The Secret History of al Qaeda


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And another group, including Ibrahim Afghan who I told you earlier and other young, Somali jihadists who had been going to Afghanistan. Two of them were killed by the Somalis gunmen and one of them was killed by the United States. So, Ebrahim Afghan was helping young Somali jihadists travel from Somalia to Afghanistan so that they will meet Al-Qaeda, train, come back to Somalia, spread, train more jihadists.

Among the countries and charities that heavily supported Somali students were charities based in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, so one of the largest destinations for Somali students was Pakistan, so Ebrahim Afghan would visit universities in Islamabad and Karachi and he would take them to Peshawar. During the holidays he would take them across the border into Afghanistan and they got training there, mentored, and they became battle-hardened jihadists and they came back to Somalia to lead the formation of Al Shabaab.

So the emergence of Al Shabaab in was not accidental. It was planned, helped, nudged, mentored by Al Qaeda to help the emergence of a jihadist group in Somalia. Of course, there were Somali scholars, Salafists, who always wanted that, but Al Qaeda has given this group organization, mentorship, finance, sophistication, techniques, and they became the deadliest group we call today Al Shabaab. Al Shabaab is an extremist organization, an Al Qaeda ally.

He represents the other faction, the other face of Al Shabaab. This young man was a student in Mogadishu in He was mesmerized by the victory after victory that Islamic Courts were gaining against the warlords and he finally joined them. His brother was killed. That was the last straw. He was trained as a fighter. He wanted to rise a jihadist. He wanted to defend Somalia against warlords, against Ethiopia. He was only less than 20 but he was a very well trained jihadist who within one week he will carry out assassinations.

He would ambush Ethiopian troops.


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He would transport logistics, weapons, explosives for Al Shabaab from one place to another. When the Somali government was recognized and supported by the United States and the international community, under Islamic Courts created an agreement in , a significant number of fighters defected from Al Shabaab to join the new government.

He was one of them.

He defected from Al Shabaab. He became a bodyguard for the Foreign Minister but that was not enough for him.

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He wanted something different. He was attending a school early on before he joined Al Shabaab in Somalia. He wanted to go abroad. He wanted to go to Bangladesh. He was very ambitious. On the other hand, he had blood on his hands, so he left the minister. He tried to go outside Somalia. He went to South Africa. He went to Kenya.

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The Secret History of al Qaeda

Everywhere he goes, he could not adapt his life so he came back to Mogadishu and in he hid in a vehicle belonging to the African Union to visit Somalia. He entered the presidential palace and he carried out the first attack in the presidential palace.

I interviewed him right before he committed this act. I was doing a program about youth and war, so a friend told me that this young man defected from Al Shabaab and he has a story to tell to the audience so I interviewed him. I had a long interview with him. He was very intelligent but he was also lost. He believed that he was fighting for his country and he believed that Al Shabaab was taking Somalia somewhere but Al Shabaab was a dead end.

But he represents hundreds, maybe thousands of Somalis who support Al Shabaab, who believe that Al Shabaab is the future of Somalia, so these are the two faces of Al Shabaab. They collect taxes not only from the people they control, but also from areas they do not control and they use all kinds of mechanisms to achieve that. They use currency system, they use collections, they infiltrate the system, they obtain information from organizations, businesses, universities, and they tell them these are the number of people who attend your university or this is the amount you imported last month.

You have to pay either tax. You have to pay support to Al Shabaab. They also tax vehicles that are leaving Mogadishu that are going through their territory. Al Shabaab does not control a major city in Somali but they control a vast land in the countryside, so vehicles that are traveling from major towns to the regions have to go through Al Shabaab territory, so they tax, they collect, millions.

Al Shabaab uses all other kinds of mechanisms to collect finance from farms, from crops. They also tax people who are cutting trees. You have heard that charcoal is a big business for Al Shabaab. It has been a big business for a long time, but recently, because Al Shabaab they lost all the sea port, all access to sea ports, they cannot export charcoal by themselves and they do not want the Somali government or regional governments to benefit from the exportation of charcoal, so what they do is they heavily tax on people who are going to the hinterland to cut trees.

They call businesses, rich people. They threaten them. They threaten them that if they want to survive, if they want to have their business open in peace, they must pay, and the government cannot give protection to these businesses so businesses are compelled to pay this money. Al Shabaab has a very large militia.

Inside Al-Shabaab

The people that we spoke to, Dan and I, estimate that about 13, men fight for Al Shabaab. About half of that, maybe they are what we call jabhat , the military. They fight in the frontline against the Somali government, against the African Union.

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The rest are either police — police they go to towns, shops, they enforce laws, they tell people to go pray. They arrest people who do not pay tax.

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They implement rulings by their courts. They have charts. Because of the weakness of the justice system in Somalia, monied people if they want to get their property back or farm back for example, because the government is weak and cannot implement, they go to Al Shabaab judges and they ask them to mediate or reach a verdict and Al Shabaab does this and Al Shabaab implements. They will just send a message or a telephone number and they will tell that person to implement that ruling and it will be done.

Otherwise, you are going to lose your life.

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So, Al Shabaab is a very sophisticated, bureaucratic organization that controls everybody, every one of them. They have a database for their neighbors. They know their names, the names of their relatives. If you want to leave the Al Shabaab area to come to the government, they ask you when you are going to come back, who do you know. But having said that, Al Shabaab has been fighting for a long time in Somalia, ten years now. They were able to control in Mogadishu most of Mogadishu in , , but they were kicked out in They lost almost all of the major towns in Somalia.

Most of the Somalis do not buy their ideology. They do not control all of Somalia and they have not been able to convince Somalis, all Somalis, to take their ideology, but they are capable of carrying out deadly attacks like we saw last year in October, which killed about people, the vast majority of them civilians, almost all of them.

When nothing is happening, Al Shabaab is always mobilizing, looking for a new way to carry out an attack, so sometimes you will see a lull for three months, four months. They are always borrowing time to plan the next deadly attack, train more fighters. They still recruit fighters even though they have 13, people. Privacy Notice Accessibility Help.

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The Secret History of al Qaeda The Secret History of al Qaeda
The Secret History of al Qaeda The Secret History of al Qaeda
The Secret History of al Qaeda The Secret History of al Qaeda
The Secret History of al Qaeda The Secret History of al Qaeda
The Secret History of al Qaeda The Secret History of al Qaeda
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