groups like Al Qaeda to carry out attacks in the west (maybe the mixed network of attackers in Denmark).

This nonetheless means the group is a threat, but it is different from the threat posed by groups whose leadership appears to have made a conscious decision to attack the west. At the moment its attacks outside Somali borders have focused on nations involved in the AMISOM force, rather than any “kaffir” state. The danger is that we wish ourselves into facing a threat from the group by focusing too much attention on it. While it seems clear that radicalized networks are a threat, it is not clear that the group itself is eager to launch attacks against the west. This is not to say that it might not happen (I am wary of making any concrete assumptions, aware of how these groups mutate and how easy it is for affiliate networks to be coopted by others), but it is unclear that we are there yet in terms of core command targeting cities in America or Europe.

The Director General of MI5 seems very aware of this, and chose his words carefully about the group. “I am concerned that it is only a matter of time before we see terrorism on our streets inspired by those who are today fighting alongside al-Shabaab,” is how he put it. But maybe this should be more delicately put saying “connected” rather than “inspired.” The point is not that the group is not dangerous or a threat, but that it is not quite at the stage of being an AQAP or AQ core threat. To think strategically it would seem as though we need to find a better way by which to assess which affiliates are direct and indirect threats and what are the signs they are moving in an increasingly dangerous direction. All of which might help identify what moves might be made to send them down a different path.

 

A new piece for Jamestown’s Terrorism Monitor, exploring once again the supposedly Shabaab linked plot in Australia. I might do more work on this plot as it seems like it could be an interesting case study. Should you note any new tips or stories emerge from it, please drop me a note.

Operation Neath: Is Somalia’s al-Shabaab Movement Active in Australia?

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 3
January 20, 2011 02:58 PM Age: 6 hrs
Lebanese-Australian Wissam Mahmoud Fattal, accused in the 2009 bomb plot against Holsworthy Army base outside of Sydney.

“Islam is the true religion. Thank you very much.” So declared Wissam Mahmoud Fattal, a 34-year-old Lebanese Australian former kick-boxer after he was convicted of participating in a plot to attack the Holsworthy Army base just outside Sydney (The Age [Melbourne], December 23, 2010; Australian Associated Press, December 23, 2010). The statement stood in contrast to Fattal’s earlier comments following his arrest when he shouted at the court, “Your army kills innocent people in Afghanistan and Iraq. You call us terrorists – that’s not true” (Daily Telegraph, August 5, 2009).

Fattal’s statement came at the conclusion of a lengthy trial that began after the August 2009 arrests and raids of 19 properties that concluded Operation Neath, one of Australia’s most substantial terrorism investigations to date (see Terrorism Monitor, September 10, 2009).  Convicted alongside Fattal were Saney Edow Aweys, 27, and Nayef el-Sayed, 26, Somali and Lebanese naturalized Australians, respectively. Cleared of charges related to the plot were Yacqub Khayre, 23, and Abdirahman Ahmed, 26, both Somali-Australians.

Prosecutors alleged that the men were in the process of planning a fidayin or suicide-style attack on the Australian army base, in which they would use automatic weapons to wreak havoc until they were brought down. In a recorded conversation between Saney Aweys and a cleric in Somalia, Aweys outlined the plotters’ intention of attacking a barracks; “There are about six guys…20 minutes will be enough for us to take out five, six, ten…I don’t know. Until they will use up their weapons” (The Age, December 23, 2010).

Much of the media attention around the plot focused on the cell’s apparent connection to al-Shabaab militants in Somalia. Three of the men charged were of Somali descent and it was alleged that the group had sought to obtain a fatwa from clerics in Somalia to justify their actions. Furthermore, the case uncovered a network that was apparently responsible for funneling fighters and funding to the Somali extremist group.

At the center of the plot was Saney Aweys, a Somali refugee who retained a strong connection to his native land and the conflict it currently endures. In an attempt to deflect attention from his client Fattal, lawyer Patrick Tehan pointed an accusing finger at Aweys, declaring his “tentacles seem to be all over the place…he seems to be up to all sorts of activities” (The Age, December 24, 2010). Using seven different mobile phones registered under a variety of names, Aweys was the one who provided contacts with al-Shabaab networks in Somalia.  It was apparently a phone call between Fattal and Aweys which first alerted Australian authorities to the danger posed by the cell (Australian, August 4, 2009). Fattal had expressed to an undercover officer his desire to achieve martyrdom fighting abroad in Somalia, which he described as the “true jihad.” Fattal, however, was unable to travel due to visa problems (Australian, September 23, 2010).

