News / Africa

Media-Savvy Militants Lure Foreigners for 'Holy War' in Somalia

Henry Ridgwell
The Islamist militant group al-Shabab in Somalia has lost much ground in recent months to African Union and government forces.  But analysts warn that al-Shabab is fighting an increasingly sophisticated media war, and is actively recruiting foreign fighters to join its ranks.  
 
With sophisticated graphics - and shot in high quality -  this is a video produced by the media arm of al-Shabab called "Inspire the Believers."
 
The footage cuts to a man sitting on a beach.  A scarf covers his face.  He introduces himself as Abu Dujana and says he is from Britain; he has a distinct London accent.
 
“I’d like to use my time to talk about the blessings of living in one of the lands of Jihad.  First of all, before some of us came here, we were living in a society where the people were enslaved by their desires," he said. 
 
Abu Dujana is one of a series of foreigners appearing on this video who have purportedly gone to fight for al-Shabab in Somalia.  Others are from Sweden, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Sudan and Kenya.  They are trying to lure others to follow.  
 
 “For us, a chance to fight for our beliefs is the best thing that can happen to us in this world. And the fact that we may be killed in this path is nothing but a glad tiding," said Dujana. 
 
The video - over 30 minutes long - is part of a series produced by al-Shabab aimed at a Western audience. 
 
Shiraz Maher, of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at Kings College London, says the group is emulating and even surpassing al-Qaida's propaganda tactics.
 
“It’s producing high quality videos with great production values, in the way that we’ve seen al-Qaida do in the past… They’re using Twitter to engage with Muslims around the world to offer instant rebuttal, instant analysis of world events," he said. 
 
Other videos use a ‘news’ style - with another British-accented male narrating and interviewing fighters. One is called "Mogadishu - The Crusaders’ Graveyard."  It was produced in 2011 before African Union troops re-took the capital from Al Shabab. 
 
“The Mujahedeen on their part vowed to crush the Crusaders, and with the permission of Allah managed to raise the banners of Tawheed [Islam] on top of their tanks.” - Excerpt from "Mogadishu - The Crusaders’ Graveyard." 
 
Shiraz Maher says it’s difficult to put an exact figure on numbers of foreign fighters.
 
 “For a number of years, al-Shabab was able to recruit openly in the United States, was able to raise funds openly and in essence put down roots, establishing the infrastructure of people and ideology and material in those communities, long before law enforcement proscribed it," he said. 
 
The effort by al-Shabab to recruit overseas could be a sign of its falling support among the Somali population, says Valentina Soria, of London-based analyst group the Royal United Services Institute.
 
“The humanitarian crisis in 2011, actually they [al-Shabab] were thought to be somehow to blame for not having let through the humanitarian groups and NGOs and actually the population has suffered greatly for that," she said. 
 
Soria says the operating space for al-Shabab is being squeezed by African Union forces.
 
 “There have been great territorial gains but those gains haven’t been as yet translated into long term political success and this will remain the challenge for the new government in Somalia," she said. 
 
Terror analysts say the West should consider how to fight the propaganda war against Islamist groups like al-Shabab as well as winning territory on the ground.

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