AP Photo/Mohamed Sheikh Nor, FileAl-Shabab
fighters march with their weapons during military exercises on the
outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia. The recruitment of six Toronto men into
Al-Shabab, which is aligned with al-Qaeda and is a banned terrorist
group under Canadian law, caused considerable concern among
Somali-Canadian parents and national security officials.
In 2009, six zealous young Somali-Canadians abandoned their studies
and families in Toronto to join Al-Shabab, an armed extremist group
fighting a losing battle to impose its harsh version of Islamic law on
Friday, September 13, 2013
Four years later, four of them are dead and on Thursday another
former Toronto resident, Omar Hammami, was reported killed. But
according to a Toronto imam, the remaining two have now left Al-Shabab
after seeing the error of their ways.
“They realized what they were doing was wrong,” said Sheikh Said
Rageah, who spoke recently to one of the Canadians, both now settled in
Hargeysa, capital of the northern breakaway region of Somaliland.
“They’re not into that anymore.”
They’re not into that anymore
The imam said they had married and were working, one as an English
teacher. “They got their lives together. I don’t think they plan to come
back [to Canada] but they definitely went back to university and they
work so they have different plans. One of them has, I think, two kids.”
The recruitment of the Toronto men into Al-Shabab, which is aligned
with al-Qaeda and is a banned terrorist group under Canadian law, caused
considerable concern among Somali-Canadian parents and national
Parents were alarmed to discover that youths were being lured into
Al-Shabab, largely through online propaganda. The main worry for the
government, meanwhile, was that recruits would eventually return to
Canada, bringing with them extreme anti-Western ideology, terrorist
training and fighting experience. Officials are now voicing similar
concerns about Syria.
But it now appears the adventures of the Somali-Canadian recruits
have ended in death and disillusionment. “Four of them are dead,” said
Mr. Rageah, former imam at Toronto’s Abu Huraira mosque, where some of
the men had attended prayers.
The surviving pair, Abdirahman Yusuf and Khalid Aden Noor, apparently
had a change of heart after Al-Shabab began assassinating Muslim
clerics who had spoken out against the extremist group.
“What they were doing was, any scholar that was against them they
killed them. So they started assassinating scholars in the places of
worship,” Mr. Rageah told the National Post in an interview. “So these
young people, a lot of them, they realized this is not right, this is
not what I signed up for.”The tribal clans of the men helped them get out, telling them “listen, you cannot act immature anymore, you cannot do stupid things anymore,” he said. “So they decided whatever happened, happened. It’s a new page, new life. Let us move on and let us establish our life, and they’re doing well.”
It was important for Canadian youths to know the pair had realized that “killing innocent people, joining these terrorist groups and all this, it was wrong,” the imam said. “These young people were misinformed. They never lived there. They didn’t know what is happening there. They were promised that if you do this, you’re doing a great sacrifice for God, come and join.”
But it didn’t work out that way.
Stay where you are and take care of your families
“I’m sure if these young people, if they had a platform where they can address a lot of young people, they would say: ‘We were misinformed, stay where you are and take care of your families,’” Mr. Rageah said.
He said one of the dead men had left behind his mother, who depended heavily on him. She speaks little English and is struggling to raise two siblings with disabilities.“He was her hope and he left and he went there and he died. So I think even Islamically, your mother and your family have more right over you than going into another country or another place, getting yourself into a situation that you’re not equipped about. So I think if these guys could talk they would say take care of your family, take care of your needs, take care of your siblings, that is the true jihad.”
Citing “former militants,” Voice of America reported that Hammami had died in a clash with Al-Shabab, which he had left earlier this year following a lengthy dispute.
Also known as Abu Mansour Al-Amriki, Hammami, 29, was wanted by the FBI on terrorism-related charges and there was a $5-million reward for information leading to his capture and conviction.
Born into a southern Baptist family, Hammami, arrived in Toronto in 2004 and worked as a pizza delivery man. After marrying a Canadian, he left for Somalia in 2005 and came to public attention when he began posting online battlefield videos and rap songs that encouraged Western youths to join Al-Shabab.
Take care of your siblings, that is the true jihad
The Canadian government outlawed Al-Shabab in 2010 after the departure of the so-called Somali Six. In 2011, another Somali-Canadian, Mohamed Hersi, was arrested at Toronto’s Pearson airport as he was allegedly on his way to Somalia to fight.
A report by the Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre said about 20 Somali-Canadians have joined Al-Shabab. A “martyrdom message” by an American member had urged attacks in Canada, it said. Al-Shabab formally declared its allegiance with al-Qaeda in 2012.
“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,” it said.