Early on in the case, Aweys was accused of facilitating the travel to Somalia of other Australian Somali’s, including the missing Walid Osman Mohamed (believed to be in Somalia) and fellow defendant Yacqub Khayre, as well as sending money to the group. However, a decision not to prosecute was made on the grounds that the amounts were small and that al-Shabaab was not proscribed in Australia at the time (Australian, August 6, 2009). It is also possible that he was in contact with missing Australian-Somali suspect Hussein Hashi Farah, a man described in the press as the “mastermind” of the plot, who was last seen when he escaped from Kenyan custody after being picked up as he attempted to cross the Ugandan-Kenyan border (AAP, March 23, 2010; AAP, June 28, 2010).

Aweys was the key figure in seeking a fatwa from shaykhs abroad to condone their intended actions in Australia. As well as being in direct contact with Shaykh Hayakallah in Somalia, he also dispatched Yacqub Khayre, a young Somali-Australian and former drug addict he had taken under his wing, to Somalia to obtain the fatwa and (allegedly) to train with al-Shabaab. Khayre was something of an unreliable recruit, regularly fleeing from the camp and was described in an intercept between Somalia and Aweys as “a risk to you, us and the whole thing” (Australian, September 16, 2010).  Khayre’s defense successfully argued that the fatwa Khayre sought when he went to Somalia in April 2009 was merely to condone the conduct of fraud in obtaining money to support al-Shabaab (The Age, December 24, 2010).

These connections aside, it does not seem as though al-Shabaab was directly responsible for tasking the men to carry out jihad in Australia. Shortly after the initial arrests, al-Shabaab spokesman Shaykh Ali Mahmud Raage (a.k.a. Shaykh Ali Dheere) issued a statement dismissing reports that the detainees were in any way members of al-Shabaab, claiming the men were arrested solely because they were Muslims (Dayniile, August 6). While it seems clear that Australian police have disrupted a network providing support for al-Shabaab from their nation, it is not clear that this plot was indeed the beginning of a shift in the group’s profile. This is somewhat tangential, however, from the perspective of Western security services, as what the case does highlight is that networks providing support for terrorist groups abroad can pose a potential threat at home. Described repeatedly as the key figure in the plot, the narrative painted by the prosecution was that Fattal had decided to turn his attention to Australia after having been thwarted in his attempts to conduct jihad abroad. He then used his connections to a network sending fighters and money to Somalia to turn those dreams into action, highlighting the very real risk that fundraising networks can pose for their host nations. The men are to be officially sentenced later this month and are likely to receive heavy terms.

 

A new journal article lands at last in African Security, written in conjunction with Lorenzo and Evan, looking at al Shabaab and their internationalization. The article offers something of an overview of the phenomenon with particular focus on the various nations where fighters have come from in the West. This is a topic I have written a bit about before, and about which I have more things coming. Unfortunately, it is behind a firewall, but if you drop me a note through the contact page I can probably help out. In the meantime, here is the abstract:

Bringing Global Jihad to the Horn of Africa: al Shabaab, Western Fighters, and the Sacralization of the Somali Conflict

Sacralization of conflict is the process through which religion, or, in most cases, a militant interpretation of it, evolves from being an irrelevant or secondary factor at the onset of a conflict to shaping the views, actions, and aims of one or more of the conflict’s key actors. The article outlines how this phenomenon has taken place in Somalia over the past twenty years by looking at two related phenomena: (1) the rise to prominence of al Shabaab, a group that, unlike its predecessors, follows a global jihadist ideology, and (2) the arrival of foreign fighters, particularly from Western countries, attracted more by global jihadist ideology than ethnic ties or nationalist sentiments.

Keywords: al Shabaab; Somalia; sacralization; radicalization; foreign fighters; al Qaeda; diaspora

A new post for HSToday, a bit delayed as I have been traveling somewhere even more remote than usual. My computer has also come crashing down which has set me up with some serious problems. More on this plot to come.

