Radical Islam in the Greater Horn of Africa
By Gregory Alonso Pirio, Ph.D.
This study examines the rise and present state of militant Islamist groups in the Greater Horn of Africa with particular focus on the countries of Eritrea , Kenya , Somalia , Sudan and Tanzania . The National Islamic Front government of Sudan and Al Qaeda, which was based in Sudan from 1991 to 1996, fueled Islamist ambitions in the region and helped set into motion most, if not all, of the radical Islamic movements operating in the Greater Horn of Africa.
In Somalia , Al Itihaad Al Islamiya (AI AI) or Islamic Union emerged as the most militant Islamist group and a major military force, following the collapse of the Somali government in 1991. The United States has described AI AI, an Al Qaeda ally. AI AI became closely allied with Al Qaeda in opposing in 1993 the U.S. military presence in Somalia known as Operation Restore Hope, and likely provided logistic support to Al Qaeda in its 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi and in its 2002 attacks near Mombasa , Kenya , on an Israeli-owned hotel and airliner. AI AI also acted in consort with Sudan to destabilize neighboring Ethiopia . AI AI has also been active in Kenya ’s North Eastern Province in generating support for its vision of a pan-Somali Islamic Caliphate. Within Somalia , AI AI transformed itself into “Islamic Courts,” and many of its cadres have been absorbed into the security and judicial apparatus of the so-called Transitional National government installed in Mogadishu.
In Kenya , the successful emergence of multi-party democracy appears to have undercut the development of local militant Islamic groups. However, an undercurrent of resentment by many Kenyan Muslims at their perceived second-class status remains strong, and may have helped fuel the very small-scale local support that Al Qaeda needed to carry out its 2002 attacks in Mombasa . In the past, Al Qaeda was able to exploit Kenya ’s open political and economic systems to establish a regional operational center there. However, the increasing vigilance of the Kenyan government appears to be limiting the capacity of international terrorists to operate within its territory.
In Tanzania , the appeal of radical political Islam remains weak though groups of hard-core radicals seek to gain adherents by exploiting the growing suspicions between the Christian and Muslim communities, Muslim resentment of their real or perceived second class status, and frustration with the multiparty system’s unfulfilled promise to deliver an alternating disposition of power in the country. A convergence of various political and ideological strands has contributed to the growth of this radical minority in Tanzania . The semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar has emerged as a hotbed of radical Islamic activism as Islamic nationalists seek the restoration of the Sultanate.
In Eritrea , the Eritrean Islamic Jihad (EIJ) has been the main focus of Islamic extremism. The EIJ advocates the establishment of an Islamic State in Eritrea and has engaged in an armed struggle to achieve it. Under the name of the Islamic Salvation Front, the EIJ is currently a member of the Eritrean National Alliance, an umbrella organization that opposes the Eritrean government led by President Isaias Afwerki. The umbrella Eritrean National Alliance, which is supported by Ethiopia and Sudan , espouses a strategy of armed action against strategic targets such as radio and TV stations inside Eritrea . However, the EIJ has been much more aggressive militarily than the Eritrean National Alliance and has engaged in an intermittent armed conflict with the Eritrean government since late 1992. At times, the EIJ has targeted civilians, especially foreign civilian targets. During the course of its history, the EIJ has received support from the National Islamic Front government in Sudan and from Al Qaeda.
Sudan , Al Qaeda and the Greater Horn of Africa
In the early 1990’s, the National Islamic Front (NIF) government of Sudan sought political hegemony in the Greater Horn of Africa region by promoting armed opposition against neighboring countries and by harboring and abetting Islamic terrorists who backed Sudan’s strategy of Islamic expansionism. From 1991 to 1996 the linchpin terrorist organization operating from within Sudan was Osama bin Laden’s nascent Al Qaeda organization, which worked hand in glove with the Sudanese government in supporting terrorists and armed insurgents in an effort to undermine the governments of neighboring states. What follows is an examination of Sudanese and Al Qaeda aggression against Ethiopia , Eritrea , Kenya , Uganda and their combined efforts both to drive the United States out of Somalia and to bring about an Islamist state in Somalia . During the 1990’s both the Khartoum government and Al Qaeda fueled Islamist ambitions in the region and helped set into motion most, if not all, of the radical Islamic movements operating in the Greater Horn of Africa.
Sudan’s aggression toward its neighbors stemmed in part from its bid to cut off support for the rebel Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) and other Sudanese armed rebel factions. In1983, civil war broke out in Sudan , following the attempt by the northern Islamic political elite in the country to control the oil wealth located in the south. Sudan ’s government based in the largely Muslim northern region has been pitted against rebel forces based in the southern part of the country inhabited predominately by people practicing Christian and traditional African faiths.
Of the estimated Sudanese population of more than 35 million, Sunni Muslims comprise 70%; traditional African religions 25%; and Christians 5%. The NIF government in Khartoum views itself as the protector of Islam in Sudan . Political opponents are viewed as anti-Islam and the civil war in southern Sudan is considered a Jihad, or Holy War. For the SPLM/A, the war is to free southerners from political domination and religious persecution. In mid-2004, at which time the present study was undertaken, the two sides appeared near to achieving a breakthrough peace accord.
Muslim groups based in the north have launched two other sets of rebellions. In 1997, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA)—a coalition of northern Sudanese parties in a loose alliance with the SPLM/A -- carried out intermittent military offenses in eastern Sudan from bases inside Eritrea . In 2003, the Sudanese Liberation Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement created a third rebel front in the Muslim Darfur region of western Sudan .
The Sudanese state organized several wars by proxy in its strategic quest to gain regional dominance and to undermine regional support for the Sudanese opposition based in the southern Sudan and later Eritrea . It preferred supporting armed Islamist groups in Eritrea , Ethiopia , Somalia and Uganda , when possible, but also backed non-Muslim insurgencies, when necessary, as it did in Ethiopia and Uganda . Additionally, Sudan sponsored terrorist activities and armed rebel forces in Algeria , Chad , Egypt , Libya , Tunisia and Yemen . These countries lie outside the scope of the present discussion.
An ideology of expansionist Islamic fundamentalism, which sought to “Arabize” all of Sudan and the region and to impose strict adherence to Sharia, underpinned Sudan ’s regional aggression. The Sudanese state became Islamist when a 1989 military coup d’etat brought Colonel (now Lieutenant General) Omar Hasan Ahmad al-Bashir to power. The ideological driving force behind the regime’s effort to propel political Islam as the dominant regional force was Dr. Hassan al-Turabi and his NIF.
A number of factors have contributed to an eventual moderation of the regime’s policies, including a weakening of its support for international terrorism and armed Islamist groups, and have helped to hasten the ouster of al-Turabi from power. These factors included;
Sudan ’s increasing international isolation, including UN sanctions; Concerted diplomatic engagement by the U.S. government: and The patent failures of Sudan ’s Islamist policies to provide the hoped-for security in both the international and domestic spheres.
Nonetheless, it appears that Sudan continues to maintain relations with many, if not all the Islamist and other groups that it supported in the 1990s. These groups can be deployed as a part of Sudan ’s arsenal when or if they are needed to threaten neighboring states. In addition, new Al Qaeda training camps have been identified on Sudanese soil, which leaves the unsettling impression that the Sudanese government, or at least elements of it, also maintains relations with international terrorism, even as the government has officially began to cooperate with the United States in its war on terror.
Hassan al-Turabi was the architect of Khartoum ’s Islamist ideology that buttressed the regime’s hold on power and quest for regional dominance. With advanced degrees from the University of London and the Sorbonne, al-Turabi’s intellectual brilliance and personal charm often masked his political cunning and ruthlessness.
As a young man, al-Turabi came to Khartoum in 1951 to study law. While other students promoted secular solutions to the problems in Sudan , al-Turabi joined the Al-Ikhwan Al-Moslemoon," or Muslim Brotherhood, in Sudan -- just as the parent organization in Egypt was entering a phase of fomenting political revolution.
A 22-year-old elementary school teacher, Hasan al-Banna, founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928 as an Islamic revivalist movement following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the subsequent end of the Caliphate system of government that had united Muslims in the region for hundreds of years. Al Banna contended that Islam was more than a religious observance; it was, rather, a comprehensive way of life. He propagated the tenets of puritanical Wahhabism, better known today as "Islamism,” and he insisted that the Brotherhood’s male students receive Jihadia training rather than what had been traditional Islamic education. Soon after its founding, the Muslim Brothers set up branches in neighboring countries including Sudan , and worked actively to spread the principal Islamist idea: That Islam is "creed and state, book and sword, and a way of life.” These principles conflicted with what was then the mainstream view of Muslim scholars, namely that Islam should be restricted within the walls of the mosque. The Muslim Brothers also adopted an anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist stance in their rhetoric about the West.
The Muslim Brotherhood sought to institutionalize Islamic law throughout Sudan , and the legal scholar, al-Turabi, became secretary general of Sudan ’s Muslim Brotherhood in 1964. When General Jafa’ar Nimeiri took power in a coup in 1969, he dissolved the Brotherhood and arrested its leadership, including al-Turabi. Dr. Turabi returned to political life in 1977, upon reconciliation with Nimeiri. General Nimeiri then designated al-Turabi his attorney general. A former dean of the Law School at the University of Khartoum , al-Turabi, played a leading role in the introduction of Sharia. The enforcement of Sharia-dictated amputations and hangings provoked a public outcry that contributed to the popular and nonviolent overthrow of Nimeiri in 1985 and a brief reinstatement of parliamentary democracy.
After the overthrow of Nimeiri, al-Turabi proved instrumental in setting up the NIF, a Brotherhood-dominated organization that included several other small Islamic parties. Following al-Bashir’s 1989 coup, the military government arrested al-Turabi, as well as the leaders of other political parties, and held him in solitary confinement for several months. Nevertheless, this action failed to dispel a pervasive belief in Sudan that Turabi and the NIF actively collaborated with the Colonel Bashir in the coup. Not long after Bashir’s rise to power, the NIF influence within the government became evident in its policies and in the presence of several NIF members in the cabinet. From that time until 2001, al-Turabi was the power behind the throne. He maneuvered the NIF police state and associated militias to consolidate Islamist power and prevent any popular uprisings.
Throughout his long political career, al-Turabi maintained links with the wider Islamist international movement. Indeed, he reportedly was a mentor to Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri. Al-Zawahiri founded Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which he merged with Osama bin-Laden’s al-Qaeda group to create the “World Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders.” Al-Zawahiri became Bin Laden’s personal physician and close confidant and is currently his second-in-command.
The National Islamic Front in Sudanese National Politics
Bashir’s government forged an alliance with the NIF in an attempt to create legitimacy for his military regime. The Mulsim Brotherhood and later the NIF drew its support almost exclusively from university-educated, middle class males. The NIF never succeeded in growing much beyond this traditional base of support, which remained a small minority within Sudan . Bashir’s and the NIF’s political success lay largely in repressing the democratic opposition. They moved to undermine the trade union movement, which historically opposed the authoritarian military state, and purged democratic sympathizers within the military and government bureaucracy. The regime also employed divide and rule tactics when dealing with different ethnic groups within the country.
The failure of the NIF to broaden its base of support is explained, at least in part, by Sudan ’s Islamic history. Al-Turabi’s austere legalistic view of Islam remained at odds with mainstream Islam in Sudan , which is heavily influenced by the Sufi orders or brotherhoods. Sudan is one of the remaining strongholds of Sufism in the Muslim world today, and although not directly involved in politics, Sudan ’s traditional Sufi orders have historically been pillars of support to the moderate UMMA party of former Prime Minister Sadiq al Mahdi. The Sufi mandate of tolerance with “family, neighbors and all others in the world” is at odds with the al-Turabi’s NIF view of Islam that preaches the Arabization of Africa and the Islamization of the United States . According to Dr. Hasan Al Fatih Qaribullah, a leading sheikh of the Sufi movement in Khartoum , “If there is a family in Sudan that does not have at least one Sufi member, it is not Sudanese.” Sufi notions of moderation have hobbled al-Turabi’s efforts to make his more intellectualized version of Islam the dominant tendency in Sudan .
PAIC: Al-Turabi’s Internationalism
Under al-Turabi’s guidance, the Sudanese government created an open-door policy for Islamic militants, which led the U.S. State Department to designate Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism. In 1990-1991, al-Turabi established an international umbrella organization for political Islamist militants -- the Popular Arab Islamic Conference (PAIC), over which he presided as Secretary General. He formed the PAIC with the immediate aim of opposing U.S. involvement in the First Gulf War, which had received support from moderate Arab states. Al-Turabi envisioned the PAIC, which was headquartered in Khartoum , as a counterweight to the conservative Saudi-dominated Organization of Islamic Conference representing the governments of 56 predominately Muslim countries.
Al-Turabi’s sense of Arab nationalism limited, however, the appeal of the organization and circumscribed its effectiveness in “black” Africa . The word Arab in the name, Popular Arab and Islamic Conference, posed a problem for non-Arab Muslims interested in the organization. Black African, Asians, European and North Americans delegates to the 1995 PAIC conference demanded that “Arab” be deleted from PAIC, contending they did not fit into an organization that was labeled Arab. The majority non-Arab delegates voted for a change of name, whereupon the Arab delegates walked out in protest. Al-Turabi intervened by postponing the issue with the promise of taking it up at the following year’s meeting, but the name change never took place.
After al-Turabi’s fall from al-Bashir’s grace, the Sudanese government closed down the office of the PAIC in February 2000. According to the PAIC Assistant Secretary, Ibrahim al-Sanusi, the government’s closure of the PAIC in Khartoum amounted to an attempt to further erode the influence of al-Turabi, who had been forced out as speaker of the parliament the previous December. The PAIC contended that al-Bashir had succumbed to pressure from the United States and other countries to rein in hard-line elements within his ruling elite.
The Bin Laden Connection
Osama Bin Laden took advantage of Sudan ’s “open door” policy for Islamic militants by relocating himself from Saudi Arabia and transporting his terrorist “shock troops” from Afghanistan to Sudan in 1992. There he established a powerful military and political presence, using a variety of business ventures to finance his activities. His move to Sudan came at the invitation of al-Turabi. He reportedly had known Bin Laden since 1984 when the Saudi-born Bin Laden first visited Sudan and became acquainted with the leadership of the Sudanese Islamist movement.
Bin Laden’s relocation to Sudan paid big financial dividends for the cash-strapped NIF government and produced substantial economic benefits for the country. Bin Laden joined the Turabi-led NIF with an initial fee of $5 million. He also reportedly brought at least $350 million into the country, and provided valuable services to the Sudanese government, such as floating critical foreign exchange transactions when the government was short of foreign currency. Bin Laden operated through a number of business enterprises. Wadi al-Aqiq served as a holding company in Sudan and has, accordingly, been described as the "mother of other companies." As Al Qaeda solidified its position in Sudan, other business ventures followed, including the Ladin International Company, an import-export concern; Taba Investment, an investment firm; Hijra Construction, which built bridges and roads; Qudarat Transport Company; Khartoum Tannery; and the al Themar al-Mubaraka Company, which grew sesame, peanuts and white corn for the group on a farm near Ed Damazin. At this farm, Al Qaeda provided its members with refresher courses in light weapons and explosives. Among his biggest business achievements, one of Bin Laden’s firms built the 700 kilometer road linking Khartoum , Shindi and Atbarah.
A defecting Sudanese military officer who worked closely with Bin Laden’s operations in Sudan described Bin Laden’s supporters as a highly organized network of armed Islamist groups that traced their roots to the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. In an interview with Human Rights Watch, the defector said the groups were linked through an “advisory committee” which Bin Laden controlled. Among the more than 500 veterans of the Afghan war based in Sudan were Tunisians, Algerians, Sudanese, Saudis, Syrians, Iraqis, Moroccans, Somalis, Ethiopians, Eritreans, Chechnyans, Bosnians and six African-Americans. These fighters were organized into groups and dispersed to camps throughout Sudan -- near Khartoum , Port Sudan , the Damazin area of eastern Sudan and at a base in the southern Equatoria province, near the border with Uganda . One base, near Hamesh Koreb along the Eritrea border, was overrun in March 1997 by forces of the Sudanese opposition, who claim they captured large stores of Iranian military equipment there.
The main military camp of the Afghan Arabs, however, was near Soba, ten kilometers south of Khartoum , along the Blue Nile , the same officer said. The Soba camp covered twenty acres and was a highly restricted area. Iranians previously based in Lebanon ’s Beka’a Valley were among those involved in training the mujahidin guerrillas at this camp. One account indicates that Bin Ladin financed the building and supervision of 23 camps for Afghanistan ’s so-called Arab mujahidin. In 1993, 500 mujahidin fighters from Afghanistan, who were part of the Pakistani Islamist organization, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, were forced out of Pakistan and made their way to Sudan, from whence many went to Somalia to join forces with the Islamist Somali Al-Itihaad Al-Islamiya (AI AI) militia.
According to the military defector, the advisory council included representatives from such far-flung armed groups as the Egyptian Islamic Group, the Oromo Islamic Front in Ethiopia, the Eritrean Islamic Jihad, the Islamic forces of Sheikh Abdullah in Uganda (which later joined the Uganda’s rebel Allied Democratic Forces), Algeria’s Islamic Salvation Front, and the Moro Liberation Front from Mindanao, Philippines. At the camps, guerrillas were schooled in the use of explosives, forgery, coding, and related skills. Weapons for the guerrillas were imported mainly from Iran and China through Port Sudan , and then trucked to Khartoum where the Ministry of Defense turned them over to Bin Laden’s representatives. Some arms were also routinely relocated to a warehouse in Yemen for forwarding to other operational areas on a ship owned by Bin Laden. Officers who carried out successful operations were rewarded with money and arms.
The Wars by Proxy
1993 would prove to be a decisive year in Sudan ’s efforts to launch a regional offensive. The al-Bashir government came to wage war through proxies with Eritrea , Ethiopia and Uganda and militarily backed the largest Islamist faction in Somalia . Al Qaeda launched numerous operations in these neighboring states at times in apparent coordination with Sudan , and also set up very active and large operations in Kenya , Somalia , Tanzania and Uganda .
In the case of Uganda , Khartoum was seeking to prevent the use of its neighbor’s territory as a base and arms conduit for the rebel SPLM/A. As for Eritrea and Ethiopia , the Sudanese government was seeking to export Islamist revolution. When the governments in Addis Ababa and Asmara came to power in the early 1990’s, they maintained cordial relations with Khartoum . Indeed, Khartoum had provided support for and harbored bases of the Ethiopian and Eritrean liberation movements that overthrew the Ethiopian dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam. However, by 1993 it was apparent that Khartoum was assuming a hostile stance with the result that both Ethiopia and Eritrea began to support Sudanese rebel groups including the SPLM/A, and later the northern-based NDA.
Islamist Khartoum also became alarmed that the U.S.-led United Nations intervention in Somalia in 1991 might shift the regional balance of power against Sudan and bring a large Islamic nation under Western influence. The United Nations entered Somalia to supply humanitarian relief to millions of Somalis facing the specter of starvation after the collapse of the central government. However, the mandate of the U.N. mission expanded to include nation-building until continued opposition by Somali military-political factions forced the U.N. to withdraw in 1995. Sudan and Al Qaeda were determined to undermine U.S. influence in the region, and Al Qaeda took center stage in the targeting of Kenya for hosting considerable U.S. diplomatic and intelligence assets that provided support to the SPLM/A.
The Ugandan Front
In 1993, the Khartoum regime began supporting a small and relatively inactive residual guerrilla force on the Ugandan border in an area inhabited by Acholi-speaking people. This was the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a millenarian movement inspired by the prophetess Alice Lakwena, who rebelled against the Ugandan government in 1987 and took refuge in Kenya after her defeat. The LRA leader, Josephy Kony, is a visionary who claims to be guided by spirits and daubs his fighters with a magic substance that is supposed to protect them against bullets.
In 1996, the Sudanese made contact with another anti-Ugandan organization, the Nile West Bank Liberation Front. It has operated from bases within Democratic Republic of Congo and has carried out its actions largely in the far northwestern Kaya region of Uganda . It is predominantly made up of Muslims from the local Nubi, Kakwa and Aringa ethnic communities. Its officers are mainly ex-members of Idi Amin’s army. It has been both less violent and less militarily active than the LRA.
Another Ugandan group that received support from Sudan and also from Al Qaeda was the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). The ADF, which adopted an Islamist ideology, emerged out of a core group of puritanical Moslems from the Tabliq sect, whose members portray themselves as "Moslem evangelists." Determined to put an end to what they considered to be the marginalization of Muslims in Uganda , a faction of Uganda ’s Tabliqs resorted to armed struggle in the hopes of establishing an Islamist state that would respect their interests.
Together with the obscure and largely defunct National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU), the Tabliqs moved to western Uganda to start the rebellion under the ADF umbrella. Among ADF’s recruits, there were Rwandan Hutu supporters of the former government responsible for the 1994 genocide, fighters from the local Bakonja ethnic community in the Congo, and unemployed youth from various Baganda, Banyoro and Batoro ethnic communities The ADF set up rear bases in neighboring Congo where it could receive military support from Sudan and from whence it began recruiting and training fighters with the promise of money and education. Al Qaeda helped to set up camps for training ADF fighters, and when Osama bin Laden’s organization settled in Afghanistan in 1996, ADF members traveled there to undergo training as explosives experts. The Ugandan government attributed numerous terrorist bombings that occurred in the capital, Kampala , between 1997 and 1999 to the ADF.
Even after bin Laden’s departure, Sudan continued to support the Ugandan Islamic fundamentalists. As late as June 2004, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo were engaged in negotiations on how to dispose of about 2.5 tons of arms that the Sudanese government had supplied to ADF rebels based in the Congo .
The Eritrean Front
Khartoum backed the Eritrean Islamic Jihad (EIJ), which launched an armed struggle against what it termed the “Christian regime” governing Eritrea with the goal of establishing an Islamic state. Al Qaeda also gave training and financial support, and reportedly considered the taking of Eritrea as a strategic prize that could be used as a staging area for operations against Ethiopia and against Yemen, where Al Qaeda-allied groups were already ensconced. The first serious incidents occurred at the end of 1992. Jihad members laid mines on desert tracks near the Sudanese border and infiltrated small groups of fighters inside Eritrea . In September 1993, new clashes took place, and the government captured several members of the Jihad who confessed they had been trained in camps inside Sudan . The government also said it killed several Jihad fighters from Afghanistan , Morocco and Yemen who were most likely part of Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network then operating from Sudan . The EIJ has carried on an intermittent, low intensity war with the Eritrean government since then, and seem to be ready for action when called on by Khartoum .
The Ethiopian Front
Against Ethiopia , the Sudanese government tried to recruit the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). The OLF, which calls for an independent Oromia state, has engaged in an armed struggle with the Ethiopia government since it pulled out of the provisional Ethopian government in 1992 over allegation of political harassment and a demobilization dispute, but the predominantly Christian leadership was not comfortable working with Islamist Khartoum. To allay such concerns, the Sudanese government set up alternative, purely Islamic Oromo organizations like the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Oromia (IFLO). In the mid 1990’s, IFLO operated out of bases inside Somalia and with Sudanese support worked in alliance with the Somali fundamentalist militia AI AI to carry out actions inside of Ethiopia. IFLO military actions were intermittent and relatively ineffective. It reportedly receives support from Oromo clans such as the Jara in the eastern Oromo area of Haraghe. This Oromo grouping consists of the urban Muslim inhabitants of Harar and Dire Dawa, and the rural populations living around these towns and in the area to their west.
The Somali Front
The intensity of Sudanese involvement in AI AI, which began in 1993, led many Somalis to regard it as a foreign puppet. AI AI emerged as a dominant military force in Somalia after the collapse of the central government in 1991 and launched a campaign to secure territory in the north and south of the country. It received support both from Sudan , Al Qaeda and Saudi sources. By the end of 1993, AI AI began small-scale actions in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia in a bid to establish a greater Islamic Somali state that would include Somali-speaking peoples within Ethiopia , Kenya and Djibouti . In December 1994 AI AI began operations in parts of Ethiopia ’s Somali region, forcing the Ethiopian government to send troops to contain the situation. By the end of 1996, the Sudanese charge d’affaires in Mogadishu called publicly for a holy war against Ethiopia during a meeting with supporters of AI AI.
