This article about Al-Qaeda activities in East Africa assumes that the group only gets members by bribing poor Muslims, deceiving people, or playing on resentment and anger. While noting that radical Muslims preached to the locals, it doesn’t explore in any depth the possibility that the group’s carefully structured Islamic theological and legal arguments might have struck a chord with pious Muslims. When the radical Nabhan is portrayed below as preaching that America and Israel must be destroyed, the article makes no attempt to explain why preaching that anyone should be destroyed might resonate with Muslims well-versed in Qur’an passages such as “slay the unbelievers wherever you find them” (Sura 9:5), and a host of others.
Of course, the possibility that core elements of Islam might have something to do with all this trouble is so distasteful as to be beyond consideration by nearly everyone across the political spectrum — conservatives and liberals alike — in the U.S., despite the importance of recognizing this if it is indeed happening. If moderate Muslims really want to stamp out terrorism, let them formulate a convincing non-violent reading of the Qur’an and relevant ahadith — not convincing to Western non-Muslims (that’s easy), but to Muslims themselves who may be tempted to radicalism.
Anyway, the article is still useful as a glimpse into the Al-Qaeda modus operandi, as well as providing more evidence of the fact noted below: that radical Muslims operate globally, considering themselves around the world to be fighting the same struggle. It’s from SA, with thanks to Mrs. Obelix:
“When Fazul Abdullah Mohammed showed up in this little fishