Connect with us

Terrorism Watch

Al-Shabab Defectors Being Rehabilitated to Re-enter Somali Society

Published

on

HARUN MARUF

Last June, al-Shabab militants attacked an Ethiopian base in the Somali town of Halgan, one of several raids on African Union military camps. The Ethiopian troops repelled the attack, causing massive casualties.

One of the al-Shabab fighters, Mohamed Daud Mohamed, known as Mohamed Dhere, said his unit lost 45 men.

“It was a difficult fight; we left behind the wounded as we didn’t have a chance to evacuate them. … Everyone ran for their lives,” he told VOA’s Somali service.

For Dhere, 20, it was a lesson. He decided to desert al-Shabab, but said his commanders were suspicious. After eight months, he found his opportunity in February when his commander sent him to attend a seminar.

Instead, he contacted relatives, who handed him over to the government. He is living at a rehabilitation center for militants in Mogadishu, one of 70 former al-Shabab members recently granted amnesty by the Somali government.

Abdirashid Ibrahim Mohamed directs the program to reintegrate former al-Shabab foot soldiers and low-risk individuals into society. He saod defectors receive food, exercise, health checkups, education and vocational training.

They also get religious lessons, aimed at guiding them away from the al-Shabab’s radical views of Islam.

“There are clerics who give awareness lectures, hold debates about the position of Islam, about extremism,” Mohamed said. “Normally when these youngsters defect from al-Shabab, they already know that what they were involved in is wrong, and they came to us to save themselves.”

The amnesty and rehabilitation program was launched in 2009. The Somali government says thousands of militants have passed through, although Mohamed says only 800 have come through the Mogadishu center. There are also reintegration programs in Baidoa, Beledweyne, Huddur and Kismayo, each treating 30 to 70 men.

Mohamed says those who completed the retraining in the past have moved on to run businesses, pursue education or just return to society. Security sources say others have joined the army or decided to work with the government.

Defector turns rogue

But not all graduates of the program undergo genuine change.

Omar Mohamed Abu Ayan, a former al-Shabab member, said the rehabilitation program is not changing the ideology of hard-core militants who claim to have defected but actually have “other agendas” in mind.

“For some they use it to continue their acts, such as suicide attacks, and for some others they just want to clean their names,” he said. ” … Even those with other agendas, if they could get a real doctor who could treat them ideologically from misinterpretation and deviation in their thinking, they would have changed.”

By “a real doctor” he meant someone who understands the extremism of the defectors and can lead them toward a more moderate position.

FILE – Mohamed Abdi Abdullahi, left, and Abshir Ali Mohamed, both defectors from the Somali militant group al-Shabab who became fighters with Somali government forces alongside the African Union peacekeeping force, speak to reporters at the AU base in Elasha Biyaha on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia, June 7, 2012.

One who had another agenda was Abdirahman Mohamed Abdulle, who was welcomed by authorities in Kismayo in 2013. He earned their trust and was assigned to the security detail of Isse Kamboni, Jubbaland region’s chief intelligence officer.

Abdulle assassinated Kamboni and then escaped back to al-Shabab. He was in communication with the militants all along. Three years later, Abdulle became a suicide bomber in the January attack on Mogadishu’s Dayah hotel that killed 28 people.

It’s not clear whether Abdulle went through a rehabilitation program or authorities simply trusted him too quickly.

Ayan said militants are not going to change their ideology by being in a center, learning vocational techniques, and talking to military or intelligence officials. He said the government needs people “who have direct knowledge of the environment these young men departed from, who discuss and debate them about ideology.”

“You need people like Robow,” he said.

High-profile defector

Mukhtar Robow is a founder of al-Shabab and the group’s former deputy emir. He defected to the government last month, five years after he became inactive with al-Shabab, because of ideological differences with the group’s then-supreme leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane.

Robow is too prominent and powerful to go through the regular rehabilitation program, but Ayan said that if Robow is willing to cooperate, he could help change the minds of other hard-core militants.

“I believe if Robow accepts to work with the government, they should use him on the ideological approach,” he said.

Rashid Abdi, an International Crisis Group analyst, said Robow’s defection could “incentivize” more defections, if the government publishes a clear policy on how it will treat defectors. “Many people will abandon al-Shabab if they know they are secure,” he said.

But Abdi said if the government is too kind to the militant leader, it will send the wrong signal.

Critics say the government’s stance toward defectors is inconsistent, because low-profile al-Shabab members are usually tried and sometimes executed when they turn themselves in.

Hussein Moallim Mohamud, a former counterterrorism officer and national security adviser, said the amnesty program has led to the defection of up to 30 high-profile al-Shabab members.