The Kenyan Front and Al Qaeda’s East Africa Cell
Sudan ’s support for the Islamic Party of Kenya (IPK) was consistent with Khartoum ’s policy of promoting an Islamists agenda in the region and as a means of undermining Kenyan support for the rebel Sudanese People’s Liberation Army. The Sudanese government, however, specifically denied allegations in the press that it was training armed IPK insurgents in Sudan , and this author has not seen any credible evidence of a Sudanese-backed armed opposition to the Kenyan government. During the period when the radical Sheikh Balala became de facto head of the IPK, Sudanese and Iranian support reportedly helped the IPK to effectively mobilize a mass following in Coast Province . Sheikh Balala had cemented his relationship with the Sudanese regime during his several trips to Khartoum . However, Sheikh Balala’s leadership of the IPK was short lived due to a power struggle within the organizations that resulted in a victory by moderate forces. Kenyan government actions that forced Balala to live in exile for a number of years also undercut his political aspirations.
In East Africa , including Kenya , Tanzania and Uganda , Al Qaeda set up an active operation. Kenya operated as a “gateway” for its operations in Somalia . Members of the group blended into Kenyan and Tanzanian society. It opened legitimate businesses that sold fish and dealt in diamonds and other gems, and operated two Islamic charities. In 1993, Al Qaeda began assessing sites in Nairobi to hit American targets in retaliation for the U.S. intervention in Somalia . The East Africa cell remained active after Al Qaeda’s departure from Sudan and was responsible for bombing the American embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi in 1998. Uganda broke up plots to bomb the U.S. embassy in Kampala and the Ugandan parliament. The Ugandan government claims that Al Qaeda also plotted to assassinate President Yoweri Museveni in Kampala in 1999.
Sudan supported other militias operating in the continent such as the Islamic Group (Egypt), the Islamic Salvation Front (ISF, Algeria), the Tunisian Islamic Front (TIF, Tunisia), and groups in Niger, Gambia and Senegal. These groups were trained in areas such as Damazin, Equatoria, and Hamesh Koreb, near Eritrea .
International Resistance to Sudan ’s Aggression
After 1989, when the al-Bashir-led coup deposed the elected government and imposed a military-Islamist junta on Sudan , the Sudanese government became internationally ostracized for its gross human rights abuses. Over the next several years, the United States and the international community carried out a number of actions in response to Sudan ’s aggression and that of Al Qaeda, which would ultimately oblige the regime to moderate its policies. U.S. actions culminated in a military strike in Khartoum in retaliations for Al Qaeda’s bombing of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam .
The first U.S. actions against the al-Bashir regime were legislatively mandated votes preventing the Sudanese government from receiving aid from international lending institutions. In 1993, the U.S. State Department designated Sudan a state sponsor of terrorism, whereby additional sanctions were imposed. It was Sudan ’s complicity in the assassination attempt on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Addis Ababa in 1995, however, that galvanized international opposition to Sudan and ultimately prompted Osama bin Laden’s flight from Sudan to Afghanistan .
The U.S. implicated Bin Laden, Al Qaeda and elements within the Sudanese government in the 1995 Mubarak assassination attempt. Three suspected members of the Egyptian terror organization, Jama’at al-Islamiyaa, survived the foiled operation. The suspects fled to Sudan where they found safe haven. An Islamic charity operating in Sudan , Blessed Relief, which was reportedly a front for Bin Laden activities, acted as a conduit for funds that helped finance the failed assassination attempt. The son of Khalid bin Mahfouz, a controversial, Yemeni-born Saudi tycoon worth an estimated $2.5 billion, was on the board of the charity. Bin Mahfouz founded and ran the world’s largest private bank until 1999, when the Saudi royal family quietly arranged for a government investment fund to buy out his 50% stake in the National Commerical Bank, then forced his dismissal. Mahouz was confined to a military hospital in Taef , Saudi Arabia . One of his sisters is married to bin Laden.
After Khartoum refused to extradite the suspects in the assassination attempt to Ethiopia , the United Nations imposed diplomatic sanction on Sudan . The UN sanction in 1996 was for Khartoum ’s failure to turn over the fugitives and for general Sudanese support of international terrorism. Minor diplomatic and air travel sanction went into effect; these were not lifted until September 2001; and the extradition order was never honored. For the same reasons, the U.S. implemented additional diplomatic and economic sanctions on Sudan , including in late 1997 the imposition of sanctions that prohibited U.S. entities from doing business with the Sudanese government. The United States and Saudi Arabia pressured Sudan ’s government to expel Bin Laden and his terrorist network. Bin Laden then left Sudan in 1996 and headquartered Al Qaeda’s operations in Afghanistan in an alliance with the Taliban.
In response to Sudan ’s regional aggression, including its sponsorship of terrorism, Ethiopia , Eritrea and Uganda entered into what amounted to an U.S.-led “Frontline States” alliance against Sudan , and shortly after the imposition of UN sanctions, the US government announced that Uganda , Ethiopia and Eritrea were to be given non-offensive military equipment worth $20 million. It was widely perceived that this gesture was aimed at Sudan . The Frontline States’ strategy unraveled, however, when war broke out between Ethiopia and Eritrea in 1998, and when Uganda, the most pro-SPLM/A country in the region, became deeply embroiled in the Congo conflict and had fewer resources to share with the Sudanese rebels. To offset the shortfall in regional support to the SPLM/A, the U.S. increased significantly its commitment of humanitarian aid to southern Sudan , allowing the SPLA to spend more of its meager funds on military equipment.
Both Ethiopia and Eritrea sought to normalize relations with Sudan , each in an effort to isolate the other. On December 8, 1999 Uganda and Sudan signed a peace agreement in Nairobi , Kenya . In the agreement the two signatories renounced sponsoring or harboring any rebel group fighting to destabilize the other’s country. Nonetheless, support continued to flow to armed opposition groups in both countries, if at an abated level.
In June 1998, Al Qaeda’s cell in East Africa attacked with suicide bombers the U.S. embassies in Nairobi , Kenya , and Dar es Salaam , Tanzania , killing hundreds, mostly Kenyans and Tanzanians. A plot to blow up the U.S. embassy in Kampala was reportedly foiled. In retaliation, on August 20, 1998 , the U.S. struck Khartoum with two cruise missiles, destroying the Al Shifa pharmaceutical plant, which the U.S. suspected of involvement in the embassy bombings and in chemical weapons manufacturing. One person was killed and eleven workers injured in the nighttime attack. A United Nations report later disputed the U.S. claim that the plant had been used for the production of chemical weapons.
Al Turabi’s Ouster
In 1999 Sudanese President al-Bashir and his erstwhile ally, al-Turabi, became locked in a power struggle as al-Turabi maneuvered to acquire some of al-Bashir’s presidential powers. The struggle between al-Bashir and al-Turabi played out in the context of the Sudanese government’s desire to end its designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. This desire certainly grew after the U.S. bombing of the Al Shifa pharmaceutical plant. The military strongman dealt decisively with al-Turabi, who has been in and out of prison and house arrest since then. Al-Turabi’s ouster marked a turning point for a regime that had become increasingly isolated in the international arena. It also saw a moderation in the Islamist aggressiveness that had characterized the regime since the early 1990’s.
Al Turabi’s ouster also highlighted an emergent division in the government regarding the continuation of an Islamist agenda. Just as control of oil resources lay at the heart of the outbreak of the civil war with the “South” in 1983, so too did the future dispensation of the country’s petroleum wealth reportedly give context to how factions within the government regarded their Islamist options.
The “doves,” led by then minister for peace, Ghazi Salah al-Din Attabani (presidential advisor and spokesman), and backed by the foreign minister, Mustafa Osman Ismail, promoted peace with the Sudanese armed opposition based on an economic rationale. For Ghazi and his supporters, the Islamic regime would end up better off sharing the country’s oil wealth with the south, since normalization of the situation would attract new Western companies with the proper technological resources to exploit deposits.
Another faction within the government, led by Vice-President Ali Osman Mohammed Taha, was opposed to this, seeing it as a trap because the regime would have to question its Islamic credentials, at least in part. This faction believed that investment, which was an alternative to expanding Western engagement, remained a viable option and argued that Chinese, Russian, Indian and Algerian companies already on the ground would suffice. This split in the government may not have been fully resolved and offers an explanation as to Khartoum ’s slow pace of reconciliation with the southern rebels and its continued, if lackluster, support for terrorist and armed insurgencies.
Sudan Backs Away From Sponsorship of Terrorism
Despite displays of growing moderation within the Khartoum regime and measures to improve its record, Sudan is still considered a rogue state by the United States because of its support of international terrorism. Counter-terrorism cooperation began in mid-2000, but the government of Sudan did not offer significant assistance until after the September 11 terrorist attacks. In November 2001, President Bush renewed U.S. bilateral sanctions on Sudan and the State Department kept Sudan on the terrorism list. Yet, the U.S. State Department feels that Sudan is showing progress on the counter terrorism front. According to the State Department, Sudan has deepened its cooperation with the U.S. Government to investigate and apprehend extremists suspected of involvement in terrorist activities. Overall, Sudan’s cooperation and information sharing has improved markedly, producing significant progress in combating terrorist activity, but areas of concern remain for the United States.
In other areas of cooperation, the Sudanese Government also took steps in 2003 to strengthen its legislative and bureaucratic instruments for fighting terrorism by ratifying the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism. Sudan also ratified the African Union’s Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism and the Convention of the Organization of the Islamic Conference on Combating Terrorism. In June, Sudanese Minister of Justice, Ali Mohamed Osman Yassin, issued a decree establishing an office for combating terrorism. In 2003, Sudan signed a counter-terrorism cooperation agreement with the Algerian Government, which had during the 1990s accused Sudan of harboring wanted Algerian terrorists. Sudan also signed a counter-terrorism agreement with Yemen and Ethiopia .
U.S. officials confirmed that the Sudanese government has given U.S. officials unrestricted access to files of suspected terrorists and suggested that they might be willing to hand over some of these individuals. On March 19, 2002 , the Washington Post reported that a top Al Qaeda member was captured in Sudan and sent to Egypt . According to the Post article, Abu Anas Liby, wanted for the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania , is one of the 22 most wanted terrorists by the Bush Administration. A senior Sudanese official said the story about Liby was inaccurate.
Domestically, Khartoum stepped up efforts to disrupt extremist activities and deter terrorists from operating in Sudan . In May, Sudanese authorities raided a probable terrorist training camp in Kurdufan State , arresting more than a dozen extremists and seizing illegal weapons. The majority of the trainees captured were Saudi citizens. Sudan extradited them to Saudi Arabia to face charges in accordance with a bilateral agreement.
Al Qaeda also reportedly established three terrorist camps in the remote Jebel Kurush Mountains , which run parallel to the Red Sea . The specter of an Al Qaeda terrorist camp operating in Sudan raises concern that elements of the Sudanese government continue to cooperate with Al Qaeda. But, in its biggest gesture of counter-terrorism cooperation with the United States , Khartoum reportedly allowed U.S. Special Forces teams inside the country to hunt down Saudi Arabian terrorists who have re-established secret Al Qaeda training camps in these remote mountains in the northeastern quarter of the country. The terrorists are thought to take orders from Saudi Arabia 's most wanted man, Saleh Awfi.
Western diplomats in Saudi Arabia have said that the new Sudanese camps were established in late 2003 and have become a vital staging ground for Al Qaeda. As reported in one publication:
There is significant traffic from these camps to the peninsula across the Red Sea . There is no real Sudanese government or army control over the mountains. The terrorists slip through the cracks, up into the hills where they can train, rest and build up the spirit of jihad. With things getting hot over here [in Saudi Arabia ], they can get organized over there.
The Khartoum regime also continues to be peopled by many high-ranking officials who have been supportive of international terrorism and its aggressive stance in the region. In a February 2004 letter to President George Bush, U.S. Representatives Donald Payne and Thomas Tancredi asked the American administration to investigate the responsibility of Sudanese government officials in terrorist acts committed against U.S. interests and Egyptian President Mubarak. The Congressmen listed twelve individuals by name, including;
First Vice Preident Ali Osman Mohammed Taha
Dr. Nafee Ali Nafee, Minister of Federal Government and former Minister of Interior (External Intelligence)
Dr. Ghazi Salahadin, President Advisor and senior member of the NIF
Dr. Awad Ahmed El Jaz, Minister of Energy and Mining.
Al Turabi and the Rat’s Bite
As of July 2004, Sudanese Islamist leader Hassan al-Turabi remained incarcerated in a Khartoum prison where he was bitten by a rat and, according to his wife, is in very poor health. Al Turabi, the former ally of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and mastermind of Sudan ’s Islamist aggression, was detained at the end of March when authorities accused him of inciting tribal tensions and his opposition political party of funding rebels in Sudan ’s Darfur region. Turabi, 72, has been on an "Islamic hunger strike," feeding on dates and water, which has caused his blood pressure drop.
The Regional Legacy of Sudan’s Radical Islamist Agenda
The Islamist onslaught in the Greater Horn of Africa in the 1990s spearheaded by Sudan and Al Qaeda has bequeathed a continuing legacy of armed violence and terrorism in the region. Khartoum appears to be continuing its direct support for the Eritrean Islamic Jihad (EIJ), and elements of the Sudanese military continue to back the Ugandan rebel Lord’s Resistance Army. Al Qaeda operates out of Somalia apparently without Sudanese support, and Al Itihaad Al Islamiya continues its operations with new patrons, and Al Qaeda has a continuing presence in Somalia .
Indications are that Sudan has renewed its backing for EIJ offensive actions in Eritrea and to be behind the invigoration of the opposition Eritrean National Alliance (ENA) as a fighting force. Sudan’s renewed interest in the Eritrean opposition is consistent with the regime’s long-standing search for internal security and a counterweight to Asmara’s support for Sudan’s National Democratic Alliance, which includes the SPLM/A. After years of giving a cold shoulder to Eritrea ’s dissident groups, the al-Bashir government has a new found interest in their activities. Sudan’s ruling party, the National Congress Party, which replaced al-Turabi’s NIF, has used two Eritrean occasions -- the Independence Commemoration of September 1 and the convention of the Eritrean Liberation Front-National Congress (ELF-NC) -- to provide material and moral support to the exiled Eritrean opposition parties.
Eritrean opposition groups who reportedly had grudgingly approached Ethiopia after giving up on Sudan are considering re-establishing home offices in Khartoum . Their decision is tentative because, according to one source, they are anxious about how receptive Sudan will be once a peace agreement with the SPLM is consolidated and SPLM rebel leader John Garang enters a government of national unity. Garang is considered a strong ally of Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki.
Renewed Sudanese support for the EIJ appears to have led to a spate of sporadic attacks inside Eritrea . Operating from positions within Sudan , EIJ has planted mines in the buffer zone separating Eritrea and Ethiopia that is monitored by the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea . In March 2004, a mine blast killed five members of an Eritrean militia, including a colonel. The Eritrean government has implicated the EIJ in the killing of three civilians as a result of a bomb blast at a hotel in the town of Tesseney . Eritrea ’s government also said an unspecified Jihadist organization based in Sudan was responsible for a May 2004 bomb blast in Barentu that killed five and wounded 90. The government also accused the EIJ of being behind the 2003 murder in western Eritrea of a British geologist and two local staff members of the international NGO, Mercy Corps. The EIJ denied involvement in these incidents.
The increased EIJ activity in 2003-2004 comes at a time when Sudan is giving material and moral support to the ENA, of which EIJ is a member (see discussion of EIJ). In September 2003, the ENA, which claimed its members were carrying out minor guerrilla attacks against President Isaias Afewerki's government, said that they would launch a joint armed action to end "dictatorship" in Asmara . According to Huroy Tadle Beyrow, ENA secretary general: “Each of the 13 organizations forming our alliance, having their troops on the ground, believe now in uniting our efforts in one army and moving for action inside Eritrea.”
On December 5, 2001 , President George W. Bush designated two Sudanese-backed armed insurgent groups in Uganda , the ADF and the LRA, terrorist organizations. As noted above, the ADF maintains an Islamist agenda, and the LRA is a millenarian militia with roots in Christianity and traditional African religious beliefs. Uganda sent troops to the Congo in 1998 to destroy camps of the Allied Democratic Front (ADF) and cut off its supply lines from Sudan . Its support appears to have ceased after Khartoum and Kampala signed a peace agreement in December 1999. As a result, the ADF has been fairly inactive, although there have been occasional reports, one as recent as July 2004, of ADF actions in western Uganda . The Ugandan government says that these reports are false; nonetheless, it has cautioned its citizens to be vigilant. Kampala has implemented what appears to be a successful reconciliation plan with exiled elements of the Tabliq sect, whose disaffected members formed the core of the ADF.
Cut off from Sudanese backing, the ADF made an apparently failed effort in 2001 to court Iraq as a new patron. In a letter to the head of the Iraqi intelligence agency, a senior ADF operative outlined his group's efforts to set up an "international mujahidin team." Its mission, he said, “will be to smuggle arms on a global scale to holy warriors fighting against US, British and Israeli influences in Africa , the Middle East , Asia and the Far East .” The letter, dated April 2001, was signed: "Your Brother, Bekkah Abdul Nassir, Chief of Diplomacy ADF Forces.” Nassir offered to “vet, recruit and send youth to train for the Jihad’ at a center in Baghdad , which he described as “…headquarters for international Holy Warrior network….We should not allow the enemy to focus on Afghanistan and Iraq , but we should attack their international criminal forces inside every base,” the letter said.
The non-Muslim LRA has continued to wreck havoc in northern Uganda , although its intensity has diminished due to an aggressive amnesty program and anti-insurgency operations. In addition, a security agreement with the Sudanese government has given Uganda greater advantage in the field by allowing it to operate within a red zone inside Sudan . Nonetheless, the Ugandan government claims elements within the Sudanese military continue to support the LRA, and evidence from diverse sources suggest the LRA works hand in glove with the local Sudanese military in the Equatoria region against SPLA-allied militia, the Equatoria Defence Forces (EDF).
According to a statement issued by the EDF, the LRA raided villages at Gangala near the Government garrison position of Jebel Mille. The raids took place from June 25 to 27, 2004 . The EDF said the LRA, supported by the Sudan government army, also attacked Jebel Guttni and Kor Englizi, overrunning and burning villages and looting property.
In July 2004, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni appointed his Military Assistant and UPDF's Chief Political Commissar, Brigadier Kale Kayihura, as Uganda ’s special military liaison officer to the town of Juba in southern Sudan to coordinate with the Sudanese military an offensive against the Ugandan rebel forces. Referring to the LRA leader, Joseph Kony, the army spokesman, Major Shaban Bantariza, said,
We need close cooperation with the Arabs [ Khartoum government]. Like now, Kony is in Nisitu. What is he doing there? … They [ Sudan ] are giving him food, medicine. He sleeps on Sudan government mattresses. His greatest problem now is feeding well. There should be smooth exchange of information and understanding with each other at close range without ambassadors and ministers flying to Khartoum .
Somalia ’s premier Islamist militia, AI AI, which was once backed by Sudan , has morphed into an Islamic Court based in Mogadishu with its own militia to enforce Sharia and spread its operations beyond Mogadishu to the cities of Merca and Kismayo in the south. In August 2000, a so-called Transitional National Government (TNG) was installed in Mogadishu , and offered AI AI through the Islamic Courts an opportunity to become institutionalized in the new government. The TNG was the product of a national reconciliation conference held in Arta , Djibouti that received significant international support including the UN Security Council and Secretary-General, the Arab League, the OAU, and the EU, and nearly all neighboring states. A coalition of factional leaders, known as the Somali Reconciliation and Restoration Council, that is backed by neighboring Ethiopia has helped to keep the TNG and its Islamist ally, AI AI, from expanding their influence in Somalia . In 2000 and 2001, AI AI unsuccessfully intervened in a power struggle between factions in the autonomous administrative region of Puntland.
Somalia appears to be host of an Al Qaeda cell that helped organize the failed missile attack against an Israeli airline and the suicide bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa , Kenya . Kenyan authorities, working with their U.S. counterparts captured Al Qaeda operative Suleiman Abdalla Salim Hemed in Mogadishu in March 2003. Also known by the noms de guerre, “Ngaka” and “Chuck Norris,” Abdalla, who ran several businesses in Mogadishu , was implicated in the 1998 bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam and the 2002 Mombasa bombings. He is in U.S. custody awaiting trial. The extent of Al Qaeda’s continued involvement with AI AI is not known. The Bush administration had designated two leading AI AI commanders as Al Qaeda allies and ordered their assets frozen, and, according to one source, after September 11, 2001 , AI AI sent 300 fighters to assist Al Qaeda against U.S. forces in Afghanistan .
The greatest Islamist presence in Kenya is to be found in its Somali-inhabited North Eastern Province where the AI AI has actively recruited members over a number of years and has sought to spread Islamic fundamentalism. AI AI appears to have linked up with the now banned Kenyan branch of the Al Qaeda-associated Saudi-based charity Al Haramain to create support among Kenya Somalis and Somali refugees in Kenya . Al Qaeda appears to regard Kenya as a ready target for its anti-Israeli and anti-American terrorism. The Kenyan government’s increasingly effective anti-terrorism campaign has led to the capture and expulsion of a number of suspected Al Qaeda operatives. However, the country’s Muslim leadership has expressed its considerable concern over what it perceives as strong-armed tactics used in the Muslim community by Kenyan anti-terrorism agents. These tactics have provoked considerable resentment, and may be contributing to a radicalization of Kenyan Muslim youth, many of whom find seductive Bin Laden’s rhetoric of social justice.
Beginning in the early 1990’s Al Itihaad Al Islamiya (AI AI) or Islamic Union emerged as the most militant Islamist group in Somalia . Other radical Islamic organizations existed in Somalia, but none of them came close to AI AI in its influence within Somalia and its impact on neighboring states, as it used military force, terrorist tactics, and ideological persuasion to achieve its aim of an all Somali Islamic state. AI AI received training and financial support from the Sudanese government and from Al Qaeda, especially during the period 1992-1996 when Sudan was playing host to Osama bin Laden. These external sources of support helped AI AI become a major military player in Somalia , where diverse factional militias vied for power after the collapse of the Somali central government in 1991. This external backing also encouraged AI AI to carry out attacks within Ethiopia that advanced Sudan ’s objective of destabilizing Ethiopia and conformed to AI AI stated irredentist aims of bringing all regions inhabited by Somalis into a single Caliphate.
Both Al Qaeda and AI AI are believed to have played roles in the battle against American forces that led to downing of the Black Hawk helicopter in Mogadishu in 1993 and the death of 18 American soldiers and hundreds of Somalis. This incident and the subsequent parading of the bodies of American soldiers that was seen on international television created the public opinion context in which President Bill Clinton ordered the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Somalia . Osama bin Laden has claimed that this action was part of his organization’s campaign against an American presence in the Horn of Africa region. It was also at this time that AI AI reportedly called for a Jihad against the United States , as part of its opposition to the U.S.-led intervention. The U.N. and the U.S. later implicated AI AI cadre in the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998, and in September 2001 President George W. Bush declared AI AI an ally of Al Qaeda and ordered all of AI AI’s assets frozen. AI AI fighters also killed a U.S. aid worker in Ras Kamboni in southern Somalia in 1999.
In the late 1990’s, Ethiopian forces allied with local Somali militias routed AI AI fighters in Somalia . After this reversal of military fortunes, AI AI deviated from what appears to have been its primary Taliban-like practice of achieving power through territorial conquest and adopted an approached similar to that of the National Islamic Front in Sudan that emphasized penetrating existing political institutions to achieve its Islamist aims. AI AI then re-emerged within the capital Mogadishu as an “Islamic Court” enforcing Islamic law with its own paramilitary force and continues to seek influence in other areas of the country, including the self-administered territory of Puntland . Elements of AI AI-dominated Islamic Courts merged into the judicial, security and administrative apparatus of the Transitional National Government currently in place in Mogadishu .
AI AI remains a threat to regional stability. In the past, it has cooperated with Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations in undertaking operations in East Africa . AI AI has itself engaged in terrorist action inside Ethiopia ; it appears to be actively creating a base of support within the Somali communities of Kenya ’s North Eastern Province ; its fighters are responsible for the unprovoked murder of a U.S. aid worker; and some of its fighters have engaged in maritime piracy. Since 9/11, AI AI and much of its leadership have reduced their visibility, but there is no reason to believe that they have ended their association with international terrorism. AI AI likely continues its relationship with Al Qaeda, as Al Qaeda continues to use Mogadishu as a base for operations in East Africa . Although not as potent a military force as it once was, due in large measure to decisive military and political interventions by Ethiopia , AI AI’s espousal of the formation of a pan-Somali state means that it maintains intentions on territory inside Kenya , Ethiopia and Djibouti . Ascension by the organization and its members to power in Somalia holds the promise of aggressive actions against neighboring states. Factions within Somalia are on the cusp of achieving a plan for national political reconciliation and the establishment of a clan-based government of national unity. It is yet to be seen how the militant Islamists fare in their ongoing bid to achieve state power in this new context.