Europe on High Alert

by Raffaello Pantucci

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Recent string of incidents have elevated level of concern across the European continent

Across Europe there has been a noticeable up-tick in threat tempo. From a series of intelligence-led operations across the continent, to high level statements by the French Interior Minister and US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano – those paid to protect us are very concerned about something.

It is unclear at which point this specific set of alarm bells went off, but they have been ringing for some time. In the United Kingdom, in the wake of a series of arrests back in July in Oslo it was revealed that a British jihadist who had disappeared off radars for a few years had re-emerged in the form of a series of passport photographs found in the possession of the alleged leader of a cell of plotters that was planning an unspecified campaign at the orders of possibly dead Al Qaeda leader Saleh al Somali. The pictures showed the British-Algerian Ibrahim Adam in a variety of different haircuts and had apparently been obtained by the cell leader, Uighur-Norwegian Mikael Davud, from a contact in Turkey in September 2009. The discovery caused a spike in concern for British counter-terrorists, leading them to suspect that Adam, whose brother Anthony Garcia (the family all changed their names to integrate better) was incarcerated as part of the Al Qaeda directed plot to explode a large fertilizer bomb at a British mall, may be on his way back to Europe to conduct operations.

Nothing materialized, until, concurrent with the first day of the Pope’s visit to the United Kingdom on September 16th; police raided a series of properties in London arresting a group of six men working for a city garbage disposal company. One of the men was described as being “of North African appearance” and the BBC has since revealed that at least five of them were “thought to be Algerian.” The men were questioned by police but ultimately released as it was revealed that the intelligence that had led to the arrest had been only picked up recently and was not part of a long-term operation. Unconfirmed reports suggested that the intelligence had been garnered by the police from someone who had overheard the men talking in a staff canteen.

However, the police reaction to the threat showed the elevated concern around the current threat level. The day before the arrests, the head of the Security Service (MI5) had warned that “the main effort for the Security Service remains international terrorism, particularly from Al Qaeda, its affiliates and those inspired by its ideology.” He highlighted the particular growth in the threat from Somalia, stating “there are a significant number of UK residents training in Al Shabaab camps” and highlighting that the threat from the tribal areas of Pakistan now only accounted for about 50% of the “priority plots and leads” coming into the Service.

The evening before the men supposedly behind the threat to the Pope were released, British intelligence passed on information to their Dutch counterparts about an individual on a flight from Liverpool transiting through Amsterdam on his way to Entebbe, Uganda. The man, described by a Dutch spokesman as “a British man of Somali origin,” was pulled off a KLM plane which was about to depart on suspicion of “possible involvement in a terrorist organization.” He was also released a few days later cleared of any charges and it is unclear where he has since gone. This was the second time in less than a month that individuals going through Schipol airport had been picked up as a result of terrorist concerns. At the end of August two Yemeni men were pulled off a flight landing in the airport from Chicago after a tip-off from U.S. Department of Homeland Security. This also did not result in any charges being made.

In France in the meantime, the Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux joined the head of the domestic intelligence agency, Bernard Squarcini, in highlighting the level of threat the country faced. On September 16th, visiting the Eiffel Tower after the latest in a number of bomb scares on the site had further stepped up the security presence, Mr. Hortefeux said, “these last days and hours, a number of events have reminded us that we find ourselves in a period which calls for an elevated level of attention in the particular face of terrorist threats.” This echoed earlier statements the week before by Mr. Squarcini who said that the “all the red lights were flashing” and a story that surfaced in the French press which revealed that, “a female suicide bomber was plotting to commit a terrorist act in a busy part of Paris.” The information was allegedly passed on from Algerian intelligence and resulted in mobile anti-terror units being mobilized across the city searching for the woman. This comes in the wake of a series of kidnappings in Niger of French citizens by the group Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the North African Al Qaeda affiliate.

French authorities have apparently attempted to reach out to the group in North Africa to get their citizens back, but little more is known about the alleged female bomber. The threat echoes an alert from earlier in the year published by British newspaper the Daily Telegraph which suggested that security services were concerned that a team of female suicide bombers were being dispatched by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) targeting the United States. In that case too, nothing ultimately emerged but it set the tone for a year which has been plagued with repeated alerts.

