The extremist group whose leader was killed by American Special Forces is now defiantly asking more foreign fighters to join it.
The killing of Saleh Nabhan and the subsequent appeal by Al Shabaab for more foreign fighters comes amidst reports that the group is increasing its population of foreigners.
From neighbouring Kenya to distant Australia, Somalis in Diaspora are implicated in the running conflict in Mogadishu.
Mohamud Hassan, 23, a Somali from the State of Minnesota in the United States, died on Thursday, September 3, in Mogadishu.
He had been fighting alongside fellow jihadists (holy warriors) in the war against the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the presence of peace-keepers sent by the African Union (Amisom) to help the government in Somalia.
Killed in Mogadishu
According to a report in the Star Tribune in Minnesota by Richard Meryhew, Hassan was been killed in Mogadishu.
Another Somali who is also from Minnesota reportedly called Hassan’s family in to inform them of the death. Hassan attended an engineering school at the University of Minnesota and left North America in November 2008.
“The death has been confirmed by another jihadist from the Minnesota twin cities of Minneapolis and St Paul,” read a commentary by Somaliweyn Radio in Mogadishu.
According to reports in Somali media, at least 20 Diaspora Somalis have left North America to join Islamist groups in Somalia.
In July, the TFG displayed the body of an Al-Shabaab fighter who died during a heavy confrontation in North Mogadishu. The government officials said the dead fighter was an unnamed Pakistani while others said he was Bangladeshi.
Within hours, however, a Somali American mother in Minnesota recognized the body as that of her son, Jamal Sheikh Bana. She said her son had disappeared from home several months earlier.
She only realised he had joined Al Shabaab when she saw his body being displayed and learnt of the young man’s violent death.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation of the US reckons that some community members are engaged in luring the youth and actually facilitating the travel process, though the matter remains under investigations.
The initial conclusions of the FBI have created controversy within the Somali community in US as Imams were accused of brain-washing the under-aged and arranging for them to travel.
However, a number of Somali clerics rejected the notion and denied knowledge of such schemes. Al-Shabaab officials in Somalia have never denied that Islamic fighters could come to the country to support their fellow Islamists’ struggle.
Indeed, Sheikh Mukhtar Robow Ali Abu Mansur, Al-Shabaab’s former spokesman, reiterated that his movement would welcome international jihadists coming to Somalia.
“Fellow Muslims have the right to come to Somalia to support our cause to establish an Islamic state and defeat the pro-western politicians,” said Abu Mansur.
Several reports indicate international jihadists are active in parts of southern and central Somalia.
In May this year, when clashes between the TFG forces and the Islamist fighters soared in Mogadishu, many city residents said they had seen foreign jihadists on some major streets in the Somali capital.
They were reportedly distributing leaflets and CDs with quotes from Sheikh Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al-Qaeda the radical group targeted in the fight against terror.
According to his friends, Hassan was popular and had been nicknamed Maska- Somali for ‘snake.’ So far, the families of five youths say their relatives have died in the war in Somalia after travelling from North America.
Subsequent investigations by US authorities have led to the arrest of three young men. They have been charged with training with or joining the Islamists fighting the Transitional Federal Government in Somalia.
Other Diaspora Somalis have been charged, at one time or another, in connection with the Islamist jihad in Somalia. Britain, Sweden and Yemen, with some said to be involved in raising funds.
Somalia’s neighbours, Ethiopia and Kenya, were particularly vulnerable to Al-Shabaab’s influence. Both countries have a significant ethnic Somali population and share a total of a 3,000-kilometre border with Somalia.
Reports have indicated the possibility of cross-border recruitment aided by porous borders.
Apart from Kenya and Ethiopia, there have been reports of Al-Shaabab influence in far-away Australia. In August, four men, two of them ethnic Somalis, were apprehended by security forces in Melbourne, the capital, and charged with attempts to carry out suicide missions against military targets in that country.
Indications are that Somalis in Diaspora are also at risk as TFG forces battle in the homeland to defeat Al-Shaabab.