“Defect at your own risk but we will find you” al-Shabab Tells Defectors
In recent months defections have marred the Islamist al-Shabab movement in Somalia, particularly in the capital Mogadishu where the transitional government have put up a fierce offensive against the movement that at one time controlled more 95 per cent of the capital.
However with the tables turning against the once dreaded militia, untold stories of how the movement operated is now coming out to the open, with defectors telling their stories.
In our quest to find out more about the defectors who have changed sides, AfrobeatRadio searched far and wide in Mogadishu, among the most dangerous zones in the world, where we managed to find thirteen teenagers who had crossed over to the transitional federal government side. They were paraded at the Police headquarters in the government controlled side of Wardhigley, where the police Spokesman Col Abdullahi Hassan Barise showed them of to the public, to see that the youngsters have seen the light. He added that no one can accuse them of being radicals anymore.
Thirteen youngsters, none exceeding 19 years, were welcomed by senior members of the Somali government. Among them, the Somali Defence Minister Abdihakim Hajji Fiqi who praised the youngsters for taking the bold move and advised those still in the militia to rethink and cross over while pardon period still lasts.
Hassan Farah, a 17 year old who has been working with the al-Shabab militia since January 2010 and based in the main central market of Bakara as a standby soldier told AfrobeatRadio, “it’s like you automatically become a burden to the movement once you are wounded, so there is no need of keeping you alive, instead you are either beheaded or shot dead… in fact, young fighters are encouraged to do so since the wounded fighter has already has given soul to the cause of Islam.”
Farah deeply regrets ever joining the al-Shabab, and regrets those he killed in the fighting. He calls on Allah (GOD) to forgive him and adds that he is more than willing to go on pilgrimage (Hajj) so that he may bend down and ask God for forgiveness personally.
The young fighters are now being housed in the police headquarters in Mogadishu and are being trained to be police officers who will monitor the administration of the Banadir region when it comes under the TFG control.
His other colleague Jamal Yaree 18, said that “we realised that the leaders in the movement are not honest, because they use state of the art vehicles in monitoring the war but they won’t join. If they are sincere why don’t they join in the fighting?”
Yaree says that he was kidnapped while coming from the mosque in Afgooye district in the capital, Mogadishu, and was then secretly taken to Kismayo, the port city state of Somalia, where he underwent six months training before deployment.
While in the training, “I was taught how to set up landmines and how to launch mortars from our bases, as well as how to hit public places so that we make news.” Several Pakistanis, Syrians, Afghans, as well as Indians were part of the trainers, and were experts in what they do. “Our overall leader was unclear but some key al-Shabab figures paid us a visit while in the training and the war front.”
Yaree told Afrobeatradio that it is hard to know the leaders because they hide their faces, for example, Abu Zubeyr comes once in a while in a well air conditioned car and his face is well covered and there is no day that you can ever see his face’’.
The last person Afrobeatradio was allowed to interview was Mohamed Rashid, a 17 year old with a baby face and a comical look who said that he was told that he will be trained as a specialist in IT. ”… little was I to know that it was a false dream, I was taken to Garbaharey, where the al-Shabab have a military base, and I was beaten up on the first night. I was taken there for saying that I need to talk to my parents to let them know of my whereabouts.”
He went on, “the soldier beat me up and I was locked in for two weeks until I agreed to cooperate fully with the militant group. I was trained to work as an assistant to a 50 year old man who specialized on how to calculate measurement on where to hit or even how to know where and how to shell.”
One day while setting up a landmine in Dhobley, a key Kenya-Somali border town, the old man who was his mentor told him that “the situation is like flying from the frying pan into the fire. Either way you will die, if you try to abandon the movement you will be accused of betraying the cause, so your killing is justified. If you decide to fight you will eventually die in the battle field.”
Rashid was happy that the holy month of Ramadan is approaching and is hoping that the fighting will seize, and that he may find ample time to pray to God and ask for repentance, “… little did I know that there was a planned Ramadan offensive against the joint TFG and AMISOM in a bid to overthrow the TFG in the capital Mogadishu.”
Rashid remembers well that they woke up late at night and ate enough food to sustain them the whole day but at exactly 10am fresh fighting broke out and “we had no energy to continue with the fighting.”
Al-Shabab spokesman Mukhtar Robow Abu Mansoor came with a truck loaded with food and told the fighters that there is no point in fighting with empty stomachs.
“We were all equally surprised because we thought that as an obligation of Islam we needed to fast since it was an obligations to us all. Some of the members refused to break their fast, that saw two killed for defying the rule of Abu Mansoor.”
“During the holy month of Ramadan, they told us that there is no point in fasting or praying and you are told that Abu Zubeyr- the leader of the movement- will pray on our behalf.”
The former fighters are now living in fear of being killed by al-Shabab extremists as a revenge for defecting.
By Abdulaziz Billow Ali