The Emergence of Al Ittihad Al Islamiya
Somalia has a well-known history of an Islamic resistance to western occupation and influences: In 1899 Muhammed Abdilla Hassan (also know as the “Mad Mullah”) raised an army of “dervishes” that sought to consolidate an Islamic state among Somalis and rid northern Somalia of British occupation. The resistance of his movement lasted until his death in 1921. His movement sought to organize Somalis across clan divisions and sought to impose a rigid Islam on a population practicing a generally moderate Sufi tradition of that faith. The combination of moral rectitude and aggressive tactics that characterized this earlier movement can be seen in the AI AI movement that emerged in Somalia in the 1980’s.
The immediate ideological roots of AI AI may be found, however, in Islamic resistance to the socialist and secular government of General Mohamed Siad Barre. Post-independence Islamic militant groups first emerged in Somalia in the 1960’s, and were inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the first modern Islamist organization that challenged secular rule in Egypt through Islamic revolutionary tactics. The Somali Islamist groups were brutally suppressed by former Somali strongman, Siad Barre, who came to power in a 1967 military coup. Siad Barre first allied himself with the Soviet Union , but then became a U.S. ally when the Soviet Union gained influence in Ethiopia . The anti-Siad Barre Islamic groups attempted to garner popular support for their opposition to the Barre regime through an appeal to Islamic identity and values – a faith-based political strategy which contrasted sharply with movements vying for political support on the basis of a secular Somali nationalism or clan identity and loyalty.
Later, in the early 1980’s Islamic religious study groups consisting of young, professional men, many of whom had experience studying or worked abroad, merged to form AI AI. The two groups that merged to form AI AI were Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya (the Islamic Association), which was based in the South and was led by Sheikh Mohamed Eissa, and Wahdat Al-Shabab Al-Islam (Unity of Islamic Youth) based in the North and led by Sheikh Ali-Warsame. The corruption and repression of the Siad Barre regime had motivated these groups to look for political alternatives to the status quo. Somali Wahabists who had fought against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan as mujahadin in the 1980s helped shape AI AI’s political, military and religious strategies. The ranks of AI AI’s top leadership reportedly graduated from Islamic universities in Pakistan , Saudi Arabia and Kuwait .
The Afghanistan mujahadin connection appears to explain the genesis of AI AI’s early association with Al Qaeda and other radical Islamist groups. East Africa reportedly was the scene of a major recruitment drive for anti-Soviet fighters in Afghanistan . There is evidence indicating that that several hundred recruits from central Somalia were airlifted in the 1980’s to Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Union as mujahidin. This trafficking in Somali “mercenaries” reportedly proved to be a lucrative trade, from which government ministers profited. According to Kenyan security sources, in the 1980s over 2,000 recruits for the mujahdin fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan came from the Mombasa area alone. They were recruited from the ranks of unemployed youth and in later years, demobilized former Somali government soldiers.
AI AI is not the only Islamic fundamentalist organization operating in Somalia , but it is the most militant with clear substantive links to international terrorism. Other prominent Islamic fundamentalist organizations such as Al Islah and Al Wahda have more social and educational aims than AI AI. Nonetheless, AI AI, Al Islah and Al Wahda at times have worked together through a loosely united front called the “Supreme Somali Islamic League,” and reportedly share common international financing from Saudi Arabia and other Middle East states. Like AI AI , Al Islah is influential in the Transitional National Government (TNG) installed in Mogadishu in 2000, which, as noted previously, has considerable backing from the international community, including neighboring states. The TNG ultimately governed little more than Mogadishu due in part to opposition by other political factions that objected to the Islamist influence within the would-be Somali state. Approximately one quarter of its 245 member parliament are linked to al-Islah. Al Islah advocates the creation of an Islamic state and in this regard its objectives are similar to that of AI AI, but Al Islah members say their principle goal is national reconciliation and promotion of education and democracy. According to Dr. Ibrahim Disuki, an Al Islah leader, “Al Islah is a peaceful organization. That is the main difference between Al Islah and probably other organizations who have a militaristic or a violent attitude.”
Despite al-Islah’s professed non-violent aims, Somali factional leader, Hussein Aidid said forces under his control confiscated in March 2001 large shipments of arms at an al-Islah warehouse located in front of the main Mogadishu port. According to Aidid, these arms were destined for use by the Transitional National Government, AI AI and other Islamist allies of the TNG. One report contends that many AI AI members have become active in al-Islah.
Al Islah is a Saudi-funded outreach program, which supports and runs numerous Islamic schools, health posts and community centers in Somalia . The organization’s leadership is composed mainly of young professional men who have worked or studied in the Gulf States or Egypt . They believe a strict Islamic state is the solution to their country’s chronic problems. Al Islah manages many of the schools in southern Somalia and carries out charitable activities throughout the country.
The number of externally funded Koranic schools in Somalia has grown in recent years. These schools are inexpensive and provide basic education in a country where no state exists to provide such services to the population. There are reports that these schools require the veiling of small girls and promote other conservative Islamic practices not normally found in the local culture. Mogadishu University , the University of East Africa in Bosaso, Puntland, and many secondary schools in Mogadishu are also externally funded and are administered through organizations affiliated with Al Islah. The growing influence of fundamentalist mosques and schools funded by foreigners has alarmed Somali political figures opposed to the AI AI and the TNG.
The growing Islamist reform movement advanced by groups like Al Islah and AI AI represents a historic turning point in Somali Islamic outlook – away from the inward looking spirituality of the traditionally dominant Sufism toward a puritanical and legalistic view of religious practice. The implications of this shift from an inward looking spiritual tradition to one that posits religiosity in external relations are far reaching. The new religious order undermines individual autonomy and creates authoritarian dependency, and thus creates the ideological and psychological precondition for totalitarian acceptance and extremist actions.
Other Somali Islamist political and paramilitary organizations include the Muslim Brotherhood, which is also known by other names such as Harakat Al-Islah or "Reform Movement" and Al-Harakah Al-Islamiya or "Islamic Movement." The leader of the Somali Muslim Brotherhood, Dr Ali Sheikh Abu-Bakr, has lead Mogadishu University , and the movement is said to be financed by “Gulf Arab money,” especially from Kuwait . Little is known of AI AI’s organizational structure, and its leadership is very secretive. Much of its leadership has gone underground since the U.S. launched the war on terrorism. It appears to be organized into units variously referred to as cells, chapters and branches. It is uncertain how much of AI AI activity can be ascribed to centralized decision-making and how much of it reflects decentralized initiatives.
In its appeal to religion as a unifying political force among Somalis, AI AI may be considered an innovative organization. Clan identity is very strong among Somalis, as Somalis generally look first to their clan before religion as their main source of identity. However, AI AI has worked independently of clans and in many ways cut across clan divisions in its political and military organizing. As a result, clan-based factional leaders, who carved much of the country into their fiefdoms after the collapse of the Somali government, often perceived AI AI as a rival. At times, for political expediency, AI AI allied with local clan leaders to strengthen its political position, and, as will be seen, AI AI political and military strategies appear to have changed in accordance with the requirements of its external patrons. These shifting alliances with other factional leaders have characterized much of AI AI political history.
AI AI distinguished itself from other Islamic fundamentalist organizations that are solely religious and social in character by establishing its own military force and using it to establish political dominance through conquest. In occupied areas, it set up state-like structures, including Koranic schools and Sharia courts to enforce Islamic law in a country with rampant lawlessness and random violence. Moral rectitude, aggressiveness and ideological indoctrination emerged as hallmarks of its organizational ethos.
AI AI’s Military Campaigns
After the collapse of the Somali state in early 1991, AI AI launched major campaigns to occupy territory in the north and south of the country. Under the command of Sheikh Ali Warsame, on of AI AI founders, its forces occupied, in June 1992, the city of Garoe and the port of Bosaso in the northern regions of Bari and Nugaal, now part of the self-administered state of Puntland. The main clan-based armed faction on the ground in what is now Puntland, the Somali Salvation Democratic Front, responded by driving the AI AI forces out of the cities. The defeated and considerably weakened forces then moved further to the west in a bid to gain a foothold in the cities of Bormama, Burao and Las Korah, in the breakaway Republic of Somaliland . The Somaliland government banned AI AI activities within its territory because the Islamist forces posed a threat to its authority.
AI AI commander Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who personally maintained close ties with the Al Qaeda network, led AI AI forces in the southern campaign. On September 11, 2001, the United Nations named Hassan Dahir Aweys as an associate of Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, and asked member states to freeze his assets. The United States designated, in June 2004, another AI AI leader, Hassan Abdullah Hersi al-Turki, also known as Hassan Turki, as an Al Qaeda associate who is known to have provided support for acts of terrorism.
Under Aweys’ command, AI AI took Luuq in the southern Somali Gedo region near the Ethiopian/Kenyan borders in late 1992 and occupied this area until Ethiopians invaded Somalia in 1996 and drove AI AI out. In the Gedo region, especially in the districts of Bay and Bakol, AI AI had begun to fill the void created by the lack of government -- offering assistance to the poor, building schools, and enforcing Sharia laws in areas under its control. AI AI encountered resistance, however, from within the local population mainly because of its strict interpretation of Islam and its effort to ban the consumption of khat, a mild “recreational drug” used widely in Somalia . Nonetheless, Gedo remains a region where Islamist influence continues to be felt. From the Gedo region AI AI followers have crossed over into Kenya ’s North Eastern Province where they have recruited Kenyan Somalis for their militia and have laid the ideological groundwork for the establishment of an all Somali Caliphate.
Aweys’ forces also took the Wadajir section of Mogadishu in 1993 and the northern Mogadishu suburbs in 1994, and AI AI occupied Belet Huen in the Hiran region in June 1995. Later in 1999 AI AI entered Kismayo and took control of Merca and Qorioley.
Although AI AI and Al Qaeda furnished assistance to clan-based factional leader, General Mohamed Farah Aidid, in his battle with the US-led intervention forces, especially the now infamous Black Hawk Down incident, General Aidid eventually allied himself with the traditionalist Muslim organization, Majima al-Ulama. General Aidid made this move to counterbalance the new AI AI presence in the capital, where neighborhoods were being fought over by opposing political factions. For awhile, AI AI came to be supported by Aidid’s rival, Ali Mahdi, and reportedly received financial support from some Saudis. During this period, North Mogadishu began to return to some semblance of normalcy, or at least did not suffer complete lawlessness, because of the harsh implementation of the Sharia by Islamic Courts. But, distrust of the AI AI led Ali Mahdi to expel the Islamist militias from North Mogadishu .
After General Aidid died in 1996, his son Hussein allied himself with AI AI to oppose the Ethiopian incursions into Somalia that succeeded in routing the AI AI, especially in Gedo. But in 1999, after AI AI entered Kismayo where it became influential and took control of Merca and Qorioley, the forces of Hussein Aidid and those of AI AI fought against one another in Merca, Qorioley and Mogadishu . Hussein Aidid would later ally himself with Ethiopia against AI AI and the AI AI-influenced TNG in Mogadishu . What is striking about AI AI’s military campaigns in Merca, Qorioley and Mogadishu is that they occurred after the shift of AI AI’s tactics from the Taliban–like military approach to the Sudanese National Islamic Front approach, suggesting that AI AI is capable of great flexibility in achieving its aims.
Reports of an AI AI training camp further to the south near the Kenyan border, especially on an island near the town of Ras Kamboni , has drawn international attention. U.S. officials have been concerned that Ras Kamboni was used as a transit point for movement of personnel by al Qaeda and AI AI. That AI AI has been active in Ras Kamboni is clear. In 1999, AI AI fighters fled from Ras Kamboni in southern Somalia into Kenya (crossing the border town of Kolpio ) after fighting with a local Ogadeni sub-clan, that was attempting to seek revenge for the killing of a US aid worker. AI AI fighters had shot and killed, Deena Umbarger, who was a consultant for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), while she was taking tea with town elders.
Also in the southern coastal region of Somalia , AI AI fighters are known to have engaged in international maritime piracy. On January 4, 1999 , AI AI gunmen commandeered near Kismayo the MV Sea Johana, a large commercial ferry and its 21-member crew. The vessel was en route from Mombasa to India and apparently experience mechanical problems. The gunman took the ship to the port of Bur Gabo , south of Kismayo and demanded an initial ransom of $6.5 million and later reduced it to $150,000. The gunmen eventually set the ship adrift, and it was found in April 1999, unmanned, off the coast of Mombasa .
The U.S.-led United Nations operation in Somalia , which in 1992 first sought to provide humanitarian relief for millions of Somalis threatened by starvation and which later engaged in a nation-building exercise, coincided with the relocation from Afghanistan to Sudan of Osama Bin Laden and his burgeoning terrorist network. Both the radical NIF government in Khartoum and Bin Laden regarded the U.S. presence in Somalia as an attempt to dominate a Muslim state and a threat to their Islamic hegemonic ambitions in the region. Al Qaeda opposed the involvement of the United States armed forces in the Gulf War in 1991 and in Operation Restore Hope in Somalia in 1992 and 1993, which were viewed by Al Qaeda as the beginning of preparations for an American occupation of Islamic countries. During the same period, Bin Laden and his strategists reportedly wanted to establish an Islamic state in Eritrea as a staging ground for carrying their Islamic revolution to Yemen and Ethiopia . Somalia likely constituted a southern beach head in this regional strategy. Both the Sudanese government and Bin Laden became allies in an effort to make the region a radical Islamic state and to oppose U.S. actions in the region. AI AI leaders reportedly met in 1992 with bin Laden in Khartoum where the two organizations consolidated their alliance. The next year, 1993, proved to be a key year in the efforts of both of them to oppose the U.S. presence in Somalia .
The authors of this study have found mounting evidence suggesting that significant numbers of mujahidin veterans of the Afghanistan war were actively supporting AI AI in its operations in the 1990’s. These veterans, whether Somalis or so-called “Afghan Arabs,” provided critical training to AI AI militia and fought alongside AI AI militiamen. Their involvement with AI AI may help explain the Taliban-like military tactics employed by AI AI. The National Islamic Front-type tactics previously described may be explained by the significant support provided by Sudan .
According to U.S. officials, bin Laden spent $3 million to recruit and airlift elite veterans of the Afghan jihad to Somalia via third countries, such as Yemen and Ethiopia . Al Qaeda also used its East Africa cell, based in Kenya and Tanzania , as a gateway to Somalia . Al Qaeda operatives in Kenya shuttled between Mogadishu and Khartoum using Nairobi as a hub of operation. In addition, two Al Qaeda front organizations based in Nairobi , the Islamic charities—Help Africa People and Mercy International-- provided support for AI AI humanitarian activities after 1994.
Al Qaeda’s first strike against the U.S. military presence in Somalia is believed to have been the organization’s first ever terrorist bombing. In 1992 Al Qaeda exploded a bomb at a hotel in Yemen used by American military personnel en route to humanitarian operations in Somalia . American military personnel were not in the hotel at the time, but a number of civilians were killed in the blast.
Al Qaeda planned additional actions against U.S forces, and a number of Al Qaeda operators were dispatched to Somalia to train AI AI and other forces in their battle against the U.S.-led force. Mohammed Saddiqi Odeh, a Palestinian born in Jordan , was among those dispatched to Somalia , and an Afghanistan-trained member of the team which would later bomb the US embassy in Tanzania , Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, traveled by fishing boat from Kenya to Somalia to give military training to AI AI. According to British government information, Mohamed Atef, the now-deceased Al-Qaeda operator who had been in charge of its training and organizing of military and terrorist operations, was also dispatched to Somalia in 1992 and 1993 to instigate actions against American and UN forces. The British account claims that Atef trained Somalis to fight UN forces and that Al Qaeda operatives participated in the October 1993 attack against U.S. helicopters that resulted in the ultimate departure of U.S. forces. Another Al Qaeda leader who trained Somali militia members was Abdullah Ahmed Abdulla. He was among 480 Arab combatants who joined bin Laden when he moved to Sudan in 1991. From Sudan , he moved to Somalia , and in 1998 he moved to Kenya , where he arranged and paid for the travel of the Al Qaeda operatives who planned the August 7, 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania .
In a 1997 interview with CNN, Bin Laden gloated that Al-Qaeda had trained and organized the Somali fighters who did the actual fighting against the U.S. forces.. Al-Qaeda members are suspected of teaching General Aidid's militia how to shoot down U.S. helicopters by altering the fuses of rocket-propelled grenades so that they exploded in mid-air. This tactic, developed by the Afghan mujahidin in their war against the Soviet Union , was the same one Al Qaeda forces used to bring down two U.S. helicopters near Gardez , Afghanistan , during Operation Anaconda in early March 2002.
AI AI’s anti-American stance appears to have been planned in Khartoum . In February 1993 four Somali Islamist organizations, including AI AI, met there to discuss strategy for expanding fundamentalism in Somalia . This may explain the decision to move AI AI forces into Mogadishu at this time. A month later, a U.S. military spokesman in Mogadishu announced that U.S. troops had found a cache of arms at a compound belonging to AI AI, and about mid-year, AI AI launched an anti-Western and anti-U.S. propaganda effort, calling for Jihad against the United States .
Some reports suggest that AI AI commander Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys led the October 1993 attack against U.S. forces. Aweys belongs the Ayr sub-clan of Hawiye Habr Gedir clan. This is the clan of then factional leader, Mohamed Farah Aidid, whose militia carried out the attack on U.S. forces. It is also the time when Aweys’ militiamen moved into Mogadishu .
The banned Pakistani militant group, Jaish-e-Mohammed (The Army of Mohammed), that is associated with the killing of Wall Street Journal reporter, Daniel Pearl, helped play Al Qaeda’s hand in Somalia . The leader of Jaish-e-Mohammed, Maulana Masood Azhar, admits to having traveled to Nairobi , Kenya , in 1993 to meet with leaders of AI AI. Azhar said AI AI asked for assistance and got recruits and money from the ranks of a Pakistani militant group that Washington later named as part of Bin Laden’s terrorist network. Azhar told Indian intelligence that AI AI leaders complained to him that Pakistan ’s army, which was taking part in the United Nations’ mission in Somali, was working on behalf of the United States in what they considered the American effort to establish its dominance there. According to Indian intelligence sources, Azhar visited Somalia three times and became a key player in the Al Qaeda operation in Mogadishu .
According to Azhar, AI AI benefited from Pakistan ’s decision in 1993, under international pressure, to expel between 400 and 500 foreign veterans of the Afghan war. Most of these went to Sudan , where Bin Laden was then based, and from there to Somalia . Azhar also helped bring mercenaries from Yemen to Somalia with the help of Yemeni militant leader and Afghanistan war veteran, Tariq Nasr al-Fadhli.
A Christian Science Monitor reporter traveled in early 2002 to the Gedo region and interviewed local authorities about the AI AI activities. According to Hussein Mohamed Dires, the police chief in Bula Hawa, a small village near El Wak in the Gedo region, AI AI had set up military training camps around El Wak, where followers were trained by “Arab foreigners” in preparation for a global Islamic Jihad. Dires and other regional leaders say Al Qaeda supported AI AI’s activities, supplying weapons and cash, and that Osama bin Laden himself once visited. When AI AI launched its operations inside Ethiopia , about a dozen “Afghan Arabs” were reported to have been among its fighters.
An Israeli-based intelligence subscription newsletter claimed in 2002 that 150 Al Qaeda and Egyptian Islamic Jihad fighters were stationed southwest of the Somali city of Xagar . However, there are no corroborating sources for this claim. According to the newsletter, a coalition of Somali supporters of Osama bin Laden sheltered the Xagar fugitive community. “It is made up of local warlords, who receive money, weapons and orders from Colonel Barre Aden Share, known locally as Barre-Hiralle. The colonel gets his income, support and men from Sheikh Bashir of the fundamentalist Jama Islamiya and Abdulqassim Salaad Hassan, the transitional president of Somalia .” According to this source, members of the Al Qaeda team that carried out the 2002 attacks in Mombasa , Kenya , escaped from Kenya by flying to this camp.
Many Somalis saw AI AI’s military and terrorist actions inside Ethiopia as evidence that AI AI was playing Khartoum ’s hand, and had become a foreign puppet. Sudan ’s backing for AI AI fit into Khartoum ’s wider regional strategy that included support for armed opposition groups fighting against the governments of Eritrea , Ethiopia and Uganda . These three countries constituted the bulwark of U.S. policy that sought to contain the radical Islamic regime in Sudan . Accordingly, Khartoum set out to undermine these governments as a way of stopping their support for the Sudanese armed opposition and of achieving its objective of turning the Horn of Africa into an Islamic region.
The link between Sudan and AI AI was direct. In late 1996 during a meeting with supporters of AI AI, the Sudanese charge d’affaires in Mogadishu called publicly for a holy war against Ethiopia In its war by proxy with Ethiopia , the Sudanese government supported Ethiopia ’s armed opposition including the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and the Ogaden National Liberation Front. However, the secular OLF was uncomfortable with Sudan ’s ideological orientation, and so Khartoum set up an all Islamic Oromo alternative, the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Oromiya (IFLO). In the mid 1990’s IFLO based its operation out of Somalia and with Sudanese support worked in alliance with AI AI to carry out actions inside of Ethiopia . IFLO military actions were intermittent and relatively ineffective.
The vision of Sudan ’s National Islamic Front of a greater Islamic state in the Horn of Africa coincided with AI AI’s own objective of establishing a “strong Islamic State in the Horn of Africa.” AI AI started its political activities on the basis of a “Greater Somali Nation” agenda, and as such maintained the ambition to unite territories in Ethiopia , Kenya , and Djibouti inhabited by Somali population.
The concept of a Pan-Somali state is not new. In the 1960’s the Shifta rebels in Kenya had sought to unite Kenya’s North Eastern Province with Somalia, and later as the Siad Barre regime waged a long and unsuccessful war with the Ethiopia over the Somali-populated Ogaden region of Ethiopia. However, Siad Barre’s vision was of a greater Somali nation based on a secular state. AI AI advocates an Islamic Caliphate for all Somalis. With Sudanese support, AI AI launched a series of actions within Ethiopia in an apparent bid to unite Ethiopia ’s Somali-speaking population into a greater Somalia .
AI AI Aggression and Ethiopian Intervention
With Sudanese and Al Qaeda support, AI AI carried out small-scale actions in Somali-inhabited regions of Ethiopia : the Ogaden Region by the end of 1993 and the Somali Region a year later. The Ethiopian government responded by sending reinforcements to contain the situation. In early January 1995 AI AI bombed a hotel in Addis Ababa and another one in Dire Dawa. AI AI also claimed responsibility for the failed assassination attempt on then Ethiopian Minister of Transport and Communication, Abdulmejid Hussein, himself an Ethiopian Somali. AI AI said it would continue targeting senior Ethiopian officials and would pursue its guerrilla attacks in the Ogaden until the latter became independent.
The containment of AI AI and its Islamist aggression emerged as a national security priority of the Ethiopian government. When Abdulmejid Hussein served as his country’s ambassador to the United Nations, he underscored his government’s commitment to containing the Islamist threat posed by AI AI: “If you allow these people to infiltrate Somalia , our multicultural, multi-religious and multiethnic country will pay a price…If the Somalis don’t solve their problems, then we will do it for them…. We won’t wait forever.”
Ethiopia took its containment actions to Somalia . Its first military intervention inside Somalia occurred in the Gedo region in 1996, and it has intervened on an “as needed” basis since then. Ethiopia concomitantly elaborated a policy of building local alliances with military and political factions inside Somalia in opposition to AI AI and its political allies, particularly the Transitional National Government in Mogadishu and the Jama Ali Jama faction in Puntland.
The losses that its forces suffered at the hands of the Ethiopian military appear to have provoked a strategic shift for the AI AI. Executive committee member, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, announced in Mogadishu at the beginning of 1997 that his organization would become an Islamic political party. He went on to publicly distance his organization from AI AI attacks inside Ethiopia, by denying that AI AI in Somalia had any connection with attacks by AI AI supporters in Ethiopia. Others later suggested that the AI AI actions inside Ethiopia were the work of the Ogadeni cell of the AI AI. These distinctions within the AI AI structure, however, did not dissuade Ethiopia from pursuing its interventionist policy inside Somalia . Indeed, in July 1998 four gunmen assassinated AI AI commander Colonel Abdullahi Irad outside a mosque in Mogadishu . AI AI charged Ethiopia with the assassination of Colonel Irad who was widely believed to have organized the raids inside of Ethiopia . Between May and August 1998, Ethiopia claimed that it killed or captured more than 1,000 Oromo Liberation Front and AI AI militia members near the Somali border, and in August 1998 it occupied the town of Bula Hawa in the Gedo region to quash a peace agreement between the Somali National Front and AI AI, which Sheik Mohamud Moallin Nur, the deputy chairman of AI AI had negotiated.
