From The National Post
From teens to terrorists: How Al-Shabab recruits Western ‘martyrs’
SITE Intelligence Group
An undated video by the Somali militant group Al-Shabab. It is one of many recruiting videos that encourage Western youths to travel to Somali to fight a “global jihad.”
Stewart Bell, National Post · Thursday, Jul. 1, 2010
In a video posted on the Internet, 10 militants-in-training jog on a sandy trail on the Somali plains. Their faces are masked but the one in the red-checkered scarf and white runners is alleged to be a young Canadian.
His name is Abdul Karim.
“We have a global mission,” one of the Al-Shabab trainees says into the camera, speaking in English and holding a worn assault rifle. “Come join us and defend the religion of Allah.”
A police investigation now underway in Ontario by the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team (INSET) is trying to trace how Canadian youths are ending up in Somalia at the paramilitary training camps of Al-Shabab, the al-Qaeda-linked militant group.
A top-secret government report obtained by the National Post says Al-Shabab, which emerged from the heavily armed chaos of Somalia in 2006, is using a variety of methods to entice Canadian youths to its camps. “Islamist extremists are radicalizing and recruiting Somali-Canadian youths within Canada to travel to Somalia for jihad training,” says the Integrated Threat Assessment Centre report, titled “Al-Shabab’s Recruitment of Youths from Canada.”
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service said five Somali-Canadians who left Toronto between September and November 2009 “could receive weapons and related training” in Somalia and “potentially engage in Al-Shabab-related violent activities,” spokeswoman Isabelle Scott said.
A sixth such Somali-Canadian is presumed dead.
Police in the United States and Europe are conducting similar investigations. A Danish-Somali killed 24 people in a suicide bombing in Mogadishu last December. On June 5, two New Jersey men were arrested at JFK airport as they were allegedly on their way to Africa to join Al-Shabab.
“The situation remains chaotic and continues to provide and facilitate [recruiting] pipelines, training and attack planning by extremist groups targeting Western interests in Somalia and the region,” Ms. Scott said.
Videos like the one in which Abdul Karim, an 18-year-old Somali-Canadian from Toronto, allegedly makes a one-minute cameo are central to Al-Shabab’s recruiting campaign. (The videos cited here were obtained from the SITE Intelligence Group, which found them on extremist websites and produced transcripts.)
“To all you youth out in the States, out in the U.K., Sweden, France, and so on,” a singer raps in one of them.
“You are now at the biggest crossroads of your life.
“You must make a choice: Are you going to live like an honourable man and die like an honourable man?
“Or are you going to live like a humiliated coward and die like one?”
In Toronto, young Somalis watch Al-Shabab videos “all the time,” said Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, a Somali-Canadian who is trying to start a group called Generation Islam to combat radicalization in his community.
“Watching these Shabab propaganda videos is very widespread among our youth,” he said, adding he was disappointed by the government response to what he described as “young boys being brainwashed and sent into a path of destruction.”
The de-classified government report, circulated internally on March 29 and released under the Access to Information Act, says Al-Shabab recruiting efforts are targeting idealistic Western youths.
“Whereas Somali parents retreat into their own culture in the face of Western values, Somali teenagers struggling to assimilate often reject adult tradition and authority in the home,” reads the Intelligence Assessment.
“Such cultural dissonance, according to another study, is rampant in diaspora Somali communities in Toronto and elsewhere, and opens the door to dangerously powerful influence from peers.”
The Internet propaganda of Al-Shabab mixes militant Islamist ideology with Somali nationalism to appeal to a young on-line audience. “And that’s a very powerful cocktail,” said Ahmed Hussen, president of the Canadian Somali Congress.
One recent video shows footage of Mohamed Elmi Ibrahim, a 22-year-old University of Toronto student who, according to a pro-Al-Shabab website, was killed in combat in Somalia. It portrays him as a martyr.
“Jihad against the armies,” goes the slow dirge.
“No rest for the oppressors, a life of fear.
“Establishing Allah’s law on land and sea.
“My number one goal die a shahid [martyr].”
The singer is Omar Hammami, a U.S. citizen who moved to Toronto, married a Somali-Canadian and is now a top Al-Shabab commander. He appears frequently in recruiting videos, rapping lyrics about jihad.
“Gonna knock America down to her knees,” he sings.
“You want to promote your religion: democracy.
“Along with your cross, temples and your priests.
“Our response is martyrdom or victory.”
It may be too late for those who have already left Canada. Few foreign recruits have returned alive. Before Mr. Ibrahim’s death, another Canadian extremist and former Toronto resident known as Asparo was killed in a gunfight with Ethiopian troops in July 2008. Somali and Ethiopian officials report finding Canadian identity documents on the bodies of Islamist fighters killed in battle.
“We’re aware of several individuals that have gone abroad for training,” said RCMP Assistant Commissioner Gilles Michaud, head of National Security Criminal Investigations for the Mounties, “but there’s not a lot of them that we’re aware of that are back.”
But even when they do come back, police can’t always do anything about it. Witnesses and reliable evidence are hard to come by, since the camps are based in countries like Somalia that are largely un-policed.
“If they only go for training and they don’t use it, or we can’t demonstrate that they have an intent of using it, there’s no charge for that,” Asst. Comm. Michaud said. “The other thing that is of concern is the fact that they get this training, then they come back to Canada. And so you now have individuals that have gone to the point of getting training and, not knowing what the intent is at the end of the day, and they’re roaming our streets.”
Abdul Karim is back in Toronto now.
He lives with his father, Ahmed, on the fourth floor of an apartment tower near Pearson airport. (The National Post is not publishing his surname because he has not been charged and would have been a minor when the alleged training took place.)
His father said the events in question took place long ago and lasted only a few days but he declined to answer whether he disputed that his son was at the camp. He refused interview requests, claiming he was being harassed.
Neither the RCMP nor CSIS would comment on whether they were investigating Abdul Karim. “I can’t talk about specifics of the case, who we are interviewing or planning to interview. This is an ongoing matter,” RCMP spokesman Sergeant Marc LaPorte said.
“Any radicalization or recruitment by any terrorist group like Al-Shabab would be of interest to INSET. Although I can’t comment on the number of missing Somali-Canadians, the RCMP monitor the issue of Canadians going abroad to participate in terrorism-related activities, and when warranted, we commence the appropriate criminal investigations.”
The Al-Shabab video allegedly featuring Abdul Karim was released in 2008. At that time, some Somalis had taken up arms to fight troops from neighbouring Ethiopia who had invaded the country to support the fragile Somali government.
Mr. Mohamed, who was among those who fought the Ethiopians and has since returned to Toronto, said recruits who trained then should not be considered terrorists. But he said those who joined Al-Shabab after Ethiopia withdrew its forces early in 2009 were driven by ideology rather than patriotism.
The 40-minute Al-Shabab video mentions Ethiopia, but only once. It does, however, mention fighting the United States, exacting revenge over the Danish cartoons and speaks repeatedly of a global fight against non-Muslims. “We are coming you Christians, we are coming you Jews,” it says.
The recruits are shown running an obstacle course, shooting at a photo of the Somali president at that time, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, firing rocket launchers and practising hand-to-hand combat.
The one believed to be Abdul Karim is dressed in camouflage clothing. The lanky teen marches, jogs on the spot and bunny hops with his hands behind his head.
At least two others have light skin, which is visible below their rolled up sleeves, indicating they are not Somalis.
Two can be heard speaking in English.
“Oh Muslim brothers,” one of them says, standing behind what looks like a rocket launcher, “migrate to the land of jihad to fight alongside your brothers.”