But amidst this sea of unrealized threats, on the eve of the anniversary of September 11, Danish police leapt into action when a bomb went off in a hotel toilet in central Copenhagen. The responsible individual was rapidly caught in a nearby park, but refused to provide his identity leaving Danish police with a puzzle to establish who the one-legged multi-lingual individual was. He was eventually identified as a Chechen former boxer who for unspecified reasons was apparently trying to send a bomb to the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten (infamous for publishing the Muhammad cartoons in 2006). Picked up with a gun, a very rudimentary explosive and a number of false identities, the initial fear was that Lors Dukayev, who maintained his anonymity for some time while under arrest and was only identified after someone saw his picture in the press, was possibly more than he initially seemed. Currently, however, he appears to have been a “Lone Wolf” with no connections.

And then on the morning of September 21st, Italian police intercepted a container-load of explosives at the port of Goia Tauro. Hidden amongst powdered milk were 7 tons of military grade RDX explosive, a massive amount which resulted in the Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini calling his American counterpart Hilary Clinton to discuss the matter directly. Believed to be en route from Iran to Syria, the cargo had in transit when Italian forces acted on intelligence believed to have been passed on by Israel.

The year has already seen a number of plots dispatched by Al Qaeda affiliates or fellow travelers reach fairly advanced stages (Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and Faisal Shahzad to name but two), showing the capacity exists for such attack planning. Whether this new wave of concern from Europe’s services is going to translate into a similar attack remains to be seen, but it seems as though intelligence services across the continent are operating at full tilt.

Raffaello Pantucci is Homeland Security Today’s London correspondent.

 

New piece for Jamestown covering the proscription of the Shabaab in the UK and Canada. I am working on a much larger piece about this topic, but it is likely to be a while before that lands. Any tips in the meantime of course appreciated.

http://www.jamestown.org/single/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=36175

Al-Shabaab Proscribed in Canada and the United Kingdom

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 11

By: Raffaello Pantucci

In the first week of March, the British and Canadian governments both added the Somali al-Shabaab group to their respective list of proscribed terror groups. [1] The decisions mean that it will now be illegal to fundraise or support al-Shabaab in both nations, while Canadian Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews specified, “The Government is taking this step to help protect Canadian families from the activities of this organization. The Government received reports from the Somali community that al-Shabaab has attempted to radicalize and recruit young Canadians. The listing of al-Shabaab will help the Government of Canada to better support the Somali community of Canada.” [2]

The respective decisions follow previous proscriptions in Australia, Norway, Sweden and the United States. They reflect a growing trepidation amongst Western governments regarding the growing threat from the Somali group – in particular their ability to attract young men with local passports to their cause and the movement’s growing regional assertiveness. Furthermore, reports indicate that the group appears to be increasingly attracting fighters from the Somali diaspora and other sources in the West (Independent on Sunday, September 13, 2009; see Terrorism Monitor, January 14).

For Canada and the United Kingdom in particular, the decision to proscribe follows a series of stories indicating that steady streams of young men are going abroad to fight in East Africa. In autumn 2009, a group of six young Somalis disappeared from their local community in Toronto, with reports suggesting they had ended up fighting in Somalia (National Post, December 12, 2009). A report from earlier in the year in the U.K. indicated that most recently “almost a dozen” British Muslims had left the U.K. to join the Shabaab in Somalia, including some students from the prestigious London School of Economics and King’s College London (Sunday Times, January 24).

Furthermore, plots have emerged from the Somali diaspora community in both nations; at least two of the attempted bombers and a substantial number of the support network involved in the July 21, 2005 plot to attack London’s public transport system were of Somali extraction. In Canada, two Somalis were among the 18 suspects arrested for planning a series of bombings and assassinations in Toronto and Ottawa (National Post [Toronto], June 5, 2006; September 21, 2009; see also Terrorism Focus, June 6, 2006). [3] However, in neither case was the al-Shabaab group implicated in any way, nor was Somalia a feature on the broad canvas offered by each plot. Rather, individuals from the diaspora were drawn into plots fostered by local networks to prepare for large-scale domestic attacks.