After AI AI’s 1998 rout in Gedo by a coalition of local ethnic militias and Ethiopians, leaders in the town of El Wak told a Christian Science reporter that the organization has disbanded. “Those days are gone,” says District Commissioner Yussuf Haji Osman. “We did not welcome them; we would not do so now.” Others said that the fighters went into hiding but could re-emerge
Regional Reversals for AI AI
In addition to Ethiopia ’s interventions, other regional events undermined AI AI’s military and political position inside and out of Somalia . Under pressure from the United States and Saudi Arabia , Sudan expelled Bin Laden and much of his forces in May 1996, from whence they set up residence in Afghanistan . Bin Laden left behind a well-established and well-heeled network of cells and allied organizations in the Horn of Africa/East Africa region, including an active operation in Mogadishu . Bin Laden’s departure from Sudan , nonetheless, must have deprived AI AI of an immediate and major ally and financier in the rough Horn of Africa neighborhood. Bin Laden’s flight from Sudan also marked the beginning of the unraveling of Sudan ’s failed policy of regional destabilization and of its plans for regional Islamic hegemony, and became the first step in a long drawn out process of moderation by Khartoum .
The outbreak of the Ethiopian-Eritrean border war in 1998 led Addis to seek détente and normalization with Khartoum in a bid to isolate Eritrea and protect its southern and western Somalia flank from armed actions. As a result, Sudan quietly curbed its support to AI AI and the armed Ethiopian opposition in Somalia . However, both AI AI and the Ethiopian separatist groups found a new backer in an Eritrea seeking to undermine Ethiopia from the south and west. Then U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, Susan Rice, suggested in Congressional testimony that AI AI was likely a direct recipient of Eritrean arms. Eritrea also supported Oromo rebel and separatist operating from Somali territory. Asmara radio reported in 2001 that IFLO rebels killed over 68 government soldiers when IFLO forces attacked the town of Aweday and ambushed a military convoy along the Dire Dawa-Finfine road near the town of Alemaya .
Inside Somalia , the Somali factional leader and self-proclaimed Somali President, Hussein Aidid, began to support AI AI and Oromo Liberation Front in their fight against the Ethiopian government in response to the Ethiopia ’s first incursions into Somalia . Hussein Aidid reportedly also became a conduit for Eritrean arms destined for the Oromo Liberation Front. Hussein Aidid acknowledged that presence of about 700 “politically organized” Oromos at Qoryooley in Somalia .
Ethiopia set out to build factional coalitions and seek other allies in a bid to further contain its armed opposition and AI AI, which were operating out of Somalia . In October 1999 Somali factional leaders, including Aidid, Osman Hassan Ali Atto and Umar Haji Masaleh, held talks with Ethiopian officials. The Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin called upon Aidid to stop its support of AI AI and Oromo rebel groups based in Somalia . Aidid replied that Ethiopia should end its military intervention in Somalia .
Ethiopia ’s efforts at coalition building ultimately paid big dividends. In March 2001 following several similar meetings in Ethiopia , southern faction leaders opposed to the TNG and the AI AI set up the Somali Reconciliation and Restoration Council (SRRC). The SRRC includes a presidential council, consisting of five co-chairmen on a monthly basis, and a first secretary. The five co-chairmen were: Hussein Aidid, Somali National Alliance (SNA); Hilowle Iman Umar from northern Mogadishu ; General Adan Abdullahi Nur 'Gabyow', Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM); Dr Hassan Mohammed Nur 'Shaatigaduud', Rahanweyn Resistance Army (RRA) and Abdullahi Sheikh Ismail, Southern Somalia National Movement (SSNM). The headquarters of the SRRC are in Baidoa, Bay region, Somalia . SRRC’s opposition to the TNG stems in part from the Islamist influence within its administration, especially the incorporation of AI AI paramilitary and judicial structures into TNG.
As a way to compensate for the fall off in external backing, AI AI appears to have cultivated relationships with the Somali business communities and began investing in business ventures itself. The tactic of investment in “legitimate,” and other business enterprises to finance its military and political activities is reminiscent of the practice of Al Qaeda cells. The East Africa Al Qaeda cell in the 1990’s, for instance, leveraged funds from the central organization to set up mining and import-export concerns as a way of making the cell self-sufficient.
During the period when Hussein Aidid remained supportive of the AI AI, it transformed in Mogadishu into an Islamic Court with a paramilitary organization with ties to Aidid’s Habir Gedir clan. In 1999-2000 AI AI leader, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, a Habir Gedir of the Ayr lineage, served as chairman of the Islamic Courts in southern Mogadishu .
Eager to end the lawlessness that was hurting business, the Mogadishu business community saw value in the Islamic Courts and helped finance their operations. The Islamic Courts had some success in this regard—curtailing, for example, the system of extortion by armed gangs that hampered business life. In South Mogadishu, it appears that Haber Gedir businessmen were supporting the Islamic Courts dominated by Haber Gedir members that had been part of the AI AI leadership. AI AI capitalized on its association with the business community by investing in banking, telecommunications, export-import, transport, and religious schools. This was a period in which Al Barakat through its telecommunications, banking and other holdings was the largest employer in Somalia . The Bush administration designated AI AI’s business relationships with Al Bakarat as meriting further investigation.
The Chairman of the Islamic Courts in Mogadishu , Hassan Sheik Mohamed Abdi, explained in the year 2000 how the Courts viewed their role in Somali society.
We have a very large responsibility in Somalia , because when the central government disappeared and everything broke down and failed, people despaired. They were without any help. It was a very good chance for the gangs and the criminals to do whatever they wanted. The wise men and religious men, the intellectuals and the elders came together and thought of how they could save themselves and their property. That was the way we started – to use the Islamic courts to solve that problem.
Hassan Sheik Mohamed Abdi advocated an Islamic state to solve the country’s problems, but took pain to stress that he wanted to have good relations with the United States and Europe .
The increasingly militant counter-terrorism stance of the Clinton administration produced an immediate effect on the leadership of AI AI and other factional leaders. In February 1999 representatives of the Islamic Courts met with the clan-based factional leaders of Mogadishu , including Ali Mahdi Mohamed and Hussein Mohamed Aidid, to discuss their concerns about possible U.S. actions within Somalia . Noting the U.S. missile attack on the pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum , Aidid warned the Islamic Courts not to go to the extreme. According to Aidid, it was “their collective responsibility to avoid giving their enemy the pretext of attacking Somalia with missiles….”
While the Islamic Courts proved their value to business by returning Mogadishu and surrounding areas to a sense of normalcy, including an end to the business of extortion, they also proved to be something of an AI AI Trojan Horse. By October 1999, the Islamic Courts launched a military operation to take control of an area from Mogadishu up to the lower Shebelle and from Merca to Brave. Their militias succeeded in taking control over key facilities of Merca port, an important Indian Ocean facility, and began to appoint local administrators and Islamic court officials and to recruit additional militia members.
In early 2000, Peter Maas of the New Republic interviewed the leader of the Islamic Court militia in Merca, Sheikh Hassan Ainte. Maas likened the Islamic Courts to the Taliban and indicated that the goal of the Courts was “to sweep through the country, much as the Taliban did in Afghanistan , and unify it under Islam.” Ainte expressed his commitment to spreading Sharia to all of Somalia , and contended, nonetheless, that there were “very big differences,” between the Islamic Courts and the Taliban. “We are all Muslim. They came to power by shedding blood, but we don’t want to do that. They killed a lot of people. We don’t want that. We came here at the request of the people. Everyone is happy with us.”
Apparently not everyone in Merca was happy with the presence of the Islamic Court. A leading businessman in Merca, Isse Haji Ismaile, pointed out that:
There are two ways this can go. One way is evolution. We tell them how grateful we are that they have brought us security…and that it is time for them to go home. The other way is that, at the same time, we get our own [armed] groups ready, and, if they will not leave when we ask them, we will fight them.
Factional leaders in southern Somalia fearing that the growing power of the Islamic Courts would deprive them of political power began resisting the courts' authority. Haber Gedir clan rivals, Osman Hassan Ali “Atto” and Hussein Muhammad Aidid, who frequently fought over control of South Mogadishu , joined forces against AI AI’s Islamic Courts. Also at stake was control of the lucrative trade passing through the port of Merca – made all the more profitable because of the volume of humanitarian relief passing through the port to drought stricken southern Somalia .
Radio Pacification operated by factional leader, Ali Atto, denounced the offensive by the Islamic Court.
We are surprised by the move of the Islamic courts…if they are fighting banditry, we would have joined them, but their intention is to create a permanent occupation in the area without the blessing of the people….A tribal army should not claim Islamic responsibility of battling banditry, they should leave the areas captured by their gunmen immediately.
Court officials vowed to remain in control of Merca port, and urged relief agencies to continue using the port facilities.
The resurgence of AI AI through the Islamic Courts pushed Hussein Aidid and other factional leaders into Ethiopia ’s camp and resulted in the formation of the SRRC. The Ethiopia government actively worked with one member of the SRRC, the Rahanwein Resistance Army, which is based in central Somalia , to oppose the expansion of the Islamic Courts to that region. The SRRC has also opposed the Transitional National Government in large measure because of the latter’s strong Islamist support.
In August 2000, a so-called Transitional National Government (TNG) was installed in Mogadishu , and offered AI AI through the Islamic Courts an opportunity to become institutionalized in the new government. The TNG was the child of a national reconciliation conference held in Arta, Djibouti, that as has been previously noted, received significant international support, save from the United States. AI AI commander and Islamic Court leader, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Awes, participated in the conference. He welcomed the formation of the new government: “The best choice would be an Islamic government, but anything that would get Somalia out of this mess is hundred percent acceptable.”
The conference assembly elected Abdiqasim Saldad Hassan as President. However, significant Somali political figures boycotted the gathering including Mogadishu factional leaders and the representatives of Somaliland and Puntland, and their opposition undercut the TNG’s objective of becoming a new central government for Somalia . As a result, the TNG never came to control more than parts of Mogadishu and its environments by the end of its three-year mandate in August 2003. Despite the end of its mandate, the TNG has continued to exist.
Soon after his selection, TNG President Abdiqasim announced a plan to recruit at least 4,000 police officers to bring law and order back to Mogadishu . AI AI leader Aweys backed the policing of the city, saying “we must strengthen the new government and be wary of actions of non-believers who want us to follow their leadership.” The leaders of clan-based militias, such Hussein Hoji Bod in northern Mogadishu , Osman Hassan Ali Atto, and Musa Suli Yalahow, opposed the formation of the police force, and for good political reason: the Islamic Courts and their paramilitary forces became the backbone of the TNG law enforcement and judicial system.
In June 2001, the TNG announced that it had “nationalized” the Mogadishu Islamic Courts. The TNG said it had set up its justice ministry in an attempt to restart the judicial system and tackle issues of law and order. Sheikh Hasan Muhammad, the former chairman of the Mogadishu Islamic Courts, said that the dual function of Islamic Courts had been reallocated, with their policing role placed under the Ministry of Interior, and the hearing of cases and issuing of decrees under the Ministry of Justice.
Problems in Puntland
AI AI has also been active in Puntland during this period. With Ethiopian support Colonel Abdullahi Yusuf’s administration had successfully repulsed AI AI fighters from the region in January 2000, but subsequently, AI AI took sides in a power struggle over the presidency of Puntland. With the expiration of Colonel Abdullahi Yusuf’s mandate, Jama Ali Jama, a former military officer under Siad Barre and ally of the TNG, challenged Abdullahi Yusuf as president through a conference of elders in Garowe. Abdullahi Yusuf accused the AI AI of being behind the conference, and welcomed Ethiopian military support to keep AI AI and Jama Ali Jama at bay. AI AI reportedly sent fresh recruits to Puntland and with another newly armed group named the Total Somali Liberation Tigers occupied the port city of Bosaso on the Gulf of Aden in 2001. The Islamist coalition claimed that their victory at Bosaso marked the beginning of a new jihad, not only in the northeastern region but in all other parts of Somalia as well as those areas in Kenya and Ethiopia with Somali-speaking populations.
In 2002, Abdullahi Yusuf told the BBC that more than three hundred of his militia had been killed by AI AI forces who have been attempting to overthrow his regime and introduce Islamic rule. He contended that despite defeats on the battlefield they are taking over civilian life: "They dominate the economic sector, they dominate educational services. They melt into the civic society. They are so powerful that no weak government can challenge them." Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that the business community has been supporting AI AI in Puntland, and that the AI AI has been operating Islamic Courts in a manner not unlike what occurred in Mogadishu under the TNG.
Alarmed by the growth of radical Islam in Puntland, Abdallahi Yusuf, decreed in 2002 that only Shafi'iyyah, a form of moderate Sufism followed by most Somalis, would be allowed in Puntland. Several days later, Puntland security forces entered several mosques in Bosaso to compel compliance.
In the post September 11 environment, claims of AI AI’s associations with Al Qaeda have increased. For instance, Allpuntland.com, a website linked to Abdullahi Yusuf, accused the "extremists of the Ittihad and bin Ladin's al-Qaida," in conjunction with the TNG, of deliberately working toward toppling Abdullahi Yusuf and the dissolution of Puntland as an autonomous region. The website reported that later, after the start of the U.S. campaign against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan , AI AI had opened military training bases in Puntland and sent reinforcements from Mogadishu via Bosaso in order to hasten a coup in Puntland. Local Somali leaders in Galkayo said that they had captured more than 119 young AI AI recruits en route to Bosaso, and that four hundred other young men had been sent to Bosaso to travel to Afghanistan to support Al Qaeda after Sepember-11. Another report said that AI AI commander Dahir Aweys had sent more than 300 AI AI militia men to Afghanistan to fight the U.S. But Yusuf Adbdullah’s opponent denied the existence of AI AI training camps in the region or any links to bin Laden and accused his adversary Yusuf of making false statements in a bid to draw international attention to himself and benefit from the international anti-terrorism mood.
Also, after September 11, Hussein Mohammed Aidid accused Eritrea , Libya and Djibouti of supplying arms to Al-Itithaad, Al Tabliq, Al Islah and the Al Qaeda network, as well as to Jama Ali Jama. According to Aidid, arms arrived by ship in Bosaso, and by air and ship in Mogadishu , some of which were confiscated by the SRRC at an Al-Islah warehouse in Mogadishu .
External Sources of Funding
The fluctuation of financial support for AI AI may help explain the changing tactics and the shifting alliances of the organization. In the early 1990’s, when Sudanese and Al Qaeda support was strong, AI AI engaged in anti-Ethiopian and anti-United States campaigns. But as these backers waned in importance, AI AI seems to have cultivated elements of the local business community to support its Islamic Court with the promise of restoring law and order as a way of improving the business environment. When factional leaders began to see the Islamic Courts as a rival, AI AI as an Islamic Court merged with the TNG to gain new legitimacy and funding through the nascent state structure. AI AI appears to be more successful in attracting patrons than in establishing a popular base of support.
All the while the abovementioned sources of support have been at play, a mysterious network of private and public organizations that support Islamic charities also appear to have been active in funding AI AI. Much of this funding reportedly comes from wealthy families and ruling elites in Saudi Arabia , United Arab Emirates and Kuwait . It should not be forgotten that Al Qaeda-front and Nairobi-based charities, Mercy International and Help African Peoples, did provided support for AI AI humanitarian work in the mid 1990s.
One Saudi charity that appears to have been a major supporter of AI AI activities, whether in Kenya ’s North Eastern Province or in Somalia , is the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation. Al Haramain is a private, charitable, and educational organization dedicated to promoting Islamic teaching throughout the world. A growing amount of its funding comes from grants from other countries, individual Muslim benefactors, and special campaigns, which selectively target Muslim-owned business entities around the world as sources for donations
In March 2002, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia blocked funds to Al Haramain’s Somalia Branch because of its support to AI AI, and in 2003 its Kenya and Tazania operations also closed. The Kenya branch of the foundation was extremely active in Kenya ’s North Eastern Province and appears to have been promoting an AI AI agenda there.
In justifying its actions, the U.S. Department of the Treasury reported that the branch offices of Al Haramain in Somalia were clearly linked to terrorist financing.
The Somalia office of Al-Haramain is linked to Usama bin Laden's al-Qaida network and Al-Itihaad al-Islamiya (AI AI), a Somali terrorist group. Al-Haramain Somalia employed AI AI members and provided them with salaries through Al-Barakaat Bank, which was designated on November 7, 2001 under E.O. 13224 because of its activities as a principal source of funding, intelligence and money transfers for Usama bin Laden.
Al-Haramain Somalia has continued to provide financial support to AI AI. In late December 2001, Al-Haramain Somalia was facilitating the travel of AI AI members in Somalia to Saudi Arabia where the AI AI members planned to apply for residency permits.
In January 2004, the U.S. reported Al Haramain branches in Kenya and Tanzania had provided support or acted for or on behalf of AI AI and Al Qaeda. A U.S. Department of Treasury Press Release indicated that Al Haramain was used to transfer funds and that AI AI had also invested in the “legitimate” business activities of Al Haramain.
The Saudi government in 2003 ordered Al Haramain to close all of its overseas branches. Al Haramain stated it closed branches in Indonesia, Kenya, Tanzania and Pakistan, but continued monitoring by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia indicated that these offices and/or former officials associated with these branches continued to operate or had other plans to avoid closure.
A Somali-owned money transfer company Al Barakat (meaning “holiness” in Arabic), was an apparent conduit of funds to AI AI, if not a financial backer. In November 2001, U.S authorities ordered the immediate closure of Al Barakat and the seizure of its worldwide assets, although the U.S. has never charge Al Barakat in a court of law. At a time when members of the Mogadishu business community were supporting AI AI in a bid to maintain law and order, Al Barakat reportedly paid the salaries of AI AI officials. The U.S. government also accused the company of transferring funds on behalf of Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network. According to one source, the FBI and the Immigration and Naturalization Service were reported to be investigating large money transfers overseas by Somali immigrants who had recently arrived in Minneapolis , Minnesota . The Somali immigrants had reportedly sent $75 million outside of the US in sums averaging between $2 million and $4 million per month. U.S. authorities were concerned that some of this funding may have been going to support AI AI.
According to the U.S. , Al Barakat’s network had moved tens of millions of dollars a year to Al Qaeda. The U.S. government claimed that Al Barakat had been formed for the specific purpose of aiding terrorists. “By shutting these networks down, we disrupt the murderers’ work,” said U.S. President George Bush.
Alhmad Ali Jimale, Al Barakat’s founder and chairman, insisted that his company had no links whatsoever with bin Laden and Al Qaeda, although some sources suggest Jimale fought alongside bin Laden in Afghanistan . Jimale formed Al Barakat, which operated in 40 countries worldwide after the outbreak of civil war in Somalia in 1991 and the collapse of the country’s banking system, as a means of helping Somalis who had fled the country as refugees to transfer much-need funds to relatives back home. Al Barakat’s investments in Somalia included the telecommunications sector. The company was the country’s largest employer. The closure of Al-Bakarat was considered by many observers to be a serious setback to the economy of Somalia . An estimated $750 million entered the country through remittances of Somalis working and living abroad.
The Transitional National Government, Al Qaeda and AI AI
In April 2002 the TNG security chief, Ahmad Jilow Adow, offered his fledgling government’s help in the war on terror. As noted above, the TNG security apparatus absorbed much of the AI AI cum Islamic Courts that had forged an alliance with Al Qaeda. At that time, the security chief said:
We are sure that there are no al Qaeda training bases or garrisons here. But there are some elements who come to Somalia from time to time and there must be an exchange of information about them to enable us to track them down. … Al Qaeda was very new to me, and we never heard that name before September 11.
Given Al Qaeda’s intimate involvement with AI AI, the security chief’s claims appear questionable at best. Indeed, by the time of the November 2002 attacks, Mogadishu had apparently replaced Nairobi as Al Qaeda’s “nerve center’ in East Africa . Weapons used in the Mombasa attacks were smuggled into Kenya by sea from Somalia , the UN investigation found, and since the attack Kenyan authorities have apprehended a number of terror suspects who entered from Somalia or have been linked to Somalia .
According to the UN report, the Paradise Hotel bombers used converted fishing boats for transport on at least two occasions, including their escape back to Somalia from Lamu. Weapons shipped from Somalia originate in, or are routed through, Djibouti , Eritrea , Ethiopia , United Arab Emirates and Yemen . The missiles and launchers used in the attempted downing of the Israeli airliner came from either Yemen or Eritrea via Somalia . Most of the Al Qaeda men who made it back to the Somali capital remained there for several months, living on cash allowances provided by a Sudanese financial controller, the UN panel reports. One member of the team, Suleiman Ahmed Hemed, found a job with the driving pool for a major Mogadishu hotel before being captured in a joint Kenyan-American operation in April 2003.
Suleiman Ahmed Hemed had been captured by a local factional leader. Somali sources said there were rumors that the US has paid substantial sums of money to the factional leader for handing over Al Qaeda suspects. They said US agents were believed to be operating from a house in Bosaso in Puntland. The U.S. action in Mogadishu that used one Somali political faction to achieve its counter-terrorism aims is reminiscent of Ethiopia ’s policy of finding Somali allies to undermine and defeat its Islamist enemies in Somalia . It demonstrates that even without the existence of a central government, it is possible to “play” factions to achieve counter-terrorism aims.
Kenya : Radical Islam within a Multi-Party Democracy
Kenya’s experience of radical Islamic expression is a complex interplay of internal, regional and international forces in what has been a rapidly evolving domestic political climate characteristic of an emergent multiparty democracy. Kenya was the object of devastating Al Qaeda terrorist attacks in 1998 and 2002. Kenyans have been the primary victims of the attacks aimed at first American and later Israeli targets. The radical Islamist and Somali irredentist organization, Al Itihaad Al Islamiya (AI AI) continues to promote the notion of an Islamist state in Kenya ’s North Eastern Province . Iran and neighboring Sudan promoted a short-lived Islamist movement within the Islamic Party of Kenya. In addition, foreign Islamic charities, especially those funded by Saudi Arabian sources, have been gaining control and ownership of mosques and schools to teach a Wahabist brand of Islam that provides a popular ideological foundation for an Islamist political agenda.
Though authentic participation in Kenya ’s vibrant, however nascent, multi-party democracy may act as an antidote to the mass appeal of Islamist indoctrination, the Islamist ideological penetration appears sufficiently potent to provide at the least the small-scale base needed to support terrorist operations. Over the years Al Qaeda has managed to recruit a small number of Kenyans to carry out terrorist actions. The verdict is still out on whether the Islamist intentions in North Eastern Province will lead to a mass movement in support of the establishment of an Islamist state.
Al Qaeda operations in Kenya have been closely linked to Somalia , which, since the 1991 fall of military ruler Siad Barre, has been a haven to Al Qaeda operatives and saw the emergence of the armed fundamentalist militia, AI AI. It worked closely with Al Qaeda to undermine the US-led United Nations Intervention in Somalia in the mid-1990s and acted as an agent of the then radical Islamic regime in Sudan to destabilize neighboring Ethiopia .
From his base in Khartoum , Osama Bin Laden organized Al Qaeda’s East Africa operations in the 1990s. Al Qaeda used Kenya as a gateway to support its activities in Somalia , through financial transactions, the hosting of meetings in Nairobi , the shipment of arms, facilitation of travel by its operatives and through other forms of support. After the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi , when the East Africa cell dissolved, a type of role reversal occurred, as Somalia began to function as a gateway for Al Qaeda terrorist activities in Kenya . From Somalia , Al Qaeda came to nest itself in Kenya ’s Coastal Muslim community, using coastal shipping routes out of Somalia , recruited Kenyans to participate in its activities, plotted to bomb, once again, the U.S. embassy, and launched terrorist attacks against Israeli-associated targets in the coastal city of Mombasa in 2002.
The Al Qaeda-linked organization, AI AI, has sought to gain a foothold within Kenya ’s Somali community in North Eastern Province , especially among the refugees who had fled from neighboring Somalia after the collapse of the Somali state in 1991. In recent years, North Eastern Province has witnessed the growth of Islamic fundamentalism supported in part by Saudi-financed charities and also attributable in the Somali refugee camps to AI AI activists. North Eastern Province has seen the active recruitment of Kenyan youth into the AI AI forces by militiamen based in neighboring Somalia . The Somali refugee camps have become a conduit for an illegal arms trade emanating from Somalia through Kenya into East and Central Africa . Kenyan authorities have reported the capture of foreign terrorists using the Somalia-North Eastern Province corridor to enter into Kenya .
