23 September 2013, 21:09

Al-Shabaab members may hold British, American, Danish passports – expert

найроби кения заложники торговый центр Westgate

The attack on the Westgate shopping center in Nairobi has prompted fears that the Islamist group known as 'Al Shabaab' may be stronger than previously thought. The group sent out regular updates on their aims via social media - blaming Kenya for incursions across the Somali border. In an interview to the Voice of Russia, Mary Harper, the author of 'Getting Somalia Wrong: Faith and War in a Shattered State' explained why Al Shabaab felt a particular grudge against Kenya.

According to Harper, Al-Shabaab has been very specifically opposed to Kenya ever since Kenyan troops invaded Somali in October 2011 basically to drive out Al-Shabab from the south of Somali. Al-Shabaab activity was increasing, with Al-Shabaab militants crossing into Kenya, so Kenya was terrified that it was going to have its own problems with Islamist radicals. So, it attacked Somali in an attempt to create a buffer zone between it and the rest of the country, still dominated by Al-Shabaab. Al-Shabaab saw Kenya as declaring war and ever since then, it has been very interested in targeting not only Kenyan troops on Somali soil, but targeting Kenyans on Kenyan soil as well.

Though various media outlets from the US and Europe claim that Al-Shabaab had been driven out of the major territories, Ms Harper claims they are still very strong.

“When I spend time in Somali, it is true that they don’t hold frontlines, they don’t hold huge territory in the capital, but they still very much maintain a presence and they are able to create this constant climate of fear by carrying out random terrifying suicide attacks every few days. So, they are no way a spent force, there is the evidence of that, which just happened in Kenya in this shopping mall,” Ms Harper explained.

As Ms Harper sees it, Al-Shabaab has been undergoing an internal power struggle in the last few months, as one branch was interested in the international jihad, with the leader of that branch, sheikh Godani, saying he wanted to take jihad all the way to Alaska.

“He wants to establish an Islamist state that covers the whole world,” Ms Harper said.

There is also another group of Al-Shabaab members who are much more interested in keeping their fight within Somali borders, Islamists-nationalists, who, however, lost their positions: a lot of them were killed, others were driven out of the movement.

“So, now that the internationalists have won, I think that this attack in Kenya is their first spectacular attack to show the whole world that they are very much a force to be reckoned with and that they are absolutely prepared to take their fight beyond Somali borders,” Ms Harper concluded.

As far as the links betweenAl-Shabaab and Al-Qaeda are concerned, in public they have displayed friendly relations. They declared various forms of alliances and pacts over the years. Whether it is actually training methods or fighters that they are sharing, it remains unclear. On the one hand, Somali is a place that is very lawless, basically, everything is possible, as long as the right people are paid off for that. But on the other hand, it is a highly organized society, as people have had to cope without government, they’ve had to form their own ways of surviving. In other words, Al-Shabaab is perfectly placed: Somali is a kind of iron land with no rules, where groups as violent and as radical as Al-Shabaab can take root there, because there is no proper security to oversee them.

Ms Harper pointed out that Al-Shabab members have been recruited from foreign countries, she also said that “some of them… are Somalis that have been brought up outside Somali, so they hold British passports, American passports, Danish passports.”

“We’ve had reports of all those three nationalities blowing themselves up on Somali soil and then they also have recruited Arabs, they’ve recruited east Africans including Kenyans, Yemenis, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, even white American member of Al-Shabaab was quite recently killed in an internal power struggle. So, they definitely have foreign fighters,” Ms Harper clarified.

However, it is hard to tell who exactly was the one to take part in the shopping mall takeover, Ms Harper says, adding, “There has been a lot of wild reporting, I’ve even seen lists which give all the different people’s names and passports of those passports of those fighters who were in control of the shopping mall in Nairobi but then they were reported to be fake lists. So, we will have to wait until some of them are in court if they are to find out where they came from. But it is highly possible that at least some of them hold some kind of Kenyan citizenship.”

Commenting on the general atmosphere which is likely to settle in Somali’s rather populated British community, Ms Harper said that, along with the devastation about the whole attack, there is fear that it is going to create an even greater backlash against the Somali community.”

“There is already a lot of prejudice against Somali in the UK,” Ms Harper says. “Somalis tell me they are called terrorists or pirates or starving people and Somalis here are desperately worried that this is going to create even more hatred towards them, because they will be lumped together with the Al-Shabaab who have carried out these atrocities in Kenya.”

In the conclusion Ms Harper cites a woman, whose response to the attack she found “touching”, “ One Somali said to me – which I found particularly touching, ‘Most of the people Al-Shabaab has killed are Somalis themselves on Somali soil and there are even Somalis killed in the shopping center in Nairobi” and she was saying how devastating it is for her that this group Al-Shabaab carries out acts in the name of Islamism and in the name of Somalis when in fact Somalis themselves are the people who suffered more at the hands of Al-Shabaab than anybody else.”

Voice of Russia

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