More recently, however, there has been a greater law-enforcement focus on Shabaab. Aside from the Toronto cells, the RCMP and FBI ramped up their efforts after an informant told overseas U.S. embassy staff that a group of Somalis had crossed the border from Canada with the intention of launching an attack on President Obama’s inauguration ceremony. The information proved to be a hoax, but it highlighted the reality of security concerns (CanWest News Service, February 4). [4] In the U.K., on the other hand, the government attempted to shut down what it believed was an al-Shabaab fundraising and support network last year, though the case against the two Somali-Britons did not stand up in court (Press Association, July 28, 2009).

Beyond this, there is a clear sense of growing trepidation surrounding Somalia’s al-Shabaab; its decision to formalize the connection to the Ras Kamboni group, the declaration of allegiance to al-Qaeda and its connection to al-Qaeda operative Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan (killed by a U.S. Special Forces raid in September 2009 while helping train Shabaab fighters), all point to a strengthening network (for Ras Kamboni, see Shabelle Media Network, February 1; Garowe Online, February 2; Terrorism Monitor, February 10). Its influence can increasingly be seen abroad; examples include an alleged plot to target Secretary of State Hilary Clinton when she was visiting neighboring Kenya in August 2009, the recruitment of Somali youths in Minneapolis, the attempted assassination of Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard and an alleged plot to attack a military base in Melbourne (see Terrorism Monitor, January 14; Terrorism Monitor, September 10, 2009).

Reaction from Somalia to the terrorist designations was swift; al-Shabaab spokesman Ahmad Dayib Mursal held a press conference in Mogadishu to announce the group was “saddened” by the British decision (Holy Koran Radio [Mogadishu], March 2). Senior al-Shabaab spokesman Shaykh Ali Mahmud Raage (a.k.a. Shaykh Ali Dheere) condemned the Canadian and British designations, claiming some Western nations were trying to find ways of looting the properties of Somali Muslims living in their countries (Radio Simba [Mogadishu], March 8). More favorable reaction came from the deputy prime minister of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, Professor Abdirahman Haji Adan Ibi, who welcomed the British decision (Shabelle Media Network, March 4).

As of yet, no major plots appear to have been hatched in the West drawing specifically on this network and direction from Somalia. However, given previous experiences of threats emerging from radicals with Western passports associated with groups fighting abroad, as well as the rather abrupt shift from the near enemy to the far enemy by the previously regionally-focused al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al-Shabaab is clearly a threat that needs to be watched with some care. The respective proscriptions give British and Canadian authorities further legislative tools to deal with this threat.

Notes:

1. For the complete British order effective from March 4, 2010, please see:www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2010/uksi_20100611_en_1; and the Canadian announcement, effective March 5:www.publicsafety.gc.ca/media/nr/2010/nr20100307-eng.aspx

2. “The Government of Canada lists Al-Shabaab as a terrorist organization,” Ministry of Public Safety Press Release, March 7, 2010, www.publicsafety.gc.ca/media/nr/2010/nr20100307-eng.aspx

3. Of the “Toronto 18,” seven suspects have pled guilty or been convicted, seven have had their charges stayed and three remain to be tried.

4. The alleged plot was first described in Martha Joynt Kumar, “The 2008-2009 presidential transitions through the voices of its participants,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 39(4), December 1, 2009

More about the Western-Somali connection for Jamestown, this time exploring the Denmark-Somalia connection in some detail. I have touched upon this briefly before, and more generally on Shabaab’s internationalization for ASPI and a couple for Jamestown (the Melbourne group, Operation Neath; and the Minneapolis group). Separately, am working on something with some friends trying to understand the phenomenon globally, so would welcome any other thoughts or stories people come across on this topic. (oh and to those who don’t know it, Esther’s blog is an excellent resource for translated material).

http://www.jamestown.org/single/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=35909

East African Terrorism Comes to Scandinavia

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 2
January 14, 2010 02:09 PM Age: 3 hrs
Category: Terrorism Monitor, Global Terrorism Analysis, Home Page, Terrorism, Africa, Europe
The Somali man who attacked Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard is carried to court on a stretcher.

