Barnabas Editorial: World leaders must grasp Islamic heart of Al-Shabaab’s terrorism

October 3, 2013 by  
Filed under newsletter-lead

“When I mentioned the first word of the Shadada (Islamic creed), they moved on. That is how I survived.”

Al-Shabaab is suspected of carrying out attacks on churches in KenyaThe world has watched in horror this week as the Kenyan authorities have battled to rescue terrified shoppers held at an upmarket mall in Nairobi by militant Islamist group al-Shabaab.

Around a dozen militants stormed the Westgate shopping centre on Saturday (21 September), opened fire on members of the public and lobbed grenades into the crowds. Around 70 people were killed and more than 170 injured in the four-day siege.

Al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group, is enacting vengeance against Kenya for its pivotal role in driving the militants out of territory they had controlled in southern Somalia.

But the statements of those caught up in the shopping centre siege make it clear that this was not purely a retaliatory attack over territory.

Hostages were lined up by the militants and questioned about their religion; they were asked to name Muhammad’s mother, quote verses from the Quran or recite the Islamic creed. Those who could were let go, those who could not – or would not – were killed.

The defence of their strict and puritanical brand of Islam, Salafi-Wahhabism, is at the heart of al-Shabaab’s killing spree at Westgate, as it is the driving force behind their activities inSomalia and elsewhere.


Kenyan troops have driven al-Shabaab out of parts of SomaliaThe group, whose name means “The Youth”, emerged in 2006 as the youth wing of the nowdefunct Union of Islamic Courts, which fought Ethiopian forces that were trying to prop up the weak interim government.

Until a couple of years ago, al-Shabaab was in control of much of southern and some of centralSomalia, where they imposed harsh sharia penalties such as the stoning to death of women accused of adultery and the amputation of thieves’ hands.

They have been carrying out a ruthless campaign against converts from Islam to Christianity inSomalia, having vowed in 2010 “to get rid of the barbaric and non-Islamic culture in the country”.

They hunt out and spy on converts and kill them. Just this week, Barnabas is reporting on their latest anti-Christian assault: Fatuma Isak Elmi(35), mother of a four-year-old son, was killed in her home on 1 September. Her husband had been threatened that morning, “We shall come for you. You are friends with our enemies and you are polluting our religion.”

Fatuma sadly joins an ever-growing list of Christian martyrs from Somalia. In December 2011, al-Shabaab issued this threat:

Stop your harmful ideologies and preaching to the Muslims. Some Somali Muslims are already affected by this cancer of Christianity… they will be under the sword of the mujahedeen (“holy warriors”)… we know where you are.

Somalia is essentially a failed state, having not had an effective national government for around 20 years. Thus al-Shabaab has been able to wage its jihadunchecked.


But in 2011, Kenyan forces entered Somalia and have since been at the forefront of the African Union’s military operations against al-Shabaab. They have succeeded in driving the militants out of the towns and cities.

In September 2012, al-Shabaab lost the strategic port of Kismayo, which had provided them with a supply of arms as well as revenue. The group still looms large in rural areas, but Kenya is thwarting al-Shabaab’s efforts to establish an Islamic state inSomalia, and the militants have been fighting back.

The Westgate shopping centre was certainly not al-Shabaab’s first Kenyan target. The group has launched frequent smaller-scale assaults on various public places such as bars and bus stops. It is also suspected of carrying out a number of attacks on churches, as well as individual Christians, in Kenya.

Following the latest incident in June, in which 15 people were injured in a church bombing, the threat had become so great that 45 Kenyan pastors met with government officials and obtained an agreement that the state would provide security for Christian gatherings.

The likelihood now is that al-Shabaab will increase its attacks on Christian targets not just inKenya but also in other countries that have contributed troops to the African Union Mission inSomalia. Uganda and Burundi, which like Kenya are Christian-majority nations, may be particularly vulnerable.

During the Westgate shopping centre siege, al-Shabaab militants identified the Kenyan troops who were trying to secure the site as Christians. Spokesman Ali Mohamud Rage posted on as Islamist website on Monday (23 September):

We are telling Christians advancing onto the mujahedeen to have mercy for their prisoners who will bear the brunt of any force directed against the mujahedeen.

As far as al-Shabaab is concerned, this is a religious war.


And yet, all too predictably, British Prime Minister David Cameron was quick to distance al-Shabaab’s activities from Islam.

He said on Monday (23 September):

These appalling terrorist attacks that take place where the perpetrators claim they do it in the name of a religion – they don’t. They do it in the name of terror, violence and extremism and their warped view of the world. They don’t represent Islam or Muslims in Britain or anywhere else in the world.

It was reminiscent of his response to the murder by Islamic extremists of serving British soldierDrummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich in May. Cameron said that “there is nothing in Islam that justified this dreadful act”.

While world leaders continue to fail to understand, or perhaps accept, the ideological basis within Islam for acts of violence, they will never get to grips with the likes of al-Shabaab.

To say that “they don’t represent Islam or Muslims in Britain or anywhere else in the world” is flagrantly untrue. While they clearly do not represent the Muslim majority, al-Shabaab, along with countless Islamic terrorist groups that are rising up and gaining recruits around the world, are striving to observe and impose the teachings of the Quran and the hadith (the traditions about Muhammad) in their most absolute sense.

As Melanie McDonagh wrote in The Spectator this week about Mr Cameron’s response to al-Shabaab’s Westgate siege:

If we try to deal with jihadis on the basis that they are unspecified extremists rather than people with a very pronounced religious ideology, it’s not really adding to our understanding of what has happened or our ability to prevent something similar happening here.

Kenya’s interior minister, Amina Mohamed, said on Tuesday that a British woman and two or three Americans were among the militants involved in the Westgate attack.

UK security chiefs have long warned of the danger of British radicals being trained in jihad inSomalia and then coming home to unleash carnage on our streets.

In 2010, then head of MI5 Jonathan Evans warned that there were “a significant number of UK residents training in al-Shabaab camps”, adding:

I am concerned that it is only a matter of time before we see terrorism on our streets inspired by those who are today fighting alongside al-Shabaab.

If that dreadful warning is to be properly heeded, al-Shabaab needs to be properly understood, and for as long as David Cameron and other Western leaders deny the group’s true agenda, they will fail to protect us all from their deadly campaign.

– dr. patrick sookhdeo

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