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International Reach of the al-Shabaab

17/09/2010

The head of MI5, Jonathan Evans, has warned that Britain faces an imminent terror threat from British residents trained by the al-Shabaab militia. Speaking at an event in the City of London, he stated that he was “concerned that it’s only a matter of time before we see terrorism on our streets inspired by those who are today fighting alongside al-Shabaab.” He also cautioned that Northern Irish dissident Republican groups were growing in membership, though they are still unable to carry out any sort of sustained attack on the British mainland.

Regarding the Shabaab, this is not the first such warning; the past years have seen a number of reports of British based Somalis and other Muslims travelling to the region to train and fight for Somali jihadists. In October 2007, an unnamed British Somali detonated a suicide vest at an Ethiopian army checkpoint in the town of Baidoa, killing himself and around 20 soldiers. In his suicide video, he had a message for British Muslims:

Oh my people, know that I am doing this martyrdom operation for the sake of Allah. I advise you to migrate to Somalia and wage war against your enemies. Death in honour is better than life in humiliation.

Earlier this year, it was reported that Somali community leaders in London had warned that nearly a dozen British Muslims, including a number of students, were recruited by al-Shabaab. They also claimed that the militia has targeted Britain as a prime recruiting ground due to the high number of Somali British citizens who can travel with relative ease between the two countries.

Also contributing to the growing interest in the Somali jihad among western Muslims are popular English speaking ideologues like Anwar al-Awlaki, who has repeatedly praised the Shabaab and urged Muslims to join up (click here for ICSR’s recent paper: Challenging the Influence of Anwar Al-Awlaki). In December 2008, he wrote on his now defunct blog that:

Al-Shabab not only have succeeded in expanding the areas that fall under their rule but they have succeeded in implementing the sharia and giving us a living example of how we as Muslims should proceed to change our situation. The ballot has failed us but the bullet has not.

[…]

But their success depends on your support. It is the responsibility of the ummah to help them with men and money.

In America, the problem is equally serious, with many American Muslims either joining or providing material support to the militia. In July of this year, American convert Zachary Chesser (aka Abu Talha al-Amrikee) was charged by the FBI (affidavit here) for providing material support to al-Shabaab. Among other things, the affidavit details his correspondence with Awlaki, from whom he drew much of his inspiration to assist in the jihad.

Evans’ concerns are not only based on recent intelligence, but also upon the history and legacy of other foreign jihads. As both the Afghan and Bosnian conflicts have demonstrated, traveling for jihad is not always a one-way street, and in the last two years Somalia has emerged as the latest incubator of global jihad.

Note to readers:

Later this year, ICSR will publish a paper on dissident Republicans. We are also undertaking ongoing research on Anwar al-Awlaki.