Sunday, January 24, 2010
Young British Muslims are joining a terror group linked to Al-Qaeda that is blamed for hundreds of deaths in the African country.
Richard Kerbaj STUDENTS from some of Britain’s top universities are travelling to Somalia to fight with a terrorist group linked to Al-Qaeda.
Almost a dozen young British Muslims, including a female medical researcher, are said recently to have joined Al-Shabaab, an extremist rebel organisation blamed for hundreds of deaths in the east African state.
Somali community leaders in the UK say students from the London School of Economics (LSE), Imperial College and King’s College London are among those who have been recruited within the past year. The youngest recruit is believed to be 18.
One LSE graduate who grew up in Britain is said to have called his pregnant wife from Mogadishu, the Somali capital, telling her: “I am here defending my country and my rights. Look after my daughter. I don’t think I will see you again.”
An investigation by The Sunday Times into the terrorist “pipeline” to Somalia substantiates claims that Britain has become a fertile breeding ground for Al-Qaeda.
It follows the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the London engineering graduate accused of trying to blow up almost 300 passengers on a transatlantic flight on Christmas Day.
The security services believe that Britons travelling overseas to train and fight in lawless countries such as Somalia and Yemen pose a serious risk on their return to the UK.
They have previously suggested that at least two dozen Britons have gone out to Somalia to take up arms and even become suicide bombers, but community leaders believe the figure could be more than 100.
Al-Shabaab — Arabic for “the Youth” — wants to impose sharia across Somalia and is engaged in a violent struggle against the country’s western-backed government. Experts regard it as an African franchise of Al-Qaeda.
It has been proscribed by most western countries, including America and Australia, but has escaped a ban in Britain.
Sheikh Mohamed Ahmed, a moderate religious leader from north London, warned this weekend that Al-Shabaab is exploiting the loophole to recruit youths in the capital. Although many of them were born in Somalia, they have grown up in the UK and are British citizens.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Ahmed. “The group’s supporters and recruiters are free to do what they want.”
Ahmed said some families had received anonymous phone calls from Al-Shabaab recruiters urging them to send their children abroad in the name of Islam. “The police said they cannot take action until they [the recruits] do something,” he said.
Some of those who have left London for Mogadishu claim to be nationalists opposed to western influence in Somalia. However, one man from north London in his mid-twenties cited injustices against Muslims elsewhere before joining Al-Shabaab last year.
The LSE graduate who abandoned his family in south London early last year initially told his pregnant wife and parents that he was travelling to Dubai to work as a journalist at the Khaleej Times newspaper. He never showed up.
Instead, the 25-year-old Arsenal fan, who originally came to Britain from Somalia in 1994 and grew up in Leeds, had travelled to Mogadishu. Friends say he was not particularly religious and even had a western-style wedding.
Perhaps more worrying is the case of two students from west London who are believed to have travelled to Somalia about nine months ago. The men, described by an informed source as a 23-year-old law graduate from King’s College and a 25-year-old completing a medical degree at Imperial College, had both worked as volunteer anti-drugs campaigners around Ealing and were considered influential among Somali youths.
Around the time of their departure, a 24-year-old woman, studying biomedicine at the University of East London, also left Britain, telling friends she was joining Al-Shabaab’s “medical team”.
Mohamed Abdullahi, director of the UK Somali Community Initiative, said his organisation is separately investigating the case of five men and an 18-year-old from London, thought to be fighting for the terrorist group. He said he treads a fine line between helping concerned families and identifying threats to the UK authorities.
LSE, Imperial and King’s College said they had no record of the students. However, members of Britain’s Somali community use a variety of names.