In the 1990s, Kenya , especially its Coast Province , saw the growth of the Islamic Party of Kenya, a homegrown radical Islamic movement that received some support from Sudan and Iran , but the successful emergence of multiparty politics enabled its leadership ultimately to channel its issues into electoral politics. It is still to be seen the effect that the successful transfer of power in Kenya from the long running Kenyan African National Union (KANU) to the opposition National Rainbow Coalition may have on Muslim perceptions of their grievances. To date, Muslim political, social and economic grievances remain high, and the government’s aggressive anti-terrorism campaign has led to a backlash within the Muslim community that is fostering ill-will and anti-Americanism. These grievances and others appear to be contributing to the creation of an environment conducive to recruitment among young alienated youth by Al Qaeda and AI AI. Prominent Kenyan Muslim leaders have expressed a growing concern about the vulnerability of young Muslims to seductive rhetoric of Osama Bin Laden and other extremists. In addition, the historic and cultural ties between Swahili and Arab Muslims on the Kenyan coast and Zanzibar are strong, and the growing radical Islamist movement in Zanzibar and its call for a restoration of the Sultanate may ultimately find reverberation within Kenya , if it has not already done so.
Background: Kenya ’s Religious Demographics
Muslims constitute a minority population in Kenya , with estimates ranging from 6% to 35% of Kenya ’s 29 million people. According to figures compiled by the U.S. Department of State, Protestants are the largest religious group representing approximately 38 percent of the population. Around 28 percent of the population is Roman Catholic. The State Department estimates that 10 to 20 percent of Kenya ’s population is Muslim. Hinduism is practiced by one percent of the population, and the remainder follows various traditional indigenous religions or offshoots of Christian religions.
Kenya ’s Muslim population is concentrated in the Coast, Eastern and North Eastern Provinces . Kenya ’s Muslims largely follow a Sunni tradition of Islam that goes back many centuries and is heavily influenced by the tolerant teachings of the Sufi brotherhoods. The small community of Kenyan Shiite Muslims is largely composed of descendants of immigrants from India and Pakistan .
Coast Province is predominately Muslim. Its Muslim population may be categorized as ethnically Swahili, African and Arab. The Swahili culture resulted from the interaction of African Bantu-speaking peoples in East Africa and Arab-speaking peoples largely from the Arabic peninsula. The Swahili culture zone stretches along Africa ’s Indian Ocean coast from northern Mozambique to southern Somalia and includes the adjacent islands of Zanzibar , Pemba and the island nation of Comoros . Swahili, which is a Bantu language with considerable importation of vocabulary from Arabic, has become the official language and/or lingua franca for many countries in East and Central Africa . The African group of Coastal Muslims consists mainly of Bantu-speaking Mijikenda and Digo communities, which are overwhelmingly Muslim. Kenya ’s Arab Muslims historically regarded themselves as being of “pure” Arab heritage as opposed to the mixed Swahili and the African Mijikenda and Digo. For the Swahili, many of whom are of mixed Arab and African descent, it has always been difficult to define whether they belong to the African or the Arab world. The Sultan of Zanzibar once ruled the coastal region that is now part of Kenya and Tanzania , and there remain strong cultural affinities and sympathies among the communities throughout the region’s coastal zone.
North Eastern Province and the northern section of Eastern Province are vastly Muslim and ethnically Somali. The Somali-speaking peoples are divided among the countries of Djibouti , Ethiopia , Kenya and Somalia .
Economic and Political Disenfranchisement
Kenya ’s Muslim community shares a perceived set of common grievances that found vocal expression in multiparty politics. The return of multiparty politics to Kenya in 1992 led to often-raucous political competition and the emergence of political actors ready to exploit the country’s real or perceived social injustices and economic inequalities as a way to appeal to voters and/or to see the redress of legitimate grievances. The Muslim community proved no exception to this rule, as many Muslim leaders believed that that Kenya ’s minority Muslim population has been at both a political and economic disadvantage since Kenya achieved independence in 1963. They contend that the second class status of Muslims resulted from the fact that KANU—the party that ruled Kenyan politics from independence through 2002—largely reflected a shifting coalition of political elites from various “inland” ethnic communities that are overwhelmingly Christian. According to this perspective, which is not without merit, the country’s development favored the largely inland regions that are predominately Christian and those regions with largely Muslim populations, namely the Coast, North Eastern and Eastern Provinces , remained marginalized in terms of education, economic development and political access. Overall, there is a general feeling among all the peoples of the Coast and North Eastern Provinces, not just among Muslims in those provinces, that residents of these provinces have had fewer opportunities than people from other provinces. As a consequence, they are less well integrated into the modern economy and have benefited less than other peoples of Kenya during the post-independence era.
In the Coastal region, the influx of Kenyans from other regions in search of employment and business opportunities has compounded feelings that Muslims have been at a disadvantage. These largely Christian “outsiders” have created competition for and resentment among some elements of the Coastal Muslim population. The feeling of alienation is particularly strong among unemployed Muslim (and non-Muslim) youth along the coast, who see wealth and economic prosperity (whether of up-country Kenyans or tourists) all around them.
Since the end of one party rule, the Coast has been host to the emergence of a strong reformist political movement that has championed land rights as one of its primary issues. There are two basic land issues: the rights of so-called squatters and public land-grabbing as a form of political patronage.
Many Coastal inhabitants, especially the Mijikenda and descendants of African ex-slaves, are squatters with no title deeds to the lands their ancestors lived on, and in some cases find themselves threatened by eviction. They settled, often for generations, on unused land titled to Arab and Swahili owners. The occupants of the land farm, both on a subsistence and cash crop basis, and forage the diverse local environment for provision of fuel, building materials and medicines. When the tourism industry expanded during the 1980s and as immigration by “inlanders” grew, the price of land skyrocketed with the result that titled owners often drove squatters off the land that they wished to sell to take advantage of the land market conditions. Those evicted are left landless and impoverished, and those who still toil land, to which they do not possess title, feel vulnerable and insecure. Both groups, it would appear, are susceptible to manipulation by political actors willing to champion their cause. There may be limits, however, to Islamist efforts to exploit the land issue, as the landowners are often Muslims themselves.
Under the KANU government, party supporters were often given public land as a form of political patronage, and given the rising price of land along the Coast, these transactions could be very lucrative. Squatters living on public land could be readily dispossessed of their homes and means of production through this form of political appropriation of land. Some of the disputed land in question held religious significance, for example, such as the Kayas, or sacred forest stands of the Mijikenda or as Muslims contested the use of public property used in their local festivals. A 2001 “land grab” incident in Mombasa illustrates the volatility of the land issue that took a religious tone: Muslim leaders threatened to make the town "ungovernable" unless the reported granting out of Makadara Grounds to political patrons was reversed. The faithful used the public car park and a recreational park during Islamic festivities. Representatives of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya, the Islamic Party of Kenya and the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims said they would throw out anyone who attempted to build on the grounds. During a Press conference soon after Dhuhur prayers, the chairman of the Council of Imams, Sheikh Ali Shee said they would resist "at all cost" the alienation of the plot, which is of religious significance to the town's Muslims. Said the Sheikh, "If this allocation is not revoked, the Government should prepare for mass action never witnessed before in this country.”
Islamic Party of Kenya
The Islamic Party of Kenya (IPK), which was formed to compete in the 1992 elections, tapped into the political alienation, resentment and economic disenfranchisement of Kenya ’s Coastal Muslim youth. Radical street preacher, Sheikh Khalid Balala, rose to prominence during the waning years of the single party era as a result of his fiery religious sermons in Mombasa ’s Wembe Tayari marketplace. As an IPK leader, Sheikh Balala came to command a sizeable following among the youth in Coast Province , some of whom were known to have advocated the establishment of an Islamic state in Coast Province and the full application of Sharia. This appears not to have reflected, however, the mainstream policies of the IPK, whose political thought may best be described as reformist rather than Islamist. Although the government did not allow the IPK to register as an official party because it had a religious orientation, its candidates won three of Mombasa ’s four parliamentary seats in the country’s first round of multiparty elections in 1992.
Sheikh Balala was born in Mombasa in 1958 to a father originally from Yemen . As a boy Balala studied the Koran and Arabic in local schools. At the age of seventeen, he traveled to Saudi Arabia to fulfill the Muslim duty of pilgrimage to Mecca , and he remained there for more than ten years studying Islam at Medina University while making a living selling religious books. He then visited various countries in Europe and Asia . In Britain he completed a course in business management, and in India he studied Islam and comparative religion. He claims he decided to combine the knowledge he had acquired of Islam and of business management in order to “sell,” that is, to disseminate, the Islamic religion.
During the period when Sheikh Balala became de facto head of IPK, external support helped the IPK to effectively mobilize a mass following. The Sudanese and the Iranian governments reportedly played key roles in this regard. Sheikh Balala cemented his relationship with Sudan ’s radical National Islamic Front regime during his several trips to Khartoum . Sudan ’s support for the IPK was consistent with Khartoum ’s policy of promoting an Islamist agenda in the region and as a means of undermining Kenyan support for the rebel Sudanese People’s Liberation Army. The Sudanese government, however, specifically denied at the time allegations that it was training armed IPK insurgents in Sudan .
IPK’s phenomenal popularity in the 1990’s including its parliamentary seat victories threatened then ruling KANU party politicians who then sought to vilify the IPK and harass its leadership. The KANU government and its supporters moved to drive a wedge between Arab and African Muslims as a way of diluting the IPK threat. KANU politicians encouraged the establishment of an alternative “black African” Muslim party, the United Muslims of Africa (UMA), to rival the IPK, which its opponents falsely characterized as an expression of Kenyan “Arabs,” because much of the IPK’s leadership, certainly with the notable exception of Sheikh Balala, could be described as African Muslims.
Some have charged that the UMA amounted to little more than a political gang that included former members of Idi Amin’s military regime in Uganda and that used the race card and intimidating tactics to break up IPK support. In an effort to undermine support of IPK and other opposition parties, KANU supporters also instigated election-related violence in 1997 that led to the massacre of hundreds of people in Likoni near Mombasa .
Although immensely popular in the Mombasa street, the inflammatory rhetoric of Sheikh Balala provoked a power struggle within the organization that resulted in his expulsion from the party and a moderation of the party’s hard-edged style. The Kenyan government later moved to repeal Sheikh Balala’s citizenship while he was visiting Germany , with the consequence that he was unable to return to Kenya for several years. His removal from the party and the years spent in exiled weighed heavily on Sheikh Balala’s political ascendancy, and when he belatedly returned to electoral politics in an unsuccessful 2002 parliamentary race, he did so as a member of the Green Party. A political survey of Kenyans indicates that the IPK has maintained significant popularity, although much moderated in its political style from the turbulent days of Sheikh Balala’s leaders.
Kenya ’s North Eastern Province should be on the watch list as a possible terrorist trouble spot. Its porous border with unstable Somalia has made it an easy entry point and haven for radical Islamist groups, including Al Qaeda allies, and would-be terrorists. Its geographical isolation and poor communications infrastructure has often meant that reports on the activities of extremist groups are sketchy. Nonetheless, since the late 1990’s and as late as 2003, there have been persistent reports of AI AI activities among both Somali refugee populations and Kenyan Somali communities in this province. This suggests that accounts that AI AI had become a spent force in Somalia following its military rout by Ethiopia in the 1990’s may be mistaken. In Kenya , AI AI has engaged in both military and ideological recruitment—seeking recruits for its militia and for its brand of Wahhabism. Social, economic and political conditions in the province and its proximity to politically chaotic Somalia make it seemingly fertile ground for criminal activity and the operation of extremist groups, such as AI AI. The influence that AI AI wields in the province is explained in part by the fact that it once maintained a military stronghold in the Gedo region of Somalia that directly abuts North Western Province until Ethiopia eliminated the Islamist militia from Gedo in the late 1990’s.
Kenyan Somalis residing in North Eastern Province live in what is probably the most marginalized region of the country. The province is the least developed economically and it is politically insecure. Banditry is widespread; road travel often requires armed escort; and inter-clan fighting is endemic. Lawlessness in the province worsened after the 1991 collapse of the government in the neighboring Republic of Somalia , as hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees entered the Province. The refugee camps became host to an illegal trade in small arms that heightened the insecurity in the Province. Organized criminal groups used the Province as a pass through for arms smuggling to Nairobi , where violent crimes increased, and on to other countries in the region. The United Nations has expressed concern about Al Qaeda’s involvement in this arms trade.
Kenyan Somalis maintain a guarded, if not hostile relationship to the central government. This political alienation in rooted in the Shifta separatist insurrections of the 1960’s. After independence in 1963, Kenyan Somali rebels took up arms in a bid to force the Province’s integration into the Republic of Somalia , which had achieved independence earlier in 1960. The Somali government encouraged the rebels’ separatist aspirations in anticipation of the merger of that part of Kenya into Somalia , but the Somali government failed to supply the Kenyan rebels with the weapons support that they had expected. As a result, the newly independent Kenyan government managed to quickly suppress the rebellion, though sporadic insurrections continued to challenge the Kenyan authorities during the decade that followed. The repressive tactics of government security forces since the insurrections have nurtured resentment among many Kenyan Somalis against their government. According to the Kenya Somali Community of North America, government forces committed at least four sizeable massacres of Kenyan Somalis since 1975, for instance. It will be interesting to see if the electoral transfer of power in 2002 to the National Rainbow Coalition government will begin to change Somali perceptions of the central government.
Government policy throughout much of the 1990s until 2002, which required Kenyan Somalis to carry a second identification card in addition to their regular Kenyan identification card, exacerbated their anti-government feelings. The government implemented this measure in an apparent attempt to deter illegal immigration from Somalia , but many Kenya Somalis felt they were singled out because of their religion. In August 2002, then Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi, ended the special identity card policy, explaining that the Government would henceforth rely instead on local elders and leaders to determine the citizenship of Somalis. However, many Kenyan Muslims including Somalis feel that their communities continues to be unduly targeted, and their leaders claim that since the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi and the November 2002 terrorist attacks in Mombasa, government discrimination against their community worsened, especially the demands for identity documents.
Instances of AI AI recruitment has reportedly taken place in and around the town of Garissa and among the Somali refugee communities at the nearby Dadaab refugee camps. Dadaab consists of three refugee camps with a combined population of around 130,000 individuals. Kenyan MP, Fafi Barre Shill, said that “thousands of residents in Hulugho division,” including the town of Mandera” adjacent to the Somali border, had become affiliated with AI AI, although others have tried to discredit this account of AI AI in Hululgho, branding it as sensationalism.
The growth of Islamic fundamentalism in the Province has been noted by several sources, and has been attributed to AI AI preaching. The now-banned Al Qaeda-allied Saudi-based charity Al Haramain, which fostered Wahhabist ideology, was also active in the Province. The Constitution of Kenya Review Commission recorded in 2002 an increased demand in North Western Province for the adoption of Islamic law. The members of the Commission attributed the increased demand for the introduction of Sharia to the call by Islamists made the previous year for the establishment of a Caliphate in the province. The creation of an Islamic Caliphate to govern all Somalis has been the principal goal of AI AI.
A researcher for the Washington-based Fund for Peace indicated in 2000 that “a more radical Islam is talking hold there (in the camps) and is being imposed on those not interested.” After numerous interviews with refugees at Dadaab in 2003, the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights also reported that AI AI members had infiltrated the camps, disguised as refugees, and that some of them were teaching “extremism” in local madrassas where tens of thousands of children and adults go daily for learning. According to Monica Kathina Juma of the Center for Refugee Studies,
"Somali refugees have begun to conduct religious training that is akin to Taliban-styled madrassa classes in refugee camps, allegedly in preparation for defending Islam and Somali nationhood.” This religious training apparently plays on refugee fears that the United States is out to punish Somalis for the armed opposition to the U.S.-led Operation Restore Hope in 1993.
The Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, which supported AI AI activities in Somalia , also supported madrassas, mosques and social services in North Western Province , and is known to have fostered the puritanical and fundamentalist brand of Islam. When the Kenya branch of Al Haramain stopped operations due to the ban on its operations after its designation by the United Nationas as a terrorist organization at the request of the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, the impact was immediately felt in the province, where in Garissa District, for instance, children living in centers supported by Al Haramain reportedly were left homeless. According to local Muslim leaders,
The closure of AI-Haramain Islamic Foundation office in Nairobi has led to the closure of 20 centers and the loss of 200 jobs that cost the local economy KSh 13.2 millions per annum which catered for the upkeep and education of more than 1000 refugee and Kenyan orphan and destitute children at Dadaab, Ifo Dagahle and Hagardeera camps.
However justified the banning of Al Haramain, the action has contributed to a growing anti-Americanism in the Province.
Though geographically isolated from the rest of Kenya , Somali criminal gangs have mounted a transportation and communications infrastructure readily available to terrorists. Kathi Austin of the Fund for Peace who conducted extensive research in the Dadaab refugee camps in 2000, reported "I had specific information [about terrorist training in Dadaab] before Sept. 11….I was looking at arms networks going from Somalia into Kenya, and I ran into terrorists competing with criminal elements and clans to take advantage of those networks." The political factions fighting inside Somalia carry out the violence and smuggle inside the camps. According to Austin , the camps had become a “nerve center for arms trafficking” throughout East Africa . The criminal gangs operating out of the Dadaab camps are responsible for “all sorts of illicit activity affecting downtown Nairobi .” She said that weapons traffickers “operate a sophisticated radio network linking Somalia , the camps and Nairobi .” Somali refugees communicate among Nairobi , the camps and Somalia using radio sets called taars. The Kenya government is concerned that the informal communication networks are used by terrorists and other criminals to pass on information. Taars also interfere with official police and NGO frequencies, and police carry out campaigns against their use.
North Western Province with its porous border with Somalia and a growing Islamic fundamentalist presence has become an easy entry point for illegal immigration, smuggling of arms and other illicit items and foreign terrorists. In late 2002, Kenya authorities apprehended in the Dadaab refugee camps eleven Iraqis and three Syrians who had illegally crossed into Kenya from Somalia using falsified travel documents. They had reportedly made their way into the country on local bush trails known as panyas. Kenyan security authorities suspected that the group was on a mission to launch a terrorist assignment, and had them deported on charges of having illegally entered the country.
The growth of anti-Americanism in North Eastern Province has been palpable. Local Muslims associate the U.S. with what they consider to be anti-terrorism abuses by Kenyan security forces. In July 2003, Muslim leaders called for the closure of a newly-establish Kenyan anti-terrorism police unit with offices in Garissa and in Mombasa . These leaders claimed that the office had been created by the United States to intimidate and harass Muslims under the guise of fighting terrorism.
Given the rise in Islamic fundamentalism and fears of an American reprisal in the Province, it is not surprising that local residents reacted strongly to the arrival of a detachment of U.S. Marines in Garissa on a good will mission. Hundreds of Muslims attempted to eject the Marines from a Garissa hotel, and some 40 people reportedly wound up injured during the incident. The Marines, who had been stationed at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti as part of a Combined Joint Task Force—Horn of Africa, had arrived to provide medical and veterinarian assistance in the Province.
Some local Muslim leaders recognized the goodwill exercise as a misguided attempt to compensate for the loss of social services resulting from the stoppage of Al Haramain charitable works in the region due to the U.S. government’s linkage of the charity to support for Al Qaeda. The local population, which had ample knowledge of the counter-terrorism objective of the Combined Joint Task Force based in Djibouti and awareness of threats in the media that the U.S. might intervened in Somalia to prevent it from becoming an Al Qaeda stronghold, interpreted the goodwill gesture as a threat to its security. The local population was also aware that the U.S.-led humanitarian intervention in Somalia in 1992, which resulted in open warfare with Somali factional leader Mohamed Farah Aideed had also started as a humanitarian operation. According to local Islamic leaders, the community was fearful that a U.S. military presence might attract Al Qaeda operatives intent on combating American forces, thus creating greater insecurity in the region. To add fuel to the fire, local radical Imams and Sheikhs reportedly incited faithful in mosques against the Marine activities, saying the medicines were laced with toxic substances intended to wipe out the Muslim population from the world.
Al Qaeda’s Presence in Kenya
Beginning in the early 1990’s, when bin Laden was in Sudan , Al Qaeda began setting up an East Africa operation, based in Nairobi , with operational activities also on the Kenyan Coast , in Somalia , in Tanzania and in Uganda . As part of its campaign to rid the region, including Somalia , of an American presence, Al Qaeda contemplated striking at American targets in Kenya prior to the 1998 bombing of the American embassy, but no action took place. Under the leadership of Al Qaeda's overall military commander and co-founder, Al Ubaidah al-Banshiri, Nairobi served as “the nerve center of military operations in Somalia .” U.S. Federal prosecutors said that at least five group members crossed the border to Somalia to train and supply logistic support to some of the fighters involved in the October 3, 1993 battle with U.S. Special Forces that left 18 Americans and several hundred Somalis dead. Evidence suggests that Al Qaeda support for operations in Somalia was far more extensive.
Between 1993 and1997, Al Ubadiah al-Banshiri and Wadih el Hage, bin Laden’s personal secretary, established a small business empire. Beginning in early 1993, the year when Al Qaeda found itself in financial difficulty after the Sudanese government failed to honor contracts to bin Laden, al-Banshiri and El Hage made a coordinated attempt to use diamonds, tanzanite and rubies to make the East African operations financially self-sufficient. These two top Al Qaeda operatives masterminded the trading of rough diamonds and other gemstones from Kenya and Tanzania and the establishment of diamond, gold and tanzanite mining companies in Tanzania .
Other Al Qaeda operatives, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani and Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, went on to use the knowledge that they gained from Al Qaeda’s diamond-trading operations in East Africa to establish a diamond-buying laundering operation in Liberia and Sierra Leone in 2000-2001. Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah is believed to have been the mastermind of the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi . The Tanzanian, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, and the Comoran, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, an Al Qaeda computer expert, were involved in the Dar es Salaam bombing. Ghailani, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed and Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah were familiar with the diamond and gemstone dealings of al-Banshiri and El Hage and had extensive diamond knowledge from diamond buying trips to Angola , the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire).
Al Qaeda and individuals connected with the organization bought property in Tanzania in order to mine diamonds. They established diamond and gem mining and trading companies in Kenya and Tanzania . Ashif Mohamed Juma, a Tanzanian and brother-in-law of al-Banshiri, set up a company called Taheer Limited to mine diamonds and gold in Tanzania . It most likely was used to launder illicit diamonds from eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo . After al-Banshiri’s death in a ferry disaster on Lake Victoria in May 1996, El Hage found another partner, an unwitting Jordanian gemstone trader called Mohamed Ali Muraweh Saleh Odeh, who was based in Nairobi . In Kenya El Hage found yet another unsuspecting partner in the then Kenyan assistant minister for agriculture, Dr. Joseph Misoi, and set about incorporating a company called Black Giant Mining. Although it never got off the ground, it appears that the company was going to be used for legitimate business purposes.
El Hage also set up a company, Tanzanite King, in Nairobi and Mombasa for trading tanzanite gemstones to Dubai and Hong Kong . The gems, unique to Tanzania , are mined at Mererani by small-scale miners. Tanzanian Muslim radicals have sought to corner the Tanzanite market. In 2002 testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency indicated that after the embassy bombings and the break up and flight of Al Qaeda operations in East Africa that “there have been no further credible indications of al-Qaida involvement in gem trading.” Yet, reporting by the Wall Street Journal cast some doubt on that assessment. The Journal reported in 2001 that a radical cleric, Sheikh Omar, at the Taqwa mosque in Mererani issued edicts that Muslim miners should sell their stones only to fellow Muslims. Radical Muslims had established a type of Mafia to dominate the trade. According to one informant, “Even if non-Muslims offer better prices for our stones, we are harassed by the fundamentalists not to sell to anyone but them. Many Muslim miners obey because they are scared of them.” The mosque reportedly had been a hotbed of support for bin Laden in his struggle against the United States . It is not known if radical Muslim gangs are a legacy operation of the Al Qaeda gem trade.
On the Kenyan coast near Mombasa another Al Qaeda operative, the Yemeni-born Mohammed Sadek Odeh, used organization funds to set up a fishing business in 1994, the proceeds from which were used to help support Al Qaeda operations there. Odeh had moved to Mombasa from Somalia , where he had participated in Al Qaeda operations, and he used the fishing company as cover to smuggle arms from Somalia as well as to export arms to Afghanistan . Odeh was later convicted of murder in the United States for his role in the Nairobi embassy bombing.
