The armed Islamist group Al-Shabab has suffered major setbacks in Somalia, raising concerns that radicalized Canadians fighting in its ranks might attempt to return home to wage violence, a federal intelligence report warns.
The April 2012 report on the terrorist threats facing Canada says Al-Shabab has lost “significant amounts of territory” since neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia sent troops into Somalia in late 2011 to crush the radical Islamist group.
At least 20 Somali-Canadians have allegedly made their way to Somalia in recent years to join Al-Shabab, which has called for terrorist attacks in Canada. Last February, Al-Shabab declared its affiliation with al-Qaeda.
“The combination of this declaration, along with the deteriorating AS [Al-Shabab] situation in Somalia, raise concern that foreign fighters may disengage from Somalia to continue their violent jihad internationally, and potentially target their home countries, including
Canada,” the report says.
The Canadian government outlawed Al-Shabab as a terrorist organization in 2010 after young Somali-Canadians began leaving Toronto to join. At least one reportedly died soon after arriving. Another, Mohamed Hersi, was arrested at Toronto’s Pearson airport in 2011 as he was allegedly on his way to Somalia.
The report by the Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre says a “martyrdom message” by an American Al-Shabab member who died in a suicide bombing had urged attacks in Canada. A copy of the document was released to the National Post under the Access to Information Act.
Radicalized Canadian extremists who have bought into al-Qaeda’s Islamist extremist ideology are the country’s top terrorist threat, the report says. “Motivated by ideas that Islam is threatened by Western policies and culture, these Islamists support the use of violence against their home and adopted countries.”
Stewart Bell, National Post
Since becoming the most prominent foreign fighter in the Somali armed Islamist group Al-Shabab, former Toronto pizza deliveryman Omar Hammami has turned into a remarkably whiny jihadist.
Over the past week, Hammami has issued long lists of complaints about the “top dogs” of Al-Shabab, accusing them of behaving “like Hitler,” confiscating his car and keeping all the best “war booty” for themselves.
He blasted Al-Shabab for its strategic blunders and for only striving to take over Somalia rather than to impose radical Islam on the world through a global jihad. “You must come to know some of the harsh realities,” he wrote.
The Alabama-born 28-year-old left Toronto in 2005 and made his way through Cairo to join the Somali jihad. “We are all Osama,” he declared in one of his many self-aggrandizing online videos. But his holy war now appears to be over.
His recent statements claim Al-Shabab has sidelined him, tried to have him killed and purged other foreign volunteers who had travelled to the long-suffering country to fight. He said Al-Shabab is afraid he will form a splinter group.
“None of us came here to seek positions or marriage. Instead, we all came with the intention of martyrdom,” he wrote in a statement posted to a file-serving website and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t find the opportunity we expected to participate in the global jihad, or even to participate in the development of jihad in Somalia.”
For its part, Al-Shabab let Hammami have it on Twitter last month, lamenting his “narcissistic pursuit of fame” and “childish petulance.” It said that notwithstanding his portrayal as a commander, he “does not hold any position of authority” in the group.
The war of words points to a divide between the leadership of Al-Shabab — which wants to impose its brutal version of Islamic law on Somalis — and the hundreds of foreign extremists who have converged in the country, convinced they are on a mission from God to fight infidels until the world submits to their religious system.
But some analysts believe the rift is overblown, arguing that while Al-Shabab has clearly had enough of Hammami’s grandstanding, it continues to align itself with al-Qaeda and deploy foreign volunteers in the field.
“Other than Hammami’s statements, there is no credible evidence of other foreign fighters having had problems with Shabab’s leaders,” The Long War Journal website wrote, adding that “foreigners continue to play a significant role in Shabab’s command structure.”
Either way, Al-Shabab has been significantly weakened after being pushed out of its strongholds by Somali, Kenyan, Ethiopian and African Union troops, not to mention the United States, which has launched missile strikes on key commanders.
The deterioration of Al-Shabab has counter-terrorism agencies wondering whether the dozens of radicalized Western youths who have travelled to Somalia to fight “jihad” may attempt to return home to countries like Canada and the United States.
That is not an option for Hammami, a.k.a. Abou Mansour Al-Amriki. He was placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list last November and faces charges in Alabama, where he was once president of his university Muslim Students Association.
In 2004, Hammami drove to Canada, which he wrote was “like entering a new world. … There are Tim Horten’s [sic] fastfood joints all over the place and people speak from their nose,” he wrote. In Toronto, he married a Somali-Canadian, but he didn’t like the city’s “Western defects” and noted it was not “a pure Islamic society.”
After arriving in Somalia in 2006, Hammami came to prominence when he began releasing online videos urging Western youths to join him. He also composed rap songs about knocking “America down to her knees” and fighting until “martyrdom or victory.”
But if he hoped to be Somalia’s Ché, it hasn’t worked out. While he said he was once an “emir” in charge of “a regiment comprising the Somalis from the West,” his recent statements refer to his “retirement” and suggest he is under house arrest.