Shabaab, al Qaeda’s branch in East Africa, has released a propaganda video that appears to feature several British fighters and others from the West. The video, titled “From the Frontlines 3: The Tourism of My Ummah is Jihad,” is intended to encourage foreign fighters to leave their homelands to wage jihad abroad.
The English-speaking fighters are shown in more than one scene, but their faces are always blotted out, a sure sign that Shabaab doesn’t want Western intelligence services to easily identify them.
In one scene, a small group takes a break from their fighting at a swimming spot. At least two, perhaps three, of the jihadists can be heard speaking English with a British accent. One of the Shabaab fighters says a dive into the water was as smooth as a Merman’s. An image of one of the men, who may be from the UK, is included on the right.
Shabaab’s propaganda arm, al Kataib Media, released at least two versions of the video. One version is narrated by an English-speaking man who is not named.
History of recruiting from the UK
Shabaab has a history of attracting foreign fighters from the UK. [See LWJ report, Detained UK suspect trained by Shabaab.]
An al Qaeda leader named Saleh Nabhan, who was killed by US special forces during a raid in September 2009, trained a cadre of fighters from Britain and elsewhere in the West. A leaked State Department cable written in July 2009, just two months before Nabhan was killed, detailed Nabhan’s training of foreigners.
“Since Nabhan’s selection as senior trainer for [Shabaab’s] training in summer 2008,” the cable reads, “the flow of foreigners to Somalia has broadened to encompass fighters from south Asia, Europe, and North America, Sudan, and East Africa, particularly trainees from Kenya.”
The State Department was especially concerned about Nabhan’s desire to strike in the West. “Nabhan is currently associated with efforts to attack Denmark, Nigeria, Kenya, and the UK,” State warned in its July 2009 cable. “Danish trainees assessed to be attending one of the Nabhan-administered camps are reported to intend to return to Denmark to conduct unspecified attacks.” According to the State Department’s sources, “Nabhan himself [had] reportedly indicated an intention to conduct attacks on Kenya, as well as on the United Kingdom.”
Another veteran al Qaeda operative and Shabaab leader, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (aka Harun Fazul), trained a group dubbed the “London Boys” in Somalia in the mid-2000s. Fazul, who was killed by Somali forces during a clash in June 2011, was long wanted by US authorities for his role in the 1998 US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. According to reporting in the British press, Osama bin Laden ordered the “London Boys” to execute a “wave of terror attacks” in the UK prior to his death.
In the summer of 2012, British authorities arrested a man who was attempting to visit the site of the Olympic Games. The detained suspect had reportedly fought for Shabaab.
The foreign fighters in Shabaab’s ranks have clashed with the organization’s leadership at times. In 2013, Shabaab’s internal security service, the Amniyat, hunted down and killed American jihadist Omar Hammami and a British citizen (or resident) known as Osama al Britani. Hammami had openly criticized of Shabaab’s leaders prior to his death.
“The tourism of my ummah is jihad”
While the production is intended to promote the jihadist lifestyle, its scenes are hardly glorious. Shabaab fighters are shown training on a coastline, hunting and preparing fish for a meal.
“I would also like to encourage my Muslim brothers who are still in the lands of the kufr [disbelievers] to make hijra [emigrate] and come to the lands of Islam,” a Shabaab fighter says as another jihadist hacks a giraffe to pieces right beside him. There “is no shortage of meat here,” the same fighter adds, “it’s a great blessing from Allah.” He extols the virtues of hunting in a country where there is little government oversight. “Here, you do not need a permit to hunt these animals, in the lands of Islam these animals are free.”
While the video will undoubtedly seem strange to some in the West, its message is consistent with the jihadist mythology that has been built up over the past three and a half decades, since the jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan, if not longer ago. Indeed, the narrator cites a hadith (saying) attributed to the Prophet Mohammed: “The tourism of my nation [ummah] is jihad.”
This motif was employed by Abdullah Azzam, the spiritual mentor of Osama bin Laden and godfather of modern jihadism, who was killed in 1989. Shabaab’s video includes a clip of Azzam explaining the meaning of this hadith for modern jihadists. A screen shot from the video showing Azzam can be seen on the right.
“Indeed the tourism of my nation is jihad,” Azzam is heard saying in the clip, which is played over images of Shabaab members slicing into the flesh of a giraffe. “It’s an entertaining journey of tourism and hunting. You eat, drink, sleep and hunt for free!”
Azzam continued: “Not in Bangkok or Los Angeles and without paying 500 dollars a night in a London hotel. You eat, sleep and drink for free and on top of all that, you worship your [Lord] freely and every hour you confront the enemy is equivalent to standing in worship for sixty years.”
Shabaab also includes archival footage of Abu Yahya al Libi, a senior al Qaeda leader and propagandist who was killed in a US drone strike in June 2012. (A screen shot of the footage including the speech by al Libi is included on the right.)
“He who emigrates (from his home) in the cause of Allah will find on earth many dwelling places and plenty to live by,” al Libi said in the clip. “And whosoever leaves his home as an emigrant unto Allah and His Messenger, and death overtakes him, his reward is then surely incumbent upon Allah.” Al Libi added that “one will find on earth (through hijra) different abodes — that means he is constantly traveling from one location to another. If one land becomes too [difficult] for him, then another land is immediately opened for him.”
Still another deceased al Qaeda ideologue is cited in the video. “The mujahideen are tourists” who get to “see Allah’s creation” and are “close to nature,” Anwar al Awlaki, who was struck down in a US drone strike in September 2011, said in a speech.
The video is not without a darker side, however. Shabaab’s fighters threaten the Kenyan government and potentially others in the West and elsewhere as well.
“My dear brothers, do not be deceived into believing that when people fight jihad that they are accompanied by hunger,” a hooded fighter says while standing over the carcass of animal. “And to the kuffar [disbelievers] I say this is our picnic before we come to you, and when we reach your cities, you will face the consequences of your actions.”
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