In a scene right out of the cinema, a young Somali man armed with an axe and a knife came crashing through the door of Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard’s Aarhus house late on January 1. Hitting a panic button specially installed in the house, Mr Westergaard was barely able to scramble with his five-year old granddaughter to his safe room while security services raced to the scene. Hearing police arrive, the young man turned to confront them, bellowing “I’ll be back” in broken Danish before being shot in the arm and leg by police.

This is the first time that Islamists seeking revenge for the infamous “Muhammad cartoons” have been able to take revenge in the West. Previous bombing plots were broken up in Denmark in September 2006 and September 2007, with convictions resulting in both cases, and prosecutors claiming that the cartoons were definitely the motivation for the plotters in the second of the two cases (AP, August 11, 2008). In July 2008, two Tunisian men were picked up by Danish police in Aarhus as part of an alleged plot targeting Westergaard, though charges did not stick. In the end, one man was deported and the other released (AP, January 2). Late last year, the FBI arrested David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana on charges (amongst others) that they were planning a terror attack on the “facilities and employees of Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten.” [1] Jyllands-Posten was the newspaper that first published the cartoons while Kurt Westergaard is the most prominent of a group of 12 cartoonists who accepted the editor’s challenge to depict images they associated with the Prophet Muhammad. In hiding until last year, Mr Westergaard announced that he was emerging from seclusion as he was “too old to be afraid” and he wanted to play his part in defending “democratic values” (BBC, April 5, 2009).
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Another busy day – though in reality these have been percolating over the holiday period. This one instead for Comment is Free at the Guardian which is consequently already attracting some charming comments which appear to show evidence of having willfully ignored the article at hand and chosen instead to use the opportunity to vent off. Anyway, this is not the first time I have cited al Suri’s work – though it as ever remains hard to know how much people are actually using it as a guide. Any thoughts or pointers on this very welcome.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jan/04/terrorism-al-qaida-detroit-attack

Extremism’s lone warriors

From Detroit to Denmark, terrorist strikes are increasingly the preserve of lone attackers inspired by jihadist groups
Raffaello Pantucci

guardian.co.uk, Monday 4 January 2010 20.00 GMT

The year has begun with a jihadist splash. Aside from massacres in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, just before New Year, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to bring down an airliner over Detroit. Now a young Somali resident of Copenhagen appears to have attempted to take vengeance on Kurt Westergaard, the Danish cartoonist behind 2006’s infamous Muhammad cartoons. While information on the two attacks is far from complete, the signs increasingly point to lone attackers with links to regional jihadist groups.

This is not entirely surprising – terrorist groups have long targeted aircraft, and extremist Islamists have repeatedly demonstrated that they are determined to seek revenge for perceived slights by artists to their religion. Salman Rushdie, Theo van Gogh and Sherry Jones, author of the Jewel of Medina, have all been targeted, and this is merely the latest plot against those associated with the Danish cartoons. In late 2009 FBI agents arrested plotters planning to mount an assault on the headquarters of Jyllands Posten, the newspaper that first ran the cartoons.

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My latest for FreeRadicals about Shabaab its European recruits. The links at the end don’t work, but you can find the articles referred to elsewhere on this blog. Am planning more on this topic in the near future, so watch this space…

http://icsr.info/blog/Somalias-foreign-legions

Somalia’s foreign legions

Filed under: Radicalisation, Somalia, al-Shabaab

Another week passes and more stories of young Westerners showing up on Somalia’s battlefields. Two distinct tales jump out this time – first, the recent bombing in Mogadishu was the work of a Danish-Somali suicide bomber; and second, an 18 year old Italian-Somali handed himself over to government forces claiming that he was sent over to fight by his father.

The first case appears to be what can increasingly be described to be the traditional model of recruitment for al-Shabaab. Drawn by a combination of religious zeal and nationalism, 25 year old Abdulrahman Ahmed Haji moved back to Somalia from his adopted home just outside Copenhagen with his pregnant wife, about 18 months ago. Friends described him as a gregarious young man who used to party and play football, but that recently he had started to withdraw into himself. A local leader in Copenhagen claimed that the young man had increasingly turned to religion.
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