30 Sep 2013

The hero’s life awaits al-Shabaab’s Westgate suspects

Africa Correspondent

Reports that some of the al-Shabaab terrorists, who attacked the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi, escaped are likely to be true, writes Jamal Osman. Now they can expect a life of hero worship.

Westgate attackers who escaped the amll are expected to live a 'hero's life' within al-Shabaab (picture: Getty)

We don’t know how many of them may have escaped, but at least half of them are thought to have made it to Somalia and are now safe in the al-Shabaab-controlled territory.

While Kenyan authorities are busy blaming each other over the attack, the al-Shabaab group is preparing for a “hero welcome”. The Westgate attackers’ lives will change forever in the eyes of the Jihadi community.

In the last five years, I’ve been travelling to al-Shabaab areas during which I met some of their fighters who brought victory for the group and are highly regarded.

A fighter who goes into a mission, achieves the objectives, and comes back safely is known as the “living shaheed or martyr”. Within the jihadi circle, the “Westgate men” will be seen as the ultimate warriors and massive celebrities.

Huge demand

I assume an open-top bus victory parade isn’t an option since drones are flying all over southern Somalia. They won’t be asked to sign autographs, as that is deemed un-Islamic.

But they will be in huge demand amongst Islamists in Somalia. Leaders will invite them for lunch. Lots of goats will be slaughtered for them. Everyone wants to say: “I met the ‘Westgate men’. I know them. They told me this and that…”. Meeting them is seen as “a privilege”.

To date, the al-Shabaab movement has not succeeded a bigger operation than the Nairobi one. Therefore, the Westgate-al-Shabab survivors will be in a different class.

Read more: Revealed - suspected leader of Kenya terror attack

In Somalia, Islamists who fought in Afghanistan belong to the highest club but the “Westgate men” will overtake them, establishing their own premier league club.

They will be given prizes, possibly, a hand-delivered present from the al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri. I guess it’s not a gold/silver medal but a copy of the Koran.

If they wish, they could join the main al-Qaeda family, leaders of the global jihad. It is almost impossible to qualify as a recognised member of al-Qaeda. Nevertheless, it is the dream of every young jihadi. Most of them die before they realise their dream.

‘Proper mujahideen’

Although most of the Westgate attackers are in their 20s, early retirement from the battlefield is granted unless the fighter enjoys the experience and insists on continuing taking part.

They will become special advisers to the al-Shabaab amir. Not many of his fighters can meet the elusive leader of the group but the “Westgate men” have earned his trust and respect and will be given unlimited access. They have proved to him their worthiness as “mujahideen”.

They will share their experience with others; teaching youngsters on how to become “proper mujahideen”. It will be tough to follow their footsteps. Regular lectures and motivational speeches will become part of their duty especially before al-Shabaab fighters go into battles.

Al-Shabaab poets – many of them are brilliant including the leader – will write poems about the “Westgate men”. Nasheeds, Islamic vocal music dedicated to them, will be produced. Young Islamist fighters will be encouraged to download these materials onto their mobile phones.

Al-Shabaab’s media department will record a long interview with the “Westgate men” talking about the whole operation from inception to execution. But these interviews won’t be released while they are still alive. It is to protect their identities from the outside world.

‘My lion’

Westgate will feature prominently in their obituary videos. Their whole story from childhood will be documented; often portraying them as those who recognised the importance of jihad early in life.

The “Westgate men” will become the most sought after by young jihadi women. Being married to one of them will be viewed as an honour. A wife will refer to her husband not by his name but by “my lion”, a senior jihadi who enjoyed the status told me in 2010.

The fathers of these women, who are likely to be supporters of al-Shabaab, will be proud to be associated with the Westgate attackers. So having four wives, the maximum number allowed in Islam, is a must for these men.

Providing for four wives and dozens of kids (every year there will be four additions to the family) will be simple: the al-Shabaab organisation will take care of them financially so long as the organisation is active.

I don’t anticipate interviewing them as they are highly valued Islamist fighters and is judged too risky to meet a journalist. But I believe that this will be their lifestyle until they meet death.