Posts Tagged ‘shabab’

A longer paper on the current state of the Islamist terrorist threat to Europe ten years on from 9/11 for Chatham House. It was written and presented prior to news of Awlaki’s death, so that is not included, but I do not think it alters a huge amount the thrust of the piece, except to shift the threat a bit from AQAP. I have a feeling his death will have an impact on western radicalisation, as I do think individual religious leaders like himself are important in getting young European’s excited. Will explore that in another longer piece I have forthcoming, but in the meantime here is the paper:

http://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/public/Research/International%20Security/010811wr_terrorism.pdf

And a link to the event: http://www.chathamhouse.org/events/view/176017#node-176017 – it was part of the European Security and Defence Forum series that Chatham House run, and thanks to Benoit and Claire for the invitation to attend and the efforts with the paper!

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A new post for the Telegraph, intended to be a response to the July 7 Coroner’s Inquest. It also tees up some ideas that will be gone into detail in my forthcoming book.

Everything’s Changed Since July 7, 2005

By Raffaello Pantucci 5:55PM BST 11 May 2011

The conclusion that the Security Services could have done more to investigate the leader of the July 7, 2005 bombings on London’s transport system is not a surprising one. Some key mistakes seem to have been made that allowed Mohammed Siddique Khan and his friends to continue to operate along a well-trodden pipeline feeding zealous young Brits to training camps in Pakistan. The excuse that this was merely one cell of many that was operating using this pipeline is worrying but to some degree a reasonable excuse. The danger is that this result is the main lesson being learned from this process. A danger since while the path they took is one that has been now for the most part disrupted and compromised, the threat in the UK has scattered in a variety of different directions meaning we have failed to effectively address the ideological roots of the problem.

None of this is to say that the link to training camps in South Asia does not still exist but at the same time, more recently the threat from violent Islamism in the UK has had return addresses in places like Iraq, Yemen, Somalia or the Internet. This is similar to the way that Osama’s death confirmed that Al Qaeda, a force that has been quite heavily reduced from its previous level, is no longer the main global expression of violent Islamism, but rather the array of regional groups that flocked to his banner are now the main threat.

This trend is not that new. It was last September that the Director General of MI5 said that the volume of the threat that his service was watching from Pakistan had decreased to be about 50% of their workload. From being solely concerned with training camps and networks in Pakistan, they are now worrying about schools in Yemen which cover for training camps or are recruiting grounds for Anwar al-Awlaki’s Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). In Somalia, “there are a significant number of UK residents training in Al Shabaab camps to fight in the insurgency there.” And it seems as though Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly, the Luton educated man who blew himself up in Stockholm at around Christmas time last year, spent some time with fighters in Iraq. Less geographically, the Internet has become a global purveyor of extreme ideas that has allowed a number of individuals, sometimes of questionable mental health but for the most part simply socially awkward, carry out disruptive activities that have come very close to causing mass death.

None of which are threats that will be effectively countered by following policies that focus on the old networks that incubated the July 7 team and their copycat team two weeks later. Some lessons learned are transferable, but having been through a process of self-flagellation and learned the lessons of 7/7 years ago, the security services have hopefully penetrated the necessary networks and hardened against this particular threat. And yet the ideological expressions remain. While the visible head of the violent Islamist movement ideology has been eradicated, the ideas that flow from it continue to cause flare-ups. Until we have dried the kindling that feeds these flames we are set to continue to have to address expressions of the problem that may be as effective as 7/7.

A new piece for Prospect, looking this time at al Shabaab and its foreign recruitment. A rich topic that I keep coming back to, though one thing I realized I missed after publishing it was any mention of Shabaab’s TV channel. As ever, any tips or thoughts are warmly appreciated.

Jihadi MCs

RAFFAELLO PANTUCCI — 12TH APRIL 2011

The Islamist group al Shabaab is attempting to make jihad trendy. But is it having any success?

“I obsesses not depress for martyrdom success” raps hip-hop enthusiast and keen Islamist, Omar Hammami, in his recent comeback song. This track wasn’t intended to top any charts, but instead to prove that the elusive Omar was still alive. That the Alabama-born twentysomething, who is believed to be a senior figure in the Islamist group al Shabaab, chose to do this through the medium of rap is typical of the Somali terrorist group that has brought the notion of socially networked revolution to a whole new level.

Jihad is a young man’s game. Old codgers like Osama (54) or Ayman al-Zawahiri (59) may be able to provide some ideological and operational support for cells, but for the most part it is young men who are on the frontlines. As a result, Islamist networks trying to recruit fresh blood are increasingly using new media, social networks and other non-traditional means to spread their message. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the group behind the “underpants bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and last October’s parcel bomb scare, even produces a flashy magazine called Inspire—full of funky imagery and slang, it looks more like a fanzine than a terror manual. Closer to home, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) releases bilingual videos with colloquial German subtitles to appeal directly to its core audience in Germany.

But it is Somali group al Shabaab (“The Youth”) that is at the forefront of this new media approach. Omar Hammami’s recent hip-hop release is merely the latest from the jihadi MC. In his earlier work “First Stop Addis” he rapped about his earnest desire to become a martyr, over shots of him and his “brothers” training and fighting in Somalia. Released through extremist websites, but also widely available on YouTube, the MTV-inspired videos and songs seek to show kids how cool it is to be a mujahedin. Other videos released by the group show young warriors from around the world speaking happily into the camera as they boast, sometimes in perfect English, of how much fun it is to be fighting against the “kuffar” (unbeliever) government in Somalia.

Videos and songs are all very well, but as any good PR manager will tell you, a multipronged approach is what’s really needed. Recognising this, al Shabaab encourages its young warriors to phone home in order to inspire others and raise money. Using dial-in conference calls, the warriors in the field tell those back home of the fun they’re having, and urge those who cannot come to send money instead. They shoot guns in the background while on the phone, “to see they are working ok” and to show off. And online, members have ongoing conversations with the friends they left behind, sending them Facebook messages along the lines of, “’Sup dawg. Bring yourself over here” to “M-town.” Meanwhile websites like al Qimmah provide a forum for the fighters in the field and the fundraisers at home to interact, keeping the flame of jihad in Somalia alive.

This holistic media outreach program seems to be reaping dividends for the group, who continue to attract a steady trickle of young warriors from across Europe and North America. Most recently, in Canada, police pulled 25-year old Mohamed Hersi off a plane he was about to take to Cairo on his way to join the group. A bored Toronto security guard, it seems he was only the most recent of a number of young Canadians who have joined the group. Similar cases can be found in the United States, United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark and Australia, among others.

The danger for western countries is that while al Shabaab is currently using its trendy web strategy to draw fighters to Somalia, a time may come when they attempt to punish the west directly for supporting Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government. They have already turned their attention to neighbouring Uganda, which contributes soldiers to a peacekeeping mission in Somalia. If the recruitment drive succeeds, al Shabaab will have at their disposal a network of western passport-holding men, all of whom are at home in our hyperlinked society and know how to use technology to aid terrorism.

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

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.