Somalia: Al-Shabaab boasts of many foreigners
KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian militants battling in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria are well documented, but Kelantanese Ahmad Mustakim Abdul Hamid is probably the first case involving al-Shabab in Africa.
The Somalia-based terrorist group is said to have many foreigners within its ranks, and even at a leadership level.
Influenced by what they read, mostly online, they joined the organization to fight the Somali government and its Ethiopian allies.
The current number of foreign fighters in Somalia is unclear but in 2011, it was reported that there were even US citizens in the mix, mostly of Somali descent.
One report stated that the group recruited over 40 Americans and 20 Canadians to battle in Somalia.
Foreigners were recruited to serve as mercenaries and as propaganda tools because of their ability to speak English, for radicalization and recruitment.
But according to an article by David Shinn in 2010 for the US-based Foreign Policy Research Institute, top leaders then included those from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Algeria, Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Bangladesh, India, Afghanistan, and Uganda.
“Al-Shabab has developed one of the most effective recruitment programs found among militant Islamist groups.
“It has been particularly successful in the large Somali diaspora in Europe, North America, the Middle East, Africa, and Australia,” he wrote.
The presence of foreigners, according to many analysts, has been both a boon and bane to al-Shabab because it has led to differences and conflicts among the rank and file.
According to the National Counterterrorism Center in the US, in-fighting and shifting alliances were common.
“So, the desertion of Ahmad Mustakim in 2015 came as no surprise as he probably could not take the constant bickering inside the group.
“But he was arrested and jailed for his attempt,” a source added. Intelligence updates have indicated that al-Shabab is now led by Ahmed Umar, also known as Ahmed Diriye and Abu Ubaidah, with a US$6mil (RM25mil) bounty following the death of Ahmed Abdi Godane in a US airstrike in 2014.