Al Qaeda also created or worked through existing Islamic Charities. The potential offered by charities—as a source of finance, as a network through which propaganda can be disseminated and as a means of enhancing one’s reputation among Muslims through humanitarian gestures—was not lost on Al Qaeda. In Nairobi , prior to the embassy bombing, Al Qaeda worked through Mercy International Relief Agency and Help Africa People. Bin Laden and Mohammed Atef were both linked to Mercy International Relief, which gave bin Laden an identity card and helped give bin Laden cover. Mercy International was financed by “Saudi merchants.” The same charity also employed in its Pakistan operation relatives of Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the 1993 New York World Trade Center bombing. One of the Nairobi bombers, Fazul Mohammed, traveled often to Somalia on behalf of Help Africa People. He used funds raised overtly in areas such as the Persian Gulf to implement an anti-malaria project in Somalia on behalf of Al Qaeda’s allied organization AI AI. The Al Qaeda charities also carried out humanitarian activities among the Somali Muslim population in North Eastern Province , as did Al Haramain that was subsequently linked to Al Qaeda and AI AI.
Al Qaeda justified its decision to attack Kenya by claiming that the government’s orientation was too pro-American. The embassy bombing killed 219 people including 12 Americans. On the day after the 1998 attack, the Islamic Liberation Army of the People of Kenya, an Al Qaeda phantom organization, issued the following communiqué:
The Americans humiliate our people; they occupy the Arabian peninsula ; they extract our riches; they impose a blockade; and, besides, they support the Jews of Israel, our worse enemies, who occupy the Al-Aqsa mosque. . . .The attack was justified because the government of Kenya recognized that the Americans had used the country’s territory to fight against its Moslem neighbors, in particular Somalia . Besides, Kenya cooperated with Israel . In this country one finds the most anti-Islamic Jewish centers in all East Africa . It is from Kenya that the Americans supported the separatist war in Southern Sudan , pursued by John Garang’s fighters.
It is striking that prior to the 1998 embassy bombing in Nairobi no Kenyan appears among the Al Qaeda cadre participating in that terrorist act. However, by the time of Al Qaeda’s second attack in Kenya , in November 2002, Al Qaeda has successfully recruited a number of Kenyans who participated in the 2002 operation near Mombasa . Kenyans were also among those who plotted to strike the new U.S. embassy in Nairobi in 2003. One factor that may have contributed to the Al Qaeda’s success in recruiting Kenyans after 1998 was the perception by many Kenyan Muslims of increasing discrimination against them. The alleged heavy handedness of the counter terrorism measures undertaken by the Kenyan government, including its investigative techniques, has made many in the Muslim community feel vulnerable and resentful.
Al Qaeda’s November 2002 attacks inside Kenya consisted of a suicide bombing of the Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel in Kikambala near Mombasa and a failed simultaneous attempt to hit with missiles Israeli Arkia Air flight 582 departing from the Mombasa airport. These attacks are the first known Al Qaeda actions directly targeting Israelis. Bin Laden seems to have provided an explanation for this new tactic in an audio tape that he released a month prior to the Mombasa operations. In the tape he threatened the United States and its allies - Britain , France, Italy , Canada , Germany and Australia - and Israel . “You will be killed, just as you kill, and will be bombed just as you bomb,” he said. Another part of the tape included the sentence: "Our kinfolk in Palestine have been slain and severely tortured for nearly a century." The attacks are believed to have been bin Laden’s “answer to those Arabs who ask why Al Qaeda is not attacking Israel .”
By the time of the 2002 attacks, Mogadishu had apparently replaced Nairobi as Al Qaeda’s “nerve center’ in East Africa . Weapons used in the Mombasa attacks were smuggled into Kenya by sea from Somalia , according to the UN, and since the attack, Kenyan authorities have apprehended a number of terror suspects who entered from Somalia or have been linked to Somalia .
According to the UN report, the Paradise Hotel bombers used converted fishing boats for transport on at least two occasions, including their escape back to Somalia from Lamu. Weapons shipped from Somalia originate in, or are routed through, Djibouti , Eritrea , Ethiopia , United Arab Emirates and Yemen . The missiles and launchers used in the attempted downing of the Israeli airliner came from either Yemen or Eritrea via Somalia . The two Strela-2 surface-to-air missiles were manufactured in the Soviet Union in 1978, and the two "gripstock" launchers were produced in Bulgaria in 1993. Smugglers had painted the launchers blue and white for camouflage.
The Comoran, Mohammed Fazul, masterminded the attacks. He had ingratiated himself with the local Swahili community in Malindi and took a local woman as wife. Fazul Mohammed was born in the Federal Islamic Republic of the Comoros , a Swahili-speaking archipelago off the coast of Mozambique and North of Madagascar, and as such easily blended into Kenya ’s Swahili community in Coast Province . He attended a Wahhabi madrassa in the Comoros and at the age of sixteen received a scholarship to study at a Wahhabi madrassa in Pakistan . >From there he went to Afghanistan to join the Al Qaeda terrorist network. He traveled to the Sudan in 1994.
From this base in Malindi, Fazul recruited Kenyans and Somalis to his cause. According to a UN report, several organizers of the Mombasa actions worked prior to the attacks as lobster fishermen along the Coast, which is reminiscent of the fishing business that Al Qaeda set up near Mombasa prior to the 1998 attacks apparently as cover for smuggling arms from Somalia .
Most of the Al Qaeda men who made it back to the Somali capital remained there for several months, living on cash allowances provided by a Sudanese financial controller, the UN panel reports. One member of the team, Suleiman Ahmed Hemed, found a job with the driving pool for a major Mogadishu hotel before being captured in a joint Kenyan-American operation in April 2003.
According to an uncorroborated 2002 claim by an Israeli-based intelligence subscription newsletter, 150 Al Qaeda and Egyptian Islamic Jihad fighters were stationed southwest of the Somali city of Xagar . According to this source, some members of the Al Qaeda team that carried out the 2002 attacks in Mombasa escaped from Kenya by flying to this camp. According to the newsletter, a coalition of Somali supporters of Osama bin Laden sheltered the Xagar fugitive community. “It is made up of local warlords, who receive money, weapons and orders from Colonel Barre Aden Share, known locally as Barre-Hiralle. The colonel reportedly gets his income, support and men from Sheikh Bashir of the fundamentalist Jama Islamiya and Abdulqassim Salaad Hassan, the transitional president of Somalia .”
Counter Terrorism Backlash
Kenyan government efforts to investigate and prevent terrorist activities following the 1998 Al Qaeda embassy bombing and the 2002 attacks near Mombasa have added to the grievances proclaimed by Kenyan Muslims. The poverty of Kenyan journalism on terrorism and on the functioning of Al Qaeda-associated businesses and charities, accompanied by a failure of the Kenyan government to adequately explain its counter-terrorism activities, appears to have helped aggravate the Muslim backlash against the government’s policy.
The degree of Muslim concern over government handling of anti-terrorism measures is born out by a 2004 survey analysis of Kenyan attitudes which showed that Muslims and Christians differed significantly in their views of the matter. Among Christians, 74% of respondents gave the government positive ratings for its handling of the terrorism threat, 10% offered a negative rating, and 16% answered “don’t know.” On the other hand, among Muslims a much slimmer majority of 52% still gave support, but more than twice as many Muslims (24%) than Christians rated the government’s counter-terrorism efforts as “fairly bad” or “very bad,” and 24% did not have an opinion.
A review of Muslim reactions in the Kenya press since the 1998 Al Qaeda bombing of the U.S. embassy reveals a constant and vocal resentment on the part of Muslim leaders of anti-terrorism measures undertaken by the government. The first incident of Muslim backlash against government anti-terrorism actions occurred when the government sought to ban the activities of Islamic charities implicated in the embassy bombing: Help Africa People, the International Islamic Relief Organisation; the Ibrahim bin Abdul Aziz al Ibrahim Foundation; Al Muntada Al Islami; and the Mercy Relief Organization. The banning of the charities became controversial because international Muslim charities provide much needed legitimate humanitarian work for Kenyan Muslims.
At the time of the announcement, the government spokesman sought to justify its actions: “These organizations are supposed to be working for the welfare of Kenyans, but are instead endangering Kenyan lives…” The government explained, perhaps erroneously, that the ingredients for manufacturing the bomb used in the embassy attack had entered the country as part of a humanitarian shipment of food. It was only later that the public learned some Muslim charities had acted as Al Qaeda front organizations.
Alarmed at the effect of the banning on Muslim welfare activities in 1998, Muslim leaders challenged the decision to de-register the NGOs and called for a general strike to protest the closures of the charities. The leaders said the government’s action sought to suppress Islamic activities in the country. “We are surprised when Muslim NGOs come to assist and improve the social and economic status of Muslims, the government de-registers them,” said Abdulgafur Busaiddy, head of the Supreme Council of Kenyan Muslims. “This testifies that the marginalization of Muslims is not accidental, but deliberate,” he added. Kenya ’s high court later reinstated the agencies and Muslim leaders called off a nationwide protest strike. Muslims were adamant in their claim that the Kenyan government had been pressured to carry out the ban by the U.S. government. “Otherwise why are they doing it after the embassy bombing? Are the two connected?” wondered Ismail Aden Issak, another Muslim leader.
Many Muslim leaders in Kenya occupy positions on the boards of these foreign-funded charities, and often benefit personally from this relationship. These leaders appear to have been unaware of the connections that have been made between these charities and international terror. In a sense, many leaders have become part and parcel of network of foreign support and foreign influence taking root in mosques, madrassas and other institutions providing social services. The implications of the growing foreign control of Kenyan Muslim institutions are profound and are presented in more detail in the final section of this study.
Nairobi has investigated and cracked down on Arab-funded NGOs in Kenya out of a concern that they are financial conduits for terrorist activity, and it has had plenty of reason to justify its actions. As previously noted, Al Qaeda operated through charitable front organizations, and the United States and Saudi Arabia linked the Kenya branch of the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation to both Al Qaeda and AI AI. In addition, personnel of the World Muslim League, one of the largest charities created by the Saudi royal family, have reportedly worked for or with Al Qaeda in Kenya .
In 2003, the government reportedly banned funding from Arab-funded NGOs, as part of its wider campaign against terrorism. The Africa Muslim Agency, an international NGO, has threatened to pull out of Kenya because two of its directors were deported, and in 2004 apparently under pressure from the U.S. government, Kenyan government authorities deported the head of the Nairobi branch of the Muslim charity Al Muntada Al Islami for not having his work permit in order. Mhawiye Hussein Abu-Waid, a Sudanese, had been the subject of a police investigation that apparently failed to come up with substantial evidence linking him to terrorist activity. Al Muntada Al Islami was one of the charities temporarily closed down after the Nairobi embassy bombing. It maintains operations in North Eastern Province .
The expulsion of Abu-Waid coincided with a crackdown against Al Muntada Al Islami in Nigeria , where authorities alleged that the head of the Nigerian branch of Al Muntada Al Islami, the Sudanese wahhabist cleric, Muhiddeen Abdullahi, had funded a short-lived uprising by Muslim youths in Yobe State . The Muslim rebels called for the establishment of an Islamic state, and fought security forces in a series of clashes that left two police and more than a dozen rebels dead. Al-Muntada Al-Islami is a charity based in the United Kingdom that reportedly receives substantial support from Saudi Arabia . (See Al Muntada Al Islami web site: http://www.discoverislam.co.uk/.)
In 2003, Muslim leaders asked the government to lift the ban on financial assistance from non-governmental organizations in the Arab world. Without the funds, development projects in Muslim areas, including health centers and Islamic schools (madrassas), would suffer, they said. Muslim leaders scoffed at U.S. efforts to help compensate for the decline in Islamic assistance by providing resources to improve the quality of education in Islamic schools, saying that they wanted funds restored from Islamic sources.
The police tactics in investigating terrorist activities, including the Al Qaeda actions of 1998 and 2002, have provoked bitter protest from the Muslim community. What many Muslims regarded as intrusive discriminatory tactics against their communities may have helped create fertile ground for radical Islamic recruiters. Indeed, as previously noted, the first Al Qaeda cell in Kenya responsible for the embassy bombing did not contain any Kenyans in its ranks. However, this situation changed dramatically as a number of Kenyans participated in the 2002 Al Qaeda attacks against Israeli targets in Mombasa , and other Al Qaeda activities.
The expression of Muslim concerns that the suppression of terrorism unfairly discriminated against Muslims increased after the 2002 attacks. According to a 2003 report, some 80 Muslims had been detained on suspicious of terror links, giving rise to accusations that Muslims were being used as scapegoats and that the cases are unduly influenced by foreign interference, pressure and funding. After the large scale investigations of the 2002 Mombasa terrorist acts, one young Mombasa resident, Ali Amin, complained, “Policemen, armed to the teeth have broken into our homes and arrested our mothers and sisters, put them through mental torture and released them without preferring any charges.”
Kenyan Muslim activists and human rights organization accused the Kenyan government of allowing foreign security agents to torture interrogate and violate the rights of Kenyans suspected of terrorism. They claimed that the government had permitted foreign security agents, in particular, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations and Israeli security agents to harass families and relatives of terror suspects. To illustrate their case, Kenyan human rights groups pointed to the prolonged and, so they argued, legally questionable detention of the brother of terrorist suspect, Saleh Ail Saleh Nabhan, as means to pressure him to reveal the whereabouts of his brother.
The Kenyan government has acted to curb some of the excesses of its security forces involved in anti-terrorism work. For example, in response to protests by prominent Mombasa Muslim leaders, Kenya ’s National Security Minister, Chris Murungaru, ordered, in December 2003, an end to unauthorized police swoops outside Mombasa mosques.
The National Rainbow Coalition government has showed sensitivity to Muslim concerns in other areas. Given the perception that government security forces were overly zealous in combating Islamic terrorism, it is little wonder that the Muslim community opposed the 2003 proposal for “Suppression of Terrorism” legislation that the government believed would give Kenya the legal framework needed to more effectively deal with terrorists. According to Amnesty International’s 2004 Report, the
…Suppression of Terrorism Bill …if enacted, would allow the police to arrest suspects and search property without the authority of the courts. It provided for the incommunicado detention of suspected ‘terrorists’ for up to 36 hours, and the extradition of suspects without internationally agreed safeguards. The bill conferred on members of the security forces immunity from prosecution for the use of ‘reasonable force’ in the performance of their duties in fighting ‘terrorism’.
In response to Muslim outrage over the legislation and concerns by human rights groups, the government postponed its enactment of the legislation and initiated a review process that included Kenyan human rights groups to fine tune the draft law.
The effort to ban Islamic Courts in Kenya is another issue heightening resentment among Kenyan Muslims. Muslim leaders became incensed over efforts by some Christian religious leaders to remove provisions for Islamic Courts, known in Kenya as Khadhi Courts from the draft constitution. The Kadhi Courts, whose jurisdiction is limited to personal law, i.e. marriage, divorce and inheritance, have been enshrined in the constitutions since independence. Kenya is engaged in a process of drafting a new constitution, and elements of the Christian press appears to have misled the public by distorting the scope and power of the Kadhi Court provisions in the draft constitutions, saying that jurisdiction was to be expanded to commercial and civil disputes.
Various prominent Muslim leaders have called for actions ranging from Jihad to the establishment of a Muslim state if Islamic courts were eliminated from the constitution. In April 2003 more than 2,000 Muslims demonstrated in Nairobi , and 8,000 protested in the predominately Somali town of Garissa in North Eastern province. The leaders, drawn from the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya and the Islamic Party of Kenya (IPK), said that Muslims deserved the courts and that they would not relent in the struggle to have the courts entrenched in the new constitution. IPK chairman Sheikh Khalifa Mohammed charged that the plans to remove the Kadhi Courts were funded by foreign governments—a veiled reference to the United States . He said, “We will stand firm and ensure that our rights are enshrined in the national constitution,” and charged that the leaders were lying when they said that Muslims wished to turn Kenya into an Islamic state to achieve their objectives.
In May 2004, Muslim leaders again reacted angrily to plans by 40 Christian bishops to reject the draft constitution at the referendum stage unless the Kadhi Courts were removed from it. Later in July, Church leaders, drawn mainly from the Anglican Church of Kenya and Evangelical Churches of Kenya, filed a judicial petition seeking to have the court declare that the entrenchment of the Kadhi Courts in the constitution, introduction of Sharia laws, is for the “sole purpose of acquiring political power, supremacy and control over Africa and Kenya by undemocratic means.”
The sympathies of Kenyan Muslim with the suffering of fellow Muslims abroad have become apparent in recent years, and have contributed to a radicalization of Kenya ’s Muslim youth. Kenyan imams preach in mosques about the injustices done to their brothers in Afghanistan during the U.S.-led intervention, and Muslim youth can recite a litany of Israeli wrongs against Palestinians. Mombasa and Nairobi have witnessed a number of protests against Israeli treatment of Palestinians and U.S. actions in Iraq . In Mombasa , Muslim youth have even rioted out of a sense of outrage of the perceived injustices meted out to Muslims.
The international media, with its images of civilian casualties in Afghanistan , Palestine and Iraq , have contributed to a growing anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment among many Kenyans and most of all among Kenya ’s Muslim population. One middle class Muslim parent in Mombasa , explained “My children sit all day and watch TV, and they see Palestinian people being killed by Jews, Afghans killed by Americans, and they have no context. They don't understand it. They only see killing, and they become extreme.”
One of Kenya ’s most outspoken Islamic leaders, Sheikh Ali Shee, who is chairman of Kenya ’s Council of Imams and who preaches at one of Mombasa ’s more radical mosques, Sakina, has over the years spoken out against the injustice against Muslims internationally. Yet, he is concerned that the political and social injustices are radicalizing the Muslim youth. He believes his generation of Muslims faces the challenge of seeing younger people drifting toward more extremist elements. “Al Qaeda is the hero for the young people…It’s very difficult,” he said. “…we have to solve the problem of injustice.”
Ideological Implications of Foreign Islamic Funding
According to David C. Sperling, a leading scholar of Kenyan Islam, international organizations and foreign Muslim communities have turned Kenya into the battleground of an on-going religious “cold war.” Saudi Arabia , Iran and other Muslim countries offer scholarships for study overseas, sponsor social and cultural activities, and fund numerous projects and institutions, often in competition with each other. Local Muslim communities often pay a price for these charitable acts, namely the handing over of local community controls of Islamic affairs to foreign patrons.
Generous propositions are made to build new mosques or madrasa, and to pay the salaries of the imam and religious teachers, but on condition that the local Muslim community benefiting from the grant hands over control (and sometimes the title deed of the land) of the mosque or madrasa, and allows the donor agency to appoint the imam and teachers. Viewed in this context, the objective of some of the donor agencies seems to be not so much to strengthen local Muslim communities, but rather to increase their own influence and control over those communities.
As in many other countries, the foreign patrons advocate a Wahhabist brand of Islam that perceives the world in stark terms as opposed to the more tolerant form of Islam traditionally practiced by Swahili and Somali Muslims. An incident in a mosque near Mombasa illustrates the type of conflict that has emerged between local Muslims and, in this case, the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation.
A fight broke out during Friday prayers at the Aqsa Mosque in Kisauni between the local Muslim community and the officials of the Islamic foundation after the local Kisauni community numbering more than 300 were forced to listen to a sermon given by a Muslim preacher who does not conform to their cultural values. A local Muslim preacher, Ustadh Bampini, who had been invited by the local Muslim community to lead prayers, was about to mount the stairs to the Minbar (pulpit) to deliver the Friday sermon when he was blocked by an official of the Islamic Foundation. The official told the congregation that Ustadh Bampini had no authority to deliver the sermon. He said that the person who had been delegated the duties of delivering the sermon was Ramadhan Alwa Juma. The congregation who had packed the mosque for Friday prayers then rose up and demanded the removal of the intruder to let Ustadh Bampini lead the prayers.
The importance given to controlling mosque leadership is evident when one understands that much of the ideological debate within Islam revolves around such religious practices as maulid (Prophet Mohammed’s birthday) and funeral prayers, which are usually carried out by the imam. These practices, considered heretical by the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia, have been a part of Swahili Islam, and of the various ethnic varieties of Islam in the Kenyan interior, for as long as can be remembered. Almost all rural African Muslim communities in Kenya have had a tradition of celebrating maulid, and many Kenya African Muslims first embraced Islam attracted by the maulid celebrations. The celebration of maulid has thus come to symbolize the ideological conflict between "popular" Swahili Islam and Wahhabi Islam.
Radical Islamic Expression in Tanzania :
The Domain of a Growing Minority
The appeal of radical political Islam remains weak in Tanzania, although groups of hard-core radicals seek to gain adherents by exploiting the growing suspicions between the Christian and Muslim communities, Muslim resentment of their real or perceived second class status, and frustration with the multiparty system’s unfulfilled promise to deliver an alternating disposition of power in the country. A convergence of various political and ideological strands has contributed to the growth of this radical minority in Tanzania . These domestic and foreign influences include:
The Pakistan-based Islamic missionary sect know as Tabliq Jamaat, that is proselytizing a fundamentalist form of Islam and sympathy for the international Islamist struggle, including those who use terrorism as a tactic;
Tanzanian veterans of the Afghanistan mujahidin struggle who returned to Tanzania after the defeat of the Soviet Union ;
Islamic nationalists dedicated to the restoration of the Sultanate on the semi-autonomous islands of Zanzibar ; and
Home-grown radicals resentful of the state’s discriminatory practices toward Muslims.
This radical Muslim minority constitutes fertile ground for recruitment by international and domestic terrorist groups. For instance, Tanzanians belonged to the Al Qaeda team that in 1998 bombed the U.S. embassy in Dar es Salaam; radical Tanzanian Muslims have organized a trade in gemstones with reported links to the Al Qaeda financial network; the Al Qaeda-linked charity – the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation -- plotted in 2003 to carry out terrorist acts on Zanzibar; and in 2003-2004 local Zanzabari Islamists unleashed a spate of terrorist acts on political, religious and tourism targets.
Political rhetoric that seeks to exploit the Christian/Islamic divide in the country has been on the rise in Tanzania particularly since the 1992 advent of multiparty rule, as political parties and radical Islamic preachers vie for popular support. Although no one knows for sure the religious composition of Tanzania’s population, estimates of the percentage of Christian and Muslims in the country range from between a third and one half for each group. Zanzibar is estimated to be about 97% Muslim. Many Muslim activists contend that Christian-dominated governments in both the colonial and post-colonial states are guilty of discrimination against Muslims especially in education, which has disadvantaged Muslims in the economy and in government service.
Despite the re-institution of a multiparty system in Tanzania, no party other than the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) has ever held power with the result that the security apparatus of the state continues, for all practical purposes, to function as an arm of the CCM. As a result, security forces have at times violently suppressed the opposition, including Islamist groups. This has been especially true in the semi-autonomous province of Zanzibar , which consists of the islands of Zanzibar , also called Ungua and Pemba , which has emerged as a hotbed of Islamist activity. Islamist political agitation, including terrorism, has been on the rise especially since government security forces brutally suppressed a 2001 opposition Civic United Front (CUF) protest of alleged electoral fraud by the CCM. Islamist anger is also aimed at the Western tourism industry in Zanzibar , which is seen as having a corrupting influence on Islamic and local values.
Tanzania ’s commercial capital, Dar es Salaam , has been the scene of volatile “street” politics often led by firebrand Islamic clerics. The public preaching by such clerics, which began in the 1990’s with political liberalization, often critiqued tenets of the Christian faith and earned the ire of the leadership of some Christian denominations. The Christian leaders then pressured the government to take action against these preachers, and the government, in an effort to preserve public order, imposed restrictions on certain Muslim religious activities. These restrictions have given rise to a further resentment by Muslims.
The Roots of Political Islam in Tanzania
Although the objectives of radical Muslim activists often do not appear to be well defined or uniform, it is clear that many are frustrated by what they consider to be the failures of the secular state to redress their grievances. As a remedy, some aspire to restore an Islamic state in Zanzibar and to enforce Sharia. Prior to German and later British colonialism, the Sultan of Zanzibar wielded considerable influence in large sections of what is now mainland Tanzania and Kenya . There are those who are concerned that the Islamists want to institute an Islamic state in the areas of Tanzania and Kenya that remain predominately Muslim.
Opposition Muslim literature is replete with resentment of the 1964 Zanzibari revolution that led to the dismantling of the independent democratically elected Zanzibari government. In December 1963, the British gave Zanzibar its independence as a constitutional Sultanate. One month later, in January 1964, it was overthrown, and by April 1964, post-revolution Zanzibar merged with Tanganyika to form Tanzania . Zanzibar became a semi-autonomous province of Tanzania with its own regional government and parliament.
The radical Muslim interpretation of these events amounts to a type of historical revisionism. According to the Islamist perspective, the specter of an Islamic state in the region triggered Christian politicians in Tanganyika and other African countries to conspire to rid the island state of its Islamic-oriented government. The reality of Zanzibar ’s revolution was, however, far more complicated, as a dimension of the revolution included a popular uprising of largely Muslim descendents of the African slave population against the descendent of the Arab slave and land owning class. However, the Islamist perspective pits Christian against Muslim and ignores the historic class tensions that have existed among Muslims in Zanzibar .
A year after the Zanzibari Revolution, Tanzania instituted a system of one-party rule on the mainland and in Zanzibar . The Tanganyika African National Union became the only legal party on the mainland and the Afro-Shirazi Party, which was an actor in the Revolution, became the sole political party in Zanzibar . The mainland and Zanzibari parties merged in 1970 to form the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM). The emergence of one-party rule stifled political dissent within the country including the discussion of Muslim grievances.
Within the politically intolerant climate of one-party rule, the government abolished an influential vehicle of Muslim expression, the East African Muslim Welfare Society (EAMWS), and created a quasi-governmental organization to represent Muslim interests in the country. EAMWS was founded in Mombasa in 1945 by the then Aga Khan, the leader of the Islamic Ismaili sect, with the aim of promoting Islam and raising the standard of living for East African Muslims. Asian Shiites, especially Ismaili, dominated and financed the organization, but Aga Khan urged all Muslims in East Africa , the vast majority of whom are Sunni Muslims, to regard EAMWS as their organization. The EAMWS leader in Tanzania , Abdallah Fundkikira, was one of the principal political rivals to President Nyerere in the 1960’s. EAMWS promoted a pro-capitalist vision for Tanzania , at a time when President Nyerere was implementing his socialist agenda for the country. Because of its Pan-Islamic and capitalist orientation, the pro-socialist Muslims in Nyerere’s party opposed EAMWS, and Tanzania banned EAMWS in 1968.
Consistent with the political pattern characteristic of the one-party state, President Nyerere sought to control Muslim expression by promoting the formation of a national Islamic organization, Muslims Baraza Kuu la Waislam wa Tanzania (Tanzana Muslim Council) or BAKWATA that maintained close ties with the ruling party. BAKWATA selected the country’s Islamic legal authority, the Mufti, who served as a government employee. This quasi-official Muslim organization became a thorn in the side of Muslims with political aspiration independent of the ruling CCM. Many Muslims felt that in the formation of BAKWATA President Nyerere had discriminated against their religion, as the ruling party did not sponsor a parallel quasi-statal organization for Christian denominations. As we shall see below, BAKWATA became a focal point of resistance and resentment for dissenting Muslims during Tanzania’s era of one-party rule and even later.
Muslim Complaints of Social and Economic Inequalities
Muslim opposition intellectuals say that favoritism of Christians in the civil service and in the education system led to social and political inequalities in Tanzania . They argue that failure of the British colonial state to subsidize Muslim education (as it had done with Christian missionary schools) contributed to the development of substandard education for Muslims. According to the University of Dar es Salaam Muslim polemicist, Hamza Mustafa Njozi:
As far as access to education and employment are concerned, Tanzania today is divided into two major classes; the privileged and the underprivileged. …the vast majority of Tanzanians who happen to be Christians are in the former category while the majority of citizens who are Muslims belong to the latter class. There is probably no serious researcher who can deny that Christians constitute a disproportionate majority of the best-trained minds in Tanzania . And since the majority of the finest medical doctors, lawyers, professors, engineers and professionals in other fields are Christians, naturally Christians also predominate in almost all key positions in government administration.
Such inequalities, Muslim critics argue, have led to growing political marginalization of Muslims. Many Muslim critics of the ruling CCM say it favors what is called the “Christian lobby” and remains insensitive to Muslim grievances. They feel that the discrimination against Muslims is a political betrayal of the many Muslims who were in the forefront of the Tanzanian independence movement. Muslim critics contend that their leaders were consistently marginalized within Zanu and later the CCM, despite the fact that Tanzania ’s second president, Ali Hassan Mwinyi, was a Muslim.
The Emergence of Islamic Political Radicalism in Tanzania
The origin of the current movement of radical Islamic political thought in Tanzania can be traced to the formation of the “Muslim Writers Workshop” or Warsha ya Waandishi wa Kiislam in Swahili. The founders of Warsha were students of a Pakistani teacher, Muhammed Hussein Malik, whom the government brought to Tanzania to teach mathematics. Eventually BAKWATA employed Professor Malik to also teach Islamic Studies in all secondary schools in and around Dar es Salaam . Within ten years, Professor Malik was able “to mold a strong following of disciplined and committed young men who began to see the injustices committed to Muslims in the Tanzanian society….”
They harbored the desire to initiate a political movement in Mainland Tanzania graced by Muslim sentiments to free Muslims from the bondage of Christian dominance. It was in their view that a movement similar to the independence struggle initiated by Muslim patriots in 1950s which ousted the British from Tanzania should be organized. But this time the struggle had to be different. This movement, instead of pursuing the nationalist-secularist ideology articulated by Muslim founders of the independence movement, should strive to adopt in the new movement Islam as the ideology of genuine freedom. The decision for this change of strategy was because secularism had failed Muslims in the political system of Tanzania .
Iran ’s Islamic Revolution in 1979 also influenced the Warsha group by reinforcing the idea that Islam could be wielded as a potent political ideology capable of mobilizing mass support.
Warsha managed in 1981 to help bring a more militant leadership, including Warsha members, into BAKWATA, whose leadership had been formerly hand-picked by then President Nyerere. Warsha members began to use their position to reinforce Koranic and Islamic Studies in a number of secondary schools under BAKWATA supervision. In addition, Warsha began using the print media and radio to get its political message across to the larger Muslim community. The CCM responded by restoring a more compliant leadership to BAKWATA. The government then quickly moved to remove Muslim schools from Warsha oversight. The government banned Warsha and declared its mentor, Professor Malik, a prohibited immigrant. He traveled to Nairobi and took up a position with the Saudi-based charity, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation. The United States and Saudi Arabia would in 2004 seek to close the Kenyan and Tanzanian branches of Al Haramain alleging that they provided support for Al Qaeda operatives and plotted terrorist acts.
Warsha later established its own educational institution, Masjid Quba and Islamic Centre, but the government refused to register the “Muslim fundamentalist” school. Only later, in 1987 did the government allow the school to be registered when a Muslim came to head the Ministry of Education.
CCM maintained firm control of BAKWATA, leaving Warsha and other Muslim organizations little recourse other than to demand the restoration of multiparty rule. For many years, Warsha publication and another Islamic magazine, Mizani, were in the forefront of the campaign for the restoration of multiparty system in Tanzania .
Growing Islamic Militancy: Government Violence and the Partisan Exploitation of Religion
The 1990’s witnessed a growing expression of militancy among sectors of the Muslim population that followed the country’s adoption of multiparty rule in 1992 and the playing of the religion card by some of those vying for political power. At times, members of the ruling CCM sought to discredit the opposition, especially the CUF, with charges that it harbored an Islamist agenda, and the CCM government acted to curb what it considered to be the growing Islamic militancy in the country by imposing restrictions on Muslim preaching practices.
For their part, some Muslim leaders began championing the growing grievances of the Muslim population in a bid to gain popular support for their position. During a 2001 demonstration by radical Muslims, for instance, one banner with the initials of the ruling CCM party read “Catholic Crusade Mission,” a reference to the prominent role that Catholics have played in the CCM. This political dynamic of exploiting religion for political ends contributed to heightened tensions between Christian and Muslim communities with a government little able or unwilling to seek a resolution of the growing conflict.
In spite of the heightened tensions between Muslims and Christians, a 2001 survey of Tanzanian attitudes showed that Tanzanians, both Muslim and Christian, on the mainland and in Zanzibar , retain a much stronger identity as Tanzanians or according to ocupation than religion. This finding suggests that radical Islamists may have made little inroad in winning over mass converts to their cause. Rather, it would appear that radicalism remains the property of a small portion of the Muslim population with the majority of Muslims aspiring for redress of their grievances through accommodations by the secular state.
A growing movement of Islamic fundamentalist preachers, who openly criticized Christianity during their public sermons and debates, has been the most visible expression of Islamic radicalism in Tanzania . The preaching of these clerics has contributed to the tension between Christian and Muslim groups. These preachers and their organizations have played a prominent role in the “street” politics of Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar . They have marshaled their supporters in vigilantism, civil protest, the takeover of mosques and, in some cases, terrorist acts. Such preachers have reportedly also been active in Tanga, Tabora and Kigoma. In part, the radical clerics reflect the international upsurge in militant and fundamentalist Islam inspired by the Iranian Islamic revolution and supported by foreign, especially Saudi, Islamic charities promoting a Wahhabist brand of Islam.
In reaction to the street preachers, the leaders of some Christian denominations turned to the government to take action against what they considered “blasphemous” propaganda. In early 1993, the Catholic bishops, for instance, issued a public statement against these preachers entitled Tamko Rasmi la Baraza la Maaskofu Katoliki Tanzania Mintarafu Kashf za Akidini (A Statement of the Tanzania Episcopal Conference on Religious Blasphemies). The bishops’ statement and an accompanying denunciation of the radical clerics that was broadcast on Catholic radio reportedly inflamed Muslim fundamentalist passion, and resulted in urban religious violence.
Some of these preachers have been linked to one of the largest Islamic missionary societies, Tabligh Jamaat, based in Raiwind, outside Lahore , Pakistan . Raiwind hosts an annual three-day gathering of over one million Tabligh fundamentalist believers. This is perhaps the largest assembly of Muslims after the annual hajj in Mecca . The roots of Tabligh’s religious ideology are found in the same school of Islamic thought, the Deoband madrassa in India , said to have also influenced the Taliban in Afghanistan .
Al Qaeda operatives have on occasion used membership in Tabligh Jamaat as a cover for their travels. In the U.S. , for instance, alleged Al Qaeda cell members of Yemeni origin in Lackawanna , New York , used the annual gathering of tablighis in Raiwind as a pretext to join the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan . According to leaders of the missionary society, tablighis are supposed to refrain from political activity. Yet, many tablighis appear sympathetic to the political Islamist agenda. Indeed, at the annual gathering of the movement in Raiwind in November 2001, a Los Angeles Times staff reporter found evidence of support for Osama bin Laden among some of the tablighis. In Uganda , a faction of the Tabligh sect is at the core of the rebel Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) that has operated against Uganda out of eastern Congo . The ADF was also reportedly responsible for numerous terrorist bombings in Kampala and other Ugandan towns in the 1990’s. The ADF seeks to establish an Islamic state in Uganda , and some of its supporters have been trained in Al Qaeda camps in Sudan and later Afghanistan . The Ugandan ADF also unsuccessfully sought support for its jihad from the Iraqi government.
One of the militant tablighis in Zanzibar ’s Pemba Island is Zahor Issa Omar, who travels to mainland Tanzania , Kenya and Uganda each year to preach. He told Associated Press that “There is an army of Muslims and they are fighting an army of non-Muslims – who are trying to destroy Islam.” Such preachers in Pemba are supported by Saudi Wahhabist charities, and receive stipends that are considered generous salaries by Zanzibari standards. The Saudi charities direct the local preachers to such a degree that the charities fax suggested texts for local sermons. The tablighis in Pemba reportedly preach support for Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda and opposition to the U.S. occupation of Iraq . An indication of the growing effectiveness of these preachers in winning converts may be found in the fact that at least 25 percent of the several hundred foreign fighters captured by November 2003 in Iraq came from East Africa , according to U.S. Marine Brigadier General. Mastin Robeson, Commander of the Joint Counter Terrorism Task Force based in Djibouti .
Two Zanzibari tablighis were involved in the 1998 Al Qaeda car bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania . A U.S. court convicted Khalfan Khamis Mohammed in 2001 for the murder of eleven people in the bombing U.S. embassy in Dar es Salaam . Mohammed had received weapons and explosives training in Afghanistan at Camp Manakando , which was run by a group called Har Qatar . He claims never to have been an Al Qaeda member. The other tabligh missionary/terrorist is Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, who was captured in Gurjat , Pakistan in late July 2004 during a joint Pakistani-U.S. raid.
Maalim Mohammed Idriss, a respected imam and Islamic historian in Zanzibar , said the tablighis and the Wahhabis, who sponsor them, have perverted the Islamic missionary tradition, which goes back centuries, and represent a threat to the region’s Sufi traditions. According to Idriss, “the Wahhabis are dangerous…the old men have become very disturbed, those following the old traditions have become very disturbed.”
One of the first radical preaching groups that came to public notice in Tanzania in the 1990’s was Umoja wa Wahubiri wa Mlingano wa Dini (Union of Preachers for Propagation of Religion) better known as UWAMDI, whose Secretary General is Sheikh Swaleh Uthman Ngoy. Founded in 1987, UWAMDI criticized the government’s use of the quasi-official BAKWATA to manage Muslim religious and educational affairs. Its publication, Mizani (The Balance), advocated the establishment of a multiparty system in Tanzania . The editor of Mizani, Khamis Muhammed, who was influenced by and wrote about Wahhabism, described the Iranian Islamic revolution as a source of inspiration, and in a 1990 interview he advocated that the Islamic Revolution in Iran should be followed by all Muslims in the world
Another group, Baraza la Uendelazaji Koran Tanzania (BALUKTA), known in English as the Tanzania Koranic Council, sought to promote the reading of the Koran and the spread of Islam through financial and material support to Islamic schools. It was active in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar . In April 1993, some BALUKTA members under the leadership of its president, Sheikh Yahya Hussein, were involved in attacks against butcheries selling pork in Dar es Salaam . Three slaughterhouses were destroyed and some 30 people arrested. BALUKTA and its supporters had taken offense at the rearing and slaughtering of pigs that had become common in religiously mixed neighborhoods. The government responded by banning the organization.
Tanzanian Deputy Prime Minister Augustine Mrema charged that BALUKTA had recruited 500 young men to set up an Islamic Army. One source claimed that BALUKTA received financial support from Sudan , and another source suggested that it was backed by Iran . However, Muslim activists say the allegations that BALUKTA was preparing to launch Jihad were unfounded and are symptomatic of journalistic sensationalism in Tanzania that contributes to the stereotyping of Muslims and foments hostilities between Christians and Muslims.
1998: Crackdown on Radical Clerics
Heavy-handedness of Tanzanian security forces in cracking down on radical Islamic preachers and on the democratic opposition have contributed to the radicalization of Muslims, especially the youth in Zanzibar and mainland Tanzania . Islamic polemicists point to the March 1998 killings at the Mbembechai mosque in Dar es Salaam and the 2001 killing of at least 23 opposition demonstrators in the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba as critical events in stirring up Muslim resentment. Indeed, incidents of abuse by government security forces in dealing with public expression of radical Islam added fuel to the fire.
In early 1998, Tanzanian authorities vowed to get tough on what they considered to be extremist Islamic preachers. Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa said his government would not tolerate “people who go about distributing cassettes, booklets and convening meetings where they insulted and ridiculed other religions.” The government then issued a “juristic ruling” proclaiming that the government would allow no Muslim to pray except on the day which would be announced by the leader of the Supreme Muslim Council, Mufti Hemed.
Afterward the ruling was issued, a Catholic priest, Father Camillius Lwambano, told audiences on Catholic Radio Tumaini in Dar es Salaam that he had heard Muslim preachers ridiculing the Lord Jesus Christ. The priest challenged the authorities to live up to their commitment to stop blasphemy. In the crackdown that ensued, police rounded up a number of Muslim preachers. In the aftermath, Muslim demonstrators clashed with police, and on February 13 police opened fired on a crowd gathered outside Mwembechai Mosque. Three or four Muslims were killed, and many lay wounded.
The Mwembechai killing appears to have been a turning point in the growing militancy of radical Muslims. The killings occurred in February 1998, and in August 1998, Al Qaeda bombed the U.S. embassy in Dar es Salaam . As mentioned above, two Tanzanians tablighis were part of the Al Qaeda team that bombed the embassy.
Al Qaeda’s Financial Link in Tanzania : Gems and Charity
Until the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Dar es Salaam , Al Qaeda’s involvement in Tanzania appears to have been restricted to business. Between 1993 and 1997, two senior Al Qaeda members, Al Ubadiah al-Banshiri, a reported co-founder of Al Qaeda, and Wadih el Hage, bin Laden’s personal secretary, masterminded the trading of rough diamonds and other gemstones from Kenya and Tanzania and the establishment of diamond, gold and tanzanite mining companies in Tanzania . As noted previously, from early 1993 onwards, the year when al Qaeda ran into financial difficulty because the Sudanese government had failed to honor contracts to bin Laden, a coordinated attempt was made by al-Banshiri and El Hage, through the Kenyan and Tanzanian Al Qaeda cells, to use diamonds, tanzanite and rubies with the aim of making the cells financially self-sufficient.
Al Qaeda operatives, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani and Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, used the knowledge that they gained from Al Qaeda’s diamond-trading operations in East Africa to establish, in 2000-2001, a diamond-buying, laundering operation in Liberia and Sierra Leone . Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah is believed to have been the mastermind of the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi . Tanzanian, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, and Comorian, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, an Al Qaeda computer expert, were involved in the Dar es Salaam bombing.
Al Qaeda and individuals connected to the organization bought property in Tanzania in order to mine diamonds, and to established diamond and gem mining and trading companies in Kenya and Tanzania . Ashif Mohamed Juma, a Tanzanian, and brother-in-law of al-Banshiri set up a company called Taheer Limited to mine diamonds and gold in Tanzania . It most likely was used to launder illicit diamonds from eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo .
Al Banshiri, who lived near Arusha , Tanzania , died in a ferry disaster on Lake Victoria in May 1996, and so El Hage found another partner, a Jordanian gemstone trader called Mohamed Ali Muraweh Saleh Odeh, who was based in Nairobi . El Hage also set up a company, called Tanzanite King, in Nairobi and Mombasa for trading tanzanite gemstones mined in Tanzania to Dubai and Hong Kong Kong.
As noted previously, even after Al Qaeda apparently pulled out of the Tanzanian gem business, following the 1998 embassy bombings, Muslim radicals sympathetic to the Al Qaeda cause sought to corner the Tanzanite gem trade. Another organization with considerable financial and business ties to Al Qaeda in a number of countries was the Saudi charity, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation. In Tanzania , Al Haramain officials provided support for Al Qaeda and plotted terrorist actions. The orgnization also came to own a large number of mosques in Tanzania that promoted Wahhabist doctrine. In January 2004 the United States and Saudi Arabia asked the United Nations to add the Tanzanian branch of Al Haramain to the list of terrorists tied to Al Qaeda. Both governments charged that individuals associated with Al Haramain helped plan a foiled effort to attack several hotels in Zanzibar frequented by Westerners.
Officials of the charity, the Tunisian Abu Hubheyifa and the Yemeni Mohammed Ally Saleh Al-Saad, aka Mohed, were expelled on violation of immigration laws. Al Haramain owned 136 mosques and a boarding school in Tanzania, 47 in Tanga, seven in Kigoma, seven in Dodoma, five in Dar es Salaam, two in Bagamoyo, seven in the Kilimanjaro area, two in Arusha and seven in Singida. The organization also owned an Islamic Centre at Masasi in the Mtwara.
The Pemba Massacres
Tanzanian security forces committed gross abuses, killing at least thirty-five people and wounding more than 600 others, when they suppressed opposition demonstrations in the islands of Pemba and Zanzibar in January 2001. This violence followed the hotly contested 2000 regional and national elections in Zanzibar , which many Zanzibaris believe, was rigged in favor of the ruling CCM.
According to Human Rights Watch, none of those responsible for the 2001 abuses, including shootings of demonstrators, beatings and sexual abuse, was ever held accountable. Tanzanian army and police opened fire without due cause on January 27, 2001, attacking thousands of supporters of the opposition Civic United Front (CUF) who were protesting against alleged electoral fraud. In the ensuing days, security forces, aided by ruling party officials and militias, went on a house-to-house rampage, indiscriminately arresting, beating, and sexually abusing island residents. Some two thousand Zanzibaris fled to nearby Kenya , though most have returned following an agreement between the government and the CUF. A government commission held to investigate the massacres admitted that the violations committed by the security forces could have been avoided with better training and equipment for crowd control, and called upon the government to compensate those who had sustained serious injuries. None of the perpetrators of the violations were held accountable.
The political violence on Zanzibar and Pemba took a decidedly religious tone, as some CCM members have tried to discredit the CUF by portraying it as a Muslim organization. In the 2000 disputed elections on Zanzibar CCM supporters stigmatized CUF as “Muslim radicals,” bent on introducing Sharia to secular Tanzania . According to these allegations and rumors, CUF is funded by “Arabs” and has the aim of returning the Sultanate to Zanzibar and Pemba . While it has a significant Muslim membership, including strong support in predominately Muslim Zanzibar and Pemba , the CUF is not an Islamist party. It was formed on the Tanzanian mainland by lawyers, activists, and politicians from various communities, including Zanzibar and mainland Tanzania .
Increasing Militancy of Muslim Radicals
Following the Mwembechai killings, the embassy bombing and especially the Pemba massacres, there has been a growing militancy and recourse to violent actions by radical Muslims. In August 2001 unknown assailants bombed two CCM offices in Dar es Salaam . The media implicated “Muslim zealots,” reporting that the bombings followed a demonstration by about 170 Muslims who demanded the release of a radical cleric, Khamis Rajan Dibagula, arrested for defaming Jesus Christ
Another radical cleric who has been identified as “one of the main theological instigators for contemporary militant activism is East Africa ” is Sheikh Ponda Issa Ponda. Sheikh Ponda is a popular firebrand whose followers take to the streets to protest Muslim grievances and champion an Islamist agenda. Sheika Issa Ponda is one of the leaders of the Committee for the Defense of Moslem Rights, and in this capacity, he exhorted fellow Muslims not to vote for the ruling CCM. On various occasions Tanzanian authorities have arrested Sheikh Ponda on sedition and murder charges, only to later release him.
Issa Ponda’s followers have reportedly been involved in the forceful takeover of disputed Mosques in Dar es Salaam . He is said to have influence on the members of Simba wa Mungu (God’s Lions), alleged to be involved in mosque takeovers and in inciting attacks against foreigners and the “morally corrupt.” One account attributes a bombing of a Zanzibari tourist bar to Simba wa Mungu. In 1999, police arrested the Sheikh for inciting his followers against other religions. A week later police canceled a Muslim demonstration that was organized to protest his arrest. The Sheikh later was charged with seditious intent and released on bail; however, in February 2002, he was rearrested and charged with murder as one of the nine Muslim leaders held responsible for the Mwembechai mosque riots of 2002. Violence at the mosque began after police intervened and fired tear gas at a Muslim prayer meeting to commemorate the 1998 Mwembechai mosque riots; two persons, including a police officer, were killed. These charges against the Sheikh were later dropped.
It seems that Tanzanian mujahidin returning from Afghanistan have played a role in the radicalization of Islam in Tanzania . By 2003, it was reported that radical Muslims, known as Wanaharakita (the Swahili word for activists), had taken over some 30 of Dar es Salaam’s 487 mosques, and Islamists driven out of Afghanisan had moved into radical mosques. Somalia and Mombasa , Kenya , are known to have been a recruiting ground for fighters against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan . Research by authors of the present study has not been able to establish the extent to which Tanzanians joined the ranks of the mujahidin in Afghanistan . Nonetheless, the interplay between the tablighis, the returning mujahidin, Al Qaeda and groups like Al Haramain may be critical to understanding the formation of the core of radical Muslim groups in Tanzania .
Tanzanian authorities broke up a plot to bomb BAKWATA headquarters in February 2002. During a search of the home of Sheikh Omar Bashir, imam of one of the largest mosques in Dar es Salaam , the police found ten kilograms of dynamite and detonators, as well as a passport showing that he had traveled to Saudi Arabia and other countries of the Middle East . The explosives were allegedly meant for an attack against the headquarters of BAKWATA, accused of a lack of enthusiasm in the “war against the infidels.” Sheikh Omari, whose followers call themselves Jahidinis (a term which refers to Jihad in Kiswahili) preaches opposition to the United States and support for the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan . He considers suicide attacks legitimate in the cause of defending Islam.
Growing Political Violence in Zanzibar
Zanzibar has been the scene of growing political violence by supporters of the ruling CCM and the opposition CUF. It is difficult to ascertain the degree to which the local violence perpetrated by Islamist groups on the fringes of the CUF is connected to international terrorism, although evidence exists that suggests such a connection. Both Tanzanian members of the Al Qaeda team that bombed the U.S. embassy were tablighis. They hailed from Zanzibar , and as previously noted, reports about the effectiveness of the tablighis in promoting sympathy for the Al Qaeda cause suggest growing support on Zanzibar and Pemba . In addition, members of the Tanzanian branch of the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, a group supporting Al Qaeda activities in several countries, plotted in 2003 to bomb several hotels in Zanzibar . Tanzanian officials declared two Al Haramain officials prohibited immigrants and deported them.
The targeting of hotels highlights the tension that exists between the tourism industry and those in Zanzibar who believe that they are upholding traditional and Islamic values against the corrupting influence of the West. Zanzibari youth have protested against tourism, claiming to be doing so in the name of the Islamic faith. According to Professor Seithy Chachage of the University of Dar es Salaam :
They are up to no good these tourists. All over the Island whorehouses are propping up to cater for them. The so-called hotels coming by dozens on the beachfront are no more than dens of inequities. Tourists lure our girls here with wild promises of foreign travel. They then get them into the cocaine habit. The next thing you know, they get hooked. We want investment but not the sort that turns our sisters and daughters into whores and junkies.
Islamic religious leaders in many parts of the country have joined in the criticism of tourism and its effects on the local culture and inhabitants. One of these, Sheikh Kurwa Shauri, was imprisoned in Zanzibar and finally deported to Tabora after demanding the government abolish tourism.
With the approaching 40th anniversary of the union of Zanzibar and Tanganyika , in April 2004, which is much despised by Zanzibari Islamists, a spate of Islamist violence hit Zanzibar . In March 2004, the government’s banning of a demonstration in Zanzibar by UAMSHO Mihandhara (the Islamic Propagation Organization) led to violence. The UAMSHO demonstration had been called in part to protest the government’s appointment of a Mufti for Zanzibar . UAMSHO believes that the Mufti should be elected by Muslims and not appointed by the government. UAMSHO has also been expressing concern about the growing Western influence in Zanzibar that is associated with tourism and resentment of the government’s alleged favoritism of Christians over Muslims.
The police said they banned the demonstration because some of UAMSHO’s leaders advocated the killing of Zanzibari leaders who were opposing the imposition of Islamic law in Zanzibar . The demonstration proceeded despite the ban, and demonstrators reportedly pelted the police with stones, and the police fired back with tear gas. UAMSHO leaders admit that at a few of their earlier rallies and in some of their literature and videos, preachers said that secular leaders should be killed, but they insist that those were individual views and not UAMSHO policy.
In the weeks after the confrontation between UAMSHO followers and police, a Catholic church was set ablaze; a Catholic school bus was torched; explosive bombs were placed at the home of the newly-appointed Mufti; a grenade was lobbed into the home of a Zanzibari government minister; a grenade was tossed into a restaurant filled with foreigners, including a British diplomat, but failed to discharge; a bomb was found in another restaurant frequented by Westerners; and some electric transformers were destroyed.
Some CUF leaders accused the government of staging the attacks as part of an effort to discredit the opposition, but authorities say the violence is the work of joblesss youth recruited by CUF and local Islamists to foment unrest. Authorities responded by detaining at least two of the top leaders of UAMSHO, Sheikh Farid Ali and Sheikh Kalid Azan. The former was released after a two-week detention. A UAMSHO spokesman said he had been tortured by police and had to be treated for his injuries in a Dar es Salaam hospital.
Opposition leaders have also been a target in this wave of political violence, according to the Voice of America. A hotel owned by Naila Jiddawi, a former CUF parliamentary representative, was firebombed in April 2004 by a crowd led by local officials of the ruling CCM.
Political tensions continue to be high in Zanzibar in anticipation of next year’s elections. In April 2004, the government banned the training exercises of the CUF’s paramilitary organization, called Blue and White Guards. The CUF, whose members feel vulnerable after the 2001 massacre on Pemba , protested saying that the guards had been organized merely to provide security for its members. CUF leaders have denied any link to the Islamist terrorism on Zanzibar , and it is difficult to know to what extent Zanzibari officials are blaming the CUF for the Islamist violence as a way of discrediting the opposition party. It is also difficult to know to what extent the CUF may be working with the Islamists as a way of channeling popular discontent into electoral support. For its part, the government in June 2004 began a large movement of troops from the mainland to Pemba Island , much to the consternation of CUF leaders.
In July 2004, Zanzibar President, Amani Abeid Karume, said that his government would no longer tolerate politicians making “inflammatory” statements aimed at disrupting the peace in the isles. “I want to tell them that we are tired! We are tired! We are tired!” President Karume went on to warn CUF Secretary General Seif Shariff Hamad against implementing his reported threat to “set the country ablaze” if he was “robbed” of victory in next year’s presidential election. “Which country is he referring to? Is he crazy? If he thinks that he can cause chaos in Zanzibar let him be assured that he is dreaming.”
Eritrean Islamic Jihad
The Eritrean Islamic Jihad (EIJ) has been the main focus of Islamic extremism in Eritrea . The EIJ advocates the establishment of an Islamic State in Eritrea and has engaged in an armed struggle to achieve it. Under the name of the Islamic Salvation Front, the EIJ is currently a member of the Eritrean National Alliance, an umbrella organization that opposes the Eritrean government led by President Isaias Afwerki.
According to EIJ’s Secretary General, Sheikh Mohamed Amer, the movement changed its name to the Islamic Salvation Front (Harakat al Khalas al Islami) during its August 1998 Congress held in Khartoum, Sudan. The name changed following on the heels of the U.S. missile attack on a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant. At a news conference the Sheikh explained that the change of his organization’s name stemmed from the need to appear different from other movements that used the term jihad. He reiterated, nonetheless, the movement’s objective of forcibly overthrowing the government of Eritrean President Isaias Afeworki and replacing it with an Islamic government. Observers continue to use the “Eritrean Islamic Jihad” appellation and the organization will be identified as the EIJ below.
The umbrella Eritrean National Alliance, which is supported by Ethiopia and Sudan , espouses a strategy of armed action against strategic targets such as radio and TV stations inside Eritrea . However, the EIJ has been much more aggressive militarily than the Eritrean National Alliance and has engaged in an intermittent armed conflict with the Eritrean government since late 1992. At times, the EIJ has targeted civilians, especially foreign civilian targets. In 1998, for instance, it boasted of destroying many joint Eritrean-Israeli ventures. At the height of its military operation in 1995, the EIJ was estimated to have a fighting force of 500. During the course of its history, the EIJ has received support from the National Islamic Front government in Sudan and from Al Qaeda when Sudan was hosting bin Laden.
Another Islamist organization, the Eritrean People’s Congress, is also a member of the umbrella Eritrean National Alliance and is believed to possess an armed wing, the Eritrean Reform Movement, which operates outside the framework of the umbrella organization. Very little is known about either the Eritrean People’s Congress or the Eritrean Islamic Reform Movement.
The base of support for the Eritrean Islamist organizations lies in the Gash Barka region of Eritrea and among Eritrean refugees living in Sudan . Gash Barka, located along the Sudanese and Ethiopian borders, is the area of Eritrea most ravaged by the wars of Eritrean independence between 1962 and 1991, and most recently during the 1998-2000 border war between Eritrea and Ethiopia . The war in Gash Barka produced a set of cultural and economic grievances that have provided fertile soil for Islamic radicalization.
Islamic Political Expression in Eritrea : Background
The roots of the Eritrean Islamist political movements are traceable to the 1981 collapse of the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) as an effective military and political force, the first movement to call for the independence of Eritrea from Ethiopia . With the ELF’s defeat at the hands of the rival Eritrea People’s Liberation Front, many Eritrean Muslims lost the one secular nationalist organization that represented their interests. Eritrean Islamists who had been detained by the ELF sought to fill the political vacuum and created various organizations.
In Eritrea , the characteristics of political movements since the 1950’s have been shaped by the existence of relatively distinct Christian and Islamic communities. Eritrean Muslims dominated the ELF from its formation in 1958 until its demise as an effective organization in 1981. Muslim university students attending Al Azar University in Cairo had formed the ELF in 1958, and throughout its existence the ELF continued to draw its leadership largely from Eritrean Muslim intellectuals and drew popular support largely from Eritrea ’s Muslim communities, most of which were located in Eritrea’s lowland areas.
The ELF followed a secular line and unlike the Eritrean Islamic Jihad, never advocated the establishment of an Islamic state in Eritrea , despite efforts by the Ethiopian government to portray it as an Islamic extremist organization. This portrayal by the Ethiopian government was part of a divide and rule tactic that preyed on the fears of Christian populations, and helped sow the seeds of mistrust between the two religious groups.
The ELF leadership defined its independence struggle against the Ethiopian government in anti-colonial and nationalist terms. The Italians had ruled Eritrea from 1890 until World War II when the British captured the Italian colony. It later was administered as a UN Trust Territory. Then in 1952, Eritrea became federated with Ethiopia and enjoyed substantial autonomy, including its own parliament, but the Ethiopian government eroded the political freedoms and political autonomy of Eritrea . It annexed Eritrea as a province of Ethiopia in 1962 in violation of the UN agreement. This annexation gave rise to the ELF’s armed struggle.
Support for Eritrean independence had historically been stronger among Eritrea ’s Muslim communities. The country’s population is about evenly divided between Christians and Muslims. Eritrea ’s Muslim populations live largely in the lowland regions of the country and are pastoralists. They consist of various ethnic groups, including the Tigre , Afars, and Kunama.
Eritrea ’s Orthodox Christian population is comprised largely of Tigrinyan-speaking peoples who occupy much of the agriculturally fertile Kebessa plateau in the central region of the country and who are historically agriculturalists. Historically and culturally the Christian population has close ties to Tigray province. Throughout the independence war against Haile Selassie’s Ethiopia , the Tigrinyan Christians in Eritrea for the most part continued to support union with Ethiopia . Only when the pro-Soviet military junta, known as the Derg, overthrew the Emperor in a bloody coup in 1974 and launched its “Red Terror” of Marxist-Leninist reforms, did Eritrea ’s Christians begin to support the independence struggle in large numbers.
A splinter group from the ELF composed mainly of Tigrinyan intellectuals who had attended the University of Addis Ababa and led by the present Eritrean president, Isaias Afwerki, formed the rival Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front (EPLF). Although the EPLF contained a grouping of Muslims from the Northern Red Sea Zone in its leadership, the EPLF’s political strategy overall concentrated more on organizing its support among Eritrea’s Tigrinyan-speaking Christians and eschewed what it considered the tradition-bound backwardness of the mainly Muslim ELF.
Fighting between the ELF and EPLF hastened the demise of the ELF as a political and military force, and it splintered into several competing organizations. In the vacuum created by the ELF’s breakup, Muslim political figures in the Gash Barka region turned to Islam as an organizing tool to redress their grievances, and the success of the Mujahidin in Afghanistan inspired many into believing that Islam could be a powerful political organizing tool. The Sudanese government and groups within Saudi Arabia attempted to support the Islamist movements in Eritrea . The Sudanese government was particularly active in developing Islamist support among the large Eritrean refugee population in Sudan .
The EPLF’s military forces helped bring down the Derg government in Ethiopia in 1991. After a UN-sponsored referendum that gave independence to Eritrea , the EPLF took over governance of the country. In 1994, the EPLF changed its name to the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ).
The Gash Barka Context and Muslim Grievances
The EIJ enjoys a base of support among the Tigre population of Gash Barka.. The Tigre people comprise about 35% of the country’s total population. The Gash Barka Zone, which borders both Sudan and Ethiopia ’s Tigray Province , has been the part of Eritrea most affected by the 30-year independence war and most recently by the 1998-2000 border war between Eritrea and Ethiopia . During the period of independence, hundreds of thousands of its residence abandoned their traditional lands for safe havens in Sudan or became internally displaced. Tigre Muslims from Gash Barka comprised the vast majority of Eritrean refugees in Sudan , the size of which has been estimated as 600,000 in 1994 and 328,000 in 1997.
As large segments of the Gash Barka population became displaced, over the years the region witnessed an increasing influx of Tigrinyan-speaking Christian settlers from the highlands. This immigration created conditions for an economic clash in Gash Barka, as Christian farmers moved into areas once used by displaced Muslim pastoralists. Some of the returning refugees and the internally displaced had to confront the reality that some of the most fertile lands were now in the hands of the Christian farmers. In its refugee re-integration program, the Eritrean government reportedly placed conditions on the returnees to prevent the settlers from being displaced. This policy reinforced the perception that the government with its history of Christian support was favoring the Christian population and fueled Muslim opposition. The Secretary General of the Islamic Salvation Front, Khalil M Amer, said in January 2004, “We are for liberty, justice, democracy and individual rights and the return of land to its rightful owners.
The arrival of the Christian settlers also provoked what may be described as cultural resentment within Gash Barka’s Muslim community, which largely subscribes to traditional Muslim values. Due to the Islamic prohibition of alcohol consumption, many Gash Barka Muslims took exception to the appearance of bars catering to Christian settler communities. For the first time, many Muslims also had to come to terms with the existence of non-Muslim schools in their traditional areas. In the words of EIJ’s Deputy Amir Abul Bara’ Hassan Salman, “Supporting Jihad and the Mujahideen is the way to remove the nightmare of degradation and humiliation which has rested on the chests of our community in its various forms.”
Eritrean government linguistic policies since independence have also contributed to a growing sense that Tigrinyan Christian cultural colonization was occurring in predominately Muslim areas. Arabic had a strong presence in the region—a presence that was fortified by the large number of refugees living in the Sudan and by the sizeable Eritrean migrant worker population in Arab-speaking Middle East countries. Many Muslim leaders had anticipated a return to the policy of the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s when both Tigrinyan and Arabic enjoyed status as the two official languages of Eritrea under British and UN rule. Much to their disappointment, the EPLF government adopted a “no official language policy” after independence, which, according to Muslim activists, has had the practical result of Tigrinyan becoming the de-facto official language in business and government.
Particularly decisive in creating Muslim enmity in Gash Karba toward the EPLF was the conscription campaign of Muslim youth, especially girls, which the EPLF carried out in 1983. The conscription met with resistance by the Muslim traditionalists who objected especially to the call up of girls, and according to the EIJ, this led to the death of many Muslim civilians. In the words of EIJ Deputy Amir Abul Bara’ Hassan Salman, “…the regime pointed its guns to the hearts of the unarmed Muslim citizens in order to forcibly conscript Eritreans into the army. Hundreds of Muslim civilians were killed by the regime in this process of conscription.”
The severe restrictions that the Eritrean government imposed on independent political organizations also created a problem for many returnees who could not legally bring their organizations, formed in exile, back with them to Eritrea. This meant that political organizations could only operate underground, as the undemocratic nature of the Eritrean regime did not provide an outlet for democratic aspirations.
Jihad and the Counter Attack
After the EPLF occupied Eritrea ’s capital, Asmara , in May 1991, the EIJ, which reportedly had been formed in 1988, launched an armed struggle against what it termed the “Christian regime” governing Eritrea and with the goal of establishing an Islamic state. The first serious incidents occurred at the end of 1992. Jihad members laid mines on desert tracks near the Sudanese border and infiltrated small groups of fighters inside Eritrea . In September 1993, new clashes took place, and the government captured several members of the Jihad who confessed they had been trained in camps inside Sudan . The government also said its forces killed several Jihad fighters from Afghanistan , Morocco and Yemen , and were most likely part of Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network then operating from Sudan .
The fledgling Eritrean government had to contend with a hostile neighbor, Sudan, bent on a type of Islamic expansionism and on undermining what Khartoum regarded as growing U.S. influence in the region. Asmara broke relations with Sudan , and countered Sudan ’s hostility by hosting Sudanese armed oppositions groups within its borders. When the first EIJ commando from Sudan was intercepted on Eritrea territory in January 1994, the Asmara government reacted strongly and threatened reprisals against the Sudanese. As the skirmishes escalated throughout the year, the Sudanese opposition, particularly the northern Muslims opposition, began arriving in Asmara . The following year, the opposition became official when the Eritrean government finally broke off diplomatic relations with Khartoum and installed the Sudanese opposition in Sudan ’s embassy in Asmara .
The government of President Afwerki also took harsh measures domestically to ferret out its militant Islamic opponents and to undermine what it perceived as a growing Islamic fundamentalist threat. These measures gave the EIJ further justification for its jihad against the “Christian regime.” The EIJ has cited a number of these government actions to justify its war as a defense of the Muslim populations of Eritrea .
After independence, Islamic schools and religious institutions in Gash Barka became increasingly fundamentalist. In reaction, the Eritrean government closed many of these institutions, and sought to curtail their external financial support, reportedly Islamic charities based in Saudi Arabia . The EIJ calls this “intellectual terror against the Muslims.” According to EIJ, “the regime regards every Muslim who practices his religion and adheres to its obligations and cares for his honor as a danger, so they filled their prisons with the pious Muslims, teachers and students, politicians, leaders, and the common people…”
The government’s repressive actions appear to have been designed to quash support for the EIJ. According to an investigative report by the opposition Awate.com, beginning in 1994, a number of schoolteachers in areas of EIJ support were jailed and disappeared. “Mobile squads under the command of Brigadier General Tekheste, aka, Shaleq Tekheste, instilled fear among the citizenry.” In late 1996 and 1997 there were a number of skirmishes between government forces and those of the EIJ. Each blamed the other for several attacks against civilian targets and murders of foreign nationals. The government reportedly rounded up and executed scores of civilians from Seber, Sheab, Gedged and Shebah. According to the opposition, the government used its campaign against “Jihadist sympathizers” as a cover for a larger campaign against all of its political opponents.
EIJ complains of the general repressive character of the Eritrean government, and not only measures directed against Muslims. This includes a history of political detentions, political killings, and lack of due process. The EIJ Deputy Amir described this as “the broad political terror against the entire Eritrean population that is stopping them from expressing their views, opinions, or thoughts with respect to the widespread corruption or with respect to their right to participate in the administration of the country.”
The EIJ is also critical of the mismanagement of the economy by the ruling PFDJ, which set foreign trade restriction and promotes ruling party control of businesses. It accuses the ruling party of enriching itself at the expense of the rest of the country.
The International Dimension
The EIJ places its struggle in a global and regional context. It claims that the United States is leading the current “Christian onslaught” against Muslim populations in the Horn of Africa and Red Sea regions in alliance with what it describes as “Christian minority” governments of Eritrea and Ethiopia .
The EIJ linked Israeli support for the new Eritrean government in the 1990’s as part of a wider strategy of regional domination by Jews and Christians. From its independence in 1993 until 1998, Eritrea maintained close relations with Israel and was widely believed to have harbored an Israeli submarine facility and a telecommunications surveillance operation on the Dahlak Islands near Massawa.
The EIJ regards the Eritrean government as an ally of Israel , and sees Israel as working “to destroy the current Islamic strategy which aims at making the Red Sea an Islamic Sea.” However, Eritrea began to court Arab countries as a way of seeking new allies once its war with Ethiopia broke out in 1998. As a result, Eritrea ’s previously close relationship with Israel began to cool, and Eritrea reportedly denied Israeli naval ships access to its ports.
In its rhetoric about the threat that Israel and the United States pose to the Islamization of the region, the EIJ strongly echoes the position of its principal external backers: Sudan and Osama Bin Laden.
The Bin Laden Connection
During the period of his influential presence in Sudan in the 1990s, the EIJ maintained close relations with Osama bin Laden and his paramilitary organization. The support of the Sudanese government in this period appears to have been inseparable from that of bin Laden. He provided financial support and military training to the EIJ, and the Sudanese government provided safe houses and an arsenal. It has been suggested that Al Qaeda regarded Eritrea for its potential strategic value as a launching pad to export the Islamist struggle to Yemen and Ethiopia . In this view, once an Islamist state was established in Eritrea , Eritrea would be the staging ground for similar struggles in Yemen and Ethiopia .
Evidence exists that documents bin Laden’s involvement with the EIJ. One Eritrean informant has made the uncorroborated claim that in 1994 bin Laden narrowly escaped an Eritrean attack on an EIJ training camp inside Sudan near the Eritrean border. During the trial of Al Qaeda operatives for the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, Jamal Ahmed al-Fadl, a former close associate of bin Laden, testified that he delivered $100,000 to the EIJ sometime in the early 1990’s, and said that the Sudan office of the Qatar Charitable Society Islamic Charity, which supported Al Qaeda operations by funneling funds from the Persian Gulf states, provided $20,000 to EIJ to carry out actions outside of Sudan. The EIJ also held a seat on bin Laden’s advisory council of radical organizations, which he supported. One of the bin Laden-financed training camps in Sudan was located near Hamesh Koreb near the Eritrean border. In 1997, Sudanese rebels launched an attack from Eritrean territory and overran the Hamesh Koreb camp that trained EIJ mujahidin.
Little information can be found on EIJ military operations inside Eritrea during the period of the Ethiopian-Eritrean border war. In recent years, however, the EIJ appears to have returned to its tactics of intermittent warfare against the Eritrean government. Eritrea , which hosts Sudanese opposition groups, has accused Khartoum of backing the EIJ, saying that the EIJ has been carrying out attacks on its territory from eastern Sudan . Khartoum denies the charges.
Foreign support, whether from the Sudanese government, Al Qaeda, Middle Eastern-financed charities or the Pakistan-based Tabliq movement, fueled the emergence of radical Islamic movements in East Africa and the Horn of Africa. This support has fanned the flames of militant Islam. In this regard, the moderation of the Sudanese regime, however inconsistent and faltering it may seem, bodes well for an attenuation of militant Islam in the region. Armed groups that Sudan supported such as the Eritrean Islamic Front, the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Oromiya ( Ethiopia ), and the Allied Democratic Front ( Uganda ) appear to atrophy once Sudanese and other forms of foreign support is withdrawn. The successful completion of peace talks with the various Sudanese rebel factions and genuine Sudanese political reconciliation hold the promise of eliminating a regional irritant that gave cause to Sudan ’s aggression in the region as a way of achieving its own security.
The success of the multiparty democracy in channeling Muslim discontent into electoral politics will likely act as an antidote to Islamic radicalization in Kenya and Tanzania . Kenya ’s Coast Province is a case in point where authentic democratic participation appears to undercut the mass appeal of militant Islam. In Kenya ’s North Eastern Province , it remains as yet unclear whether democratic politics will erode the mistrust that Somali inhabitants harbor toward the central government and neutralize the militant evangelization carried out by Al Itihaad Al Islamiya (AI AI) and Islamic charities. Free and fair elections in Tanzania ’s semi-autonomous Zanzibar , scheduled for 2005, will be a key to the moderation of politics in Zanzibar and Pemba islands. Further human rights abuses and political disenfranchisement will likely serve to drive more youth into the arms of local radical preachers and international terrorists.
It is very unclear what will be the affect of the current Somali peace talks on the radical Islamic agenda in Somalia . Ethiopia ’s military and political intervention in a fractious Somalia has been effective in hobbling the militant Islamic forces, and it appears that the United States has learned to work within this environment to challenge the impunity with which Al Qaeda agents have operated in the past. Yet, AI AI has proved to be a resilient organization capable of adapting to the changing political and military environment. Certainly the international community should be wary of the Islamist presence in the so-called Transitional National Government. What happens to the Islamist cadres once a new national government is installed as a consequence of the current peace talks remains a large question.
The influence of foreign-funded Islamic fundamentalist charities on the control of local Islamic institutions and on local Islamic traditions is troubling. Foreign influence appears to be eroding the moderate forms of Islam in this region and promoting authoritarian religious practices that remain in a state of unease with democratic aspirations in the region. Authentic democratic development, a more equitable distribution of wealth and economic growth are probably the best ways to counter this influence.
this study has not examined the effectiveness of counter-terrorism measures
undertaken in the region, a large scale international program is being
implemented with U.S. support to address the banking, immigration/customs,
legal, law enforcement and other loopholes that have facilitated the
operations of Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. There remains the
danger that without a robust public education and awareness campaign
that is sensitive to Muslim concerns the backlash among Muslim communities
to counter terrorism measures will continue to feed the militant Islamic
movement. The local media has proven very inadequate in explaining the
radical Islamic agenda and through its sensationalism and misunderstanding
of Islamic issues appears to be contributing to further alienation of
Muslims. It also appears that an effort to improve the media’s
capacity to deal with the issue of terrorism and radical Islam would
be a wise investment. Finally, local academic expertise on the subject
remains lacking and the establishment of centers of study and publication
would help to expand the body of knowledge upon which journalists and
the public at large could draw.