By Calvin Onsarigo
Abubakar’s first day at the al Shabaab training camp in Afmadow in southwest Somalia was intense.
He arrived in 2008 as a madrasa teacher. Little did he know that he had to undergo paramilitary training, including assembling and detonation of Improvise Explosive Devices (IEDs).
Inside the camps, they receive a mix of military, political and sharia training.
During training, recruits are dispatched to checkpoints, but not to the frontlines until they graduate after three months.
The camps are spread all over Somalia’s lower Shebelle where al Shabaab still has significant control despite constant incursion by Amisom troops.
Abubakar was deployed into Khalid Bin Walid camp that comprised fighters mostly from Tanzania, Kenya, Burundi and European fighters from France, United Kingdom, US and Arabic countries.
“We were always on higher alert for possible airstrikes by the US drones and bombardment from the Amison troops,” says Abubakar, who deserted the group.
Abubakar said women recruits — the so called al Shabaab brides — are trained separately, but they always undergo similar military training.
He revealed that wanted British terror suspect Samantha Lewthwaite, the White Widow, was rumored to be living in Somalia and training the women suicide bombers. He however adds that he didn’t get to see her.
Samantha is the widow of the London July 7, 2005 suicide bomber.
“Samantha has always kept contact with al Shabaab fighters by sending emissaries to motivate, fund the recruits and encourage them in the Jihad,” says Abubakar.
According to the returnees who spoke to the Star, foreign fighters, especially Whites and Arabs, are given special privileges because most of them come from affluent families and have other military experiences.
“There is at least one foreign fighter in each of the al Shabaab battalions, which have about 300-500 fighters,” says Abubakar.
The foreign fighters are usually used in propaganda videos.
Juma, another al Shabaab returnee, says most Kenyan fighters are mistreated and are often accused of joining the group for monetary gains.
“Fighters from the West and Arab countries are believed to cross over to Somalia because of religious convictions because they abandon their luxurious life to come and join the Mujahedeen in the bush,” Juma says.
The mistrust, rivalry based on clan lines and other ideological factors within al Shabaab forced some of the fighters to escape from the military camps.
“There is a lot of frustration once you join the group, broken promises and religious differences inside al Shabaab. This is what we went through and forced many of us to escape,” Juma says.
The group has recruited intensively in Europe and the US through social media platforms.
One of the recent al Shabaab recruits was Evans Thomas alias Hakim, who was killed as he helped lead an assault on the Kenya Defense Forces military camp in Lamu in June.
Other foreign fighters lured to Shabaab include slain British jihadist Michael Adebolajo, who was arrested in Lamu on his way to Somalia by speedboat, and Jermaine Grant, a close ally of Samantha.
Source: The Star