“When a top official with information defects, that causes a big problem for al-Shabab,” he said. “I believe the program is equally as important as military operations against al-Shabab.”

Briefing Room

US wary of Islamic extremism growth in Africa

Published

on

PENTAGON — With the Islamic State’s so-called caliphate almost completely retaken in Iraq and Syria, many American leaders are concerned the group might try to create a new hub elsewhere.

Islamic extremism creeps up in impoverished, politically disillusioned populations with masses of young, unemployed Muslims, and these conditions can be seen across the African continent.

“Africa is going to be the spot; it’s going to be the hot spot,” Congressman Michael McCaul, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a hearing last month.

In a letter sent to congressional leaders on Monday detailing counter-extremism efforts, President Donald Trump said his administration had placed a “particular focus” on the U.S. Central and Africa Commands’ areas of responsibility.

While tens of thousands of American troops are deployed to the Middle East and Southeast Asia, where U.S. Central Command oversees military operations, the entire African continent has less than half the number of American troops deployed in the single country of Afghanistan.

But increases in terrorist activity are among the reasons why American military presence has grown rapidly on the continent, from 3,200 military personnel in 2009 to some 6,500 military personnel today.

The bulk of U.S. military personnel in Africa, some 4,000 Americans, are based in Djibouti, home to the United States’ only military base on the continent. The second-largest concentration is in the Lake Chad Basin, where some 1,300 U.S. military personnel work in Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad to help strengthen local militaries and counter Boko Haram, al-Qaida, Islamic State and other extremist groups. About 500 U.S. military personnel are based in Somalia, where al-Shabaab terrorists are battling the U.N.-backed Somali government and Islamic State operates in mountainous areas of Puntland.

John Campbell, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Nigeria from 2004 to 2007, is critical of the United States’ policy toward Africa.

“There is African concern that the U.S. approach is becoming rather more militarized, or more concerned with military and security issues than had been the case in the past,” he told VOA.

Campbell said he believes that the main thrust of American effort on the continent should be on the “root causes” of extremism — poor governance and lack of economic development. But this effort will likely prove more difficult if the State Department’s budget is slashed, as proposed by the Trump administration.

Ripe for recruitment

Africa’s growing young, male population is ripe for recruitment, Africa Command’s senior enlisted leader, Command Chief Master Sergeant Ramon Colon-Lopez told VOA in an exclusive interview.

“When you have no options and here comes an extremist that is offering you a motorbike and a bride, what do you think you’re going to do? Your family’s starving, you can’t provide for them and somebody’s giving you an option,” he said.

The Trump administration this year changed rules governing U.Smilitary operations in the area, expanding the ability to strike al-Shabab and IS fighters in the war-torn country of Somalia. The change allowed offensive strikes against the terrorists rather than limiting attacks to defending African allies and their American advisers on the ground. This matches a similar expansion of strike authorities this year against the Taliban in Afghanistan, where under President Barack Obama, the Taliban had to be in close proximity to Afghan National Security Forces before they could be targeted.

The new authorities have led to an increase in strikes in Somalia. The latest of the more than 30 U.S. strikes across the west African country this year came on Tuesday, taking out what U.S. military officials said was an al-Shabab car bomb planned for use in an attack in the capital, Mogadishu.

Colon-Lopez said the new authorities have “definitely” helped the counter-terrorism mission in Africa.

The U.S. has also used air strikes this year to target IS militants in Libya. Just last month, the U.S. and Niger reached an agreement permitting armed American military drones for use against jihadist terrorist groups in the African nation, according to a U.S. official. It is still unclear whether the drones in Niger will be used to carry out targeted strikes or solely as a defensive measure.

Special operations forces

In the past decade, Africa has also seen a vast expansion of U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF), elite military units that are specifically trained and use special weapons, and tactics.

In 2006, Special Operations Forces made up just 1 percent of U.S. military personnel. Today, there are about 1,200 Special Operations Forces deployed to Africa, or about 15 percent of the total deployed force, a U.S. military official told VOA on the condition of anonymity.

Their jobs range from short-term training to long-term partnering with African military units that place American troops in potentially dangerous locations.

That’s what happened in Niger in October, when four American soldiers died in an IS ambush, and in May, when a U.S. Navy SEAL died aiding Somali security forces against al-Shabaab.

“I worry about the outposts that have U.S. military members that are getting after this threat,” Colon-Lopez said. “I worry about them because we can see what happened out there when the enemy decides to overpower the United States of America.”

The number of times that U.S. troops are exposed to danger in Africa are rare, a U.S. military official told VOA, adding that Special Operations Forces limit their involvement with local partners because of the strong desire to find “African solutions to African problems.”

“Our role is more like preventative medicine in Africa than emergency surgery,” the military official said.

However, if the security need grows in the coming months, more Americans troops could find themselves in dangerous situations across the continent.

Continue Reading

KENYA

Five al Shabaab abductees on police radar after escaping from Somalia

Published

on

Security agencies are hunting for five al Shabaab abductees who escaped from cells in Somalia.

Sources within the security circles said the five were due to be executed by the militants for communicating with al Shabaab fugitive Ahmed Iman Ali.

They suspect the five have sneaked into the country to seek refuge from the terror group.

Ali, who was a vocal Al Shabaab propagandist, fell out with the leadership of the terror group in mid last year.

This was after several Kenyans were executed allegedly for over spying and leaking information to Ali and the Kenyan government.

Ali was against the executions as it targeted mostly Kenyan fighters, most of which he was responsible for their recruitment.

Read: Residents desert border village after al Shabaab attack, put up flag

The five militants, who are originally from Lamu and Malindi, are said to have been taken into custody towards the end of last year.

Reports indicated that Ali is seeking asylum from the government amid several attempts by al Shabaab to kill him.

Animosity and hatred has been rife within al Shabaab with intelligence reports indicating that Kenyans in the group are the most affected.

At stake is that local Somali fighters, who consider Kenyans as moles for the security agents, have isolated the Kenyan foreign fighters.

Al Shabaab has been fighting for years to try to topple Somalia’s central government and rule the Horn of Africa country in line with their interpretation of Islamic Law.

The terror group has in the past publicly executed Kenyans who they accuse of collaborating with the Kenyan troops.

Those killed in the last one year include former Moi University student Jared Mokaya Omambia, Faraj Abdulmajid, Ahmed Yusuf Hassan, Ahmed Nur Abdi Osoble, Abdullah Talal Musa, Hashim Othman Selali among many others.

The mistrust between the native Al Shabaab Somali fighters and other foreign fighters has also seen the eruption of several splinter factions emerging from the group.

The indigenous Somalis are in support of the establishment of ‘Somali only’ Al Shabaab group while foreign fighters have threatened to join a splinter group pledging their allegiance to the Islamic State.

Continue Reading

Somali News

Report: Al-Shabab Conscripting Children Young as 8

Published

on

A new report says Somalia’s al-Shabab militants are forcing rural communities to hand over children as young as 8 years old for indoctrination and military training.

Human Rights Watch says al-Shabab conscripts the children by subjecting elders and religious school teachers to beatings, abductions and intimidation tactics. The group’s campaign has focused on the Bay region in southwestern Somalia, where communities were already ravaged by droughts and years of conflict, according to the report from the international rights group.

The campaign was first reported by VOA’s Somali service in September.

“These are communities which have already been hit by drought, very poor, struggling to survive,” said Laetitia Bader, a senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch who interviewed families affected by the campaign, which began in late September 2017.

Bader says in some incidents, al-Shabab militants have taken children directly from school classrooms. In others, the group took local elders hostage and refused to release them until a village agreed to hand over a certain number of kids.

In one incident, al-Shabab fighters beat a teacher after he refused to hand over his students. One teacher said that when he was hit by the militants, students started crying and tried to run out of the classroom but the militants were on hand to punish them. “They caned a 7-year-old boy who tried to escape,” the teacher told HRW.

HRW says hundreds of children have been affected. In one village alone, al-Shabab abducted at least 50 boys and girls from two schools near Burhakaba town and took them to Bulo Fulay where the militant group runs schools and a major training facility.

Back in September, Bay region Governor Ali Wardhere Doyow said clans and elders should resist al-Shabab. “Reject, don’t let them take away your children. Fight it off,” he said. But al-Shabab dominates the Bay region, leaving government officials with little means to stop the conscription.

The campaign has prompted hundreds of children to flee areas controlled by Al-Shabab. “A community’s only option to protect their children from recruitment was to send them into government controlled towns, often on their own, just to see if they can get a bit more protection in those towns,” Bader says.

This is hardly the first time al-Shabab has been accused of recruiting children. “We have seen in the past very young children sent to the front line, some children as young as 9 years old, very much being used as a cannon fodder …right at front lines during the fighting in Mogadishu 2010 and 2011 and more recently the large scale offensive in Puntland in 2016,” Bader said.

Al-Shabab’s longer term plan, Bader says, is to train at least some of them as fighters.

“What appears to be part of this campaign is to get these children to go to al-Shabab-managed, controlled madrassas, to put them through their educational system,” she said, adding, “In some cases there is a link children growing in these schools and then being sent to military training. Research also showed children received a mixture of indoctrination and basic military training.”

Continue Reading
Advertisement

TRENDING