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Yacqub Khayre: Melbourne siege gunman’s history of violent crime and drugs

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Man acquitted of plotting attack on Sydney’s Holsworthy army base was isolated from his family and on parole for a violent home invasion

Ben Doherty

Yacqub Khayre – who murdered one man and shot at police in an Islamic State-inspired terrorist attack in Melbourne on Monday – was isolated from his family and community, addicted to drugs and had an extensive history of violent crime.

He came to the attention of counter-terrorism police in 2009 when he was one of five men accused of plotting an attack on Sydney’s Holsworthy army base to kill soldiers. While he was ultimately acquitted of that offence, his violent criminal history ran further back.

In 2007, at the age of 19, Khayre was sentenced for more than 40 offences, including multiple counts of burglary, aggravated burglary, theft, unlawful assault and drug possession.

Brighton siege: gunman Yacqub Khayre may have lured police to apartment

On bail for earlier offences, Khayre had accosted a man on a train, pulling out a knife and demanding money and his phone, before stabbing him twice in the leg.

Police and courts were aware of a longstanding drug and alcohol abuse problems.

In sentencing Khayre for a drug-affected violent home invasion in 2012 – for which he was on parole when he committed Monday’s attack – Judge Felicity Hampel said he was a young man with a “very sorry criminal record” and “gloomy prospects” for rehabilitation.

“There is a real risk you will become even more isolated than you are now, institutionalised, and at increasingly high risk of reoffending. You are now isolated from your family and community. There was no family at court to support you.”

Born in Somalia, Khayre was taken by his parents from war-ravaged Mogadishu when he was three. His family migrated to Australia via a Kenyan refugee camp in 1991. Police said he had been recognised as a refugee under Australia’s humanitarian migration program. Khayre was an Australian citizen.

In 2009, aged 21, Khayre returned briefly to Somalia and attended a training camp. His uncle, Ibrahim Khayre, told the Sydney Morning Herald he believed this is when “weapons and military training may have happened”.

In the same year, he was arrested as part of a terrorist plot to kill soldiers at Holsworthy barracks. Khayre and another co-accused, Abdirahman Ahmed, were both acquitted of the plot charges, the court hearing Khayre had not planbed to go through with the assault.

But three others – Wissam Mahmoud Fattal, Saney Edow Aweys and Nayef El Sayed – were convicted and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

During the terrorism charges case, the Victorian supreme court heard that Khayre had been a worshipper at the Preston mosque, and had later been attending the smaller 8 Blacks prayer hall, once a snooker hall behind a 7-Eleven convenience store, and regarded by police as an incubator of extremist ideology and a hub for a network of Islamist operatives.

Five men from a small reading group at the 8 Blacks prayer hall were accused of plotting the terrorist attack on the barracks in 2009, planning to infiltrate the army base carrying military-grade weapons and kill as many soldiers as possible, before they ran out of ammunition or were killed themselves.

The men had been seeking a senior cleric willing to issue a fatwa legitimising their assault.

But after police discovered – unrelated to the attack – that money was being sent from Australia to the terrorist group al-Shabaab in Somalia, undercover officers infiltrated the group. The Holsworthy plot was uncovered and the men arrested before they could carry out the assault.

Khayre was remanded in custody between August 2009 and December 2010 on the terrorism charges. He later claimed the time in prison had a damaging effect on his mental health and, upon release, he relapsed into heavy drug use and began criminal reoffending.

On 22 April 2012, high on ice and carrying a flick-knife, Khayre invaded a home in Dallas, in Melbourne’s north. Khayre stole jewellery, money tins, a handbag and a computer before he was interrupted by a woman who lived in the house returning home from a night out about 2.40am.

He punched the woman in the stomach and back before assaulting her father, who had been woken by the fighting. The father and daughter wrestled Khayre to the ground and sat on him until the police arrived.

Police say Khayre was so affected by drugs when he was arrested he was unable to be interviewed.

Khayre pleaded guilty to aggravated burglary, theft, intentionally causing injury, recklessly causing injury and giving a false name.

In sentencing Khayre to five years in prison, with a non-parole period of three years, Justice Paul Coghlan described Khayre’s assault on the father and daughter as “repeated acts of gratuitous violence”.

Coghlan noted Khayre’s time on remand for the terrorism charges of which he was ultimately acquitted. “What was clear enough was that not long after release the applicant continued using ice, broke up with his family and started reoffending.”

Khayre was paroled “at a later point than he might have hoped”, Victoria’s police commissioner, Graham Ashton, has said, “because of poor behaviour … terrible behaviour in prison”.

He was still on parole when he launched Monday’s attack in the beachside Melbourne suburb of Brighton.

But Ashton said that, before Monday’s assault, Khayre had met the conditions of his parole. “He’s been compliant, including drug tests, attending appointments and observing a curfew. That’s the information that I have to this point … not only was he eligible and received parole but it would appear on advice to this point that he’d been compliant with the terms and conditions of the parole granted to him.”

It’s unclear if Khayre was required to go through a deradicalisation program after the Holsworthy charge and his involvement with those ultimately convicted.

Ashton said nothing in Khayre’s recent behaviour before Monday was cause for him to be a major concern to intelligence officers.

“It’s more general criminal offending he’s been involved with,” he said. “So there really wasn’t anything sitting there in recent times that suggested he was about to do this from an intel point of view.

“But, of course he’s known to us as having that background. That would be seven years ago now.”

Briefing Room

US wary of Islamic extremism growth in Africa

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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.

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KENYA

Five al Shabaab abductees on police radar after escaping from Somalia

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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.

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Somali News

Report: Al-Shabab Conscripting Children Young as 8

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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.”

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