Latest Channel 4 News:
Row over Malaysian state's coins
'Four shot at abandoned mine shaft'
Rain fails to stop Moscow wildfires
Cancer blow for identical twins
Need for Afghan progress 'signs'

Somalia's terror recruits return to UK

By Jonathan Rugman

Updated on 16 February 2009

Dozens of Islamic extremists have returned to Britain from terror training camps in Somalia, the British security services believe.

Security officials and intelligence analysts are worried that, once back in Britain, militants will attack targets here or use the kudos from having trained and fought in Somalia to attract new recruits.

In his first interview last month Jonathan Evans, the head of MI5, raised the issue of British Muslims visiting Somali terror training camps, while the outgoing head of the CIA, Michael Hayden, has said that Ethiopia's invasion of Somalia in late 2006 had "catalysed" expatriate Somalis around the world.

Somalia, the 'new Pakistan'?

Watch Jonathan Rugman's film here.

An audio message from Osama bin Laden last month urged Muslims to send money or go to fight themselves in Somalia.

An investigation for Channel 4 News, to be broadcast tonight, also reveals that a suicide bomber who grew up in Ealing is thought to have blown himself up in an attack in Somalia that killed more than 20 soldiers.

The incident is the first reported case involving a Somali based in Britain and will add to pressure on Scotland Yard and the home office to tackle the problem within the Somali community, which, at about 250,000 people, is the biggest in Europe.

"Pakistan rightly gets the most attention in terms of external threats," a senior counter-terrorism source said. "But we believe we should focus more on the Horn of Africa and Somalia in particular."

Two years ago Ethiopian forces occupied parts of Somalia after ousting the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) from the capital, Mogadishu - the latest chapter in a long history of conflict between the two countries.

The Ethiopians withdrew last month as part of a peace deal agreed between the government and moderate Islamists, leaving African Union peacekeepers and Somali soldiers - although many believe that they will not be able to keep advancing extremists at bay.

From business student to suicide-bomber

The British Somali who became a suicide bomber had abandoned a business studies course at Oxford Brookes University.

The 21-year-old from Ealing, West London, reportedly blew himself up at a checkpoint in the southern Somali town of Baidoa in October 2007 after crossing into Somalia by foot from Kenya.

News reports at the time said that the Somali Prime Minister was staying at a nearby hotel but escaped. Somali jihadist websites claimed that more than 20 Ethiopian soldiers were killed.

The bomber was a member of al-Shabaab - The Youth - militia, which is fighting to impose Islamic law. Its brutal tactics include decapitating alleged spies with knives. Six aid workers were reportedly killed by the group last December.

It is not clear whether Britain's security services are aware of the Ealing student's case. His family, who still live in London, want his name withheld to avoid reprisals.

The man had recorded a martyrdom video in which he urged Somalia's refugee diaspora to join him in his jihad.

"Oh my people, know that I am doing this martyrdom operation for the sake of Allah," he said. "I advise you to migrate to Somalia and wage war against your enemies. Death in honour is better than life in humiliation."

Sheikh Ahmed Aabi, a moderate Somali religious leader in Kentish Town, northwest London, said that he knew of the Ealing case and had heard from other families of sons travelling to Somalia to join warring Islamist groups.

"I'm hearing it from parents," he said. "They say they [their children] are joining the jihad. I am hearing there are a lot of people. This is a big problem facing our community."

The hardline Islamist militia al-Shabaab, which is labelled as a terrorist organisation by the US, has taken advantage of Ethiopia's pull-out to boost its control of the south. More than 16,000 people have been reported killed in the past two years of fighting and one UNHCR official has called it "the most pressing humanitarian emergency in the world".

Peter Neumann, a terrorism expert who runs the Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King's College London, told Channel 4 News: "The numbers I hear going from the UK to Somalia are 50, 60 or 70, but in reality we don't know. You don't need big numbers for terrorism.

Somalia will never become another Pakistan, but that does not mean it is not a threat."

Most Somalis in Britain entered the country as asylum-seekers within the past 20 years. They include Yasin Omar and Ramzi Mohammed, two of the four men convicted of the botched bombing of the London Underground on 21 July 2005.

An audio message from Osama bin Laden last month urged Muslims to send money or go to fight themselves in Somalia.

"Such references are usually a good indicator," Dr Neumann said. "The place is seen as an opportunity, from a jihadist point of view."

The home office said in a statement that it was working with groups "including the Somali community, to tackle a growing concern that our young people are being radicalised into violent extremism".

However, some Somali leaders say their community - already associated with gang and knife crime - is being unfairly targeted.

But outside a West London mosque last week, several Somalis were adamant that they were entitled to fight for their homeland.

"If American troops can go from Arizona to Iraq then someone can leave this area and go to Somalia," one said.

A senior counterterrorist source said that while Ethiopia's withdrawal could lessen the immediate appeal of going to fight, it could also "create more space for terrorism training camps".

Another described the country as an "ungoverned space" that resembled Afghanistan under the Taliban.

An edited version of this article appeared in The Times.

Send this article by email

More on this story

Channel 4 is not responsible for the content of external websites.

Watch the Latest Channel 4 News

Watch Channel 4 News when you want

Latest International politics news

More News blogs

View RSS feed

Living with the Taliban

Taliban on the Afghan frontline

A rare film of Taliban fighters on the Afghan frontline.

Pakistan appeal


Actor Art Malik on why he is fronting the DEC's flood appeal.

Tackling Taliban IEDs


Bomb disposal soldiers on lonely walk to defuse bombs.


Channel 4 © 2010. Channel 4 is not responsible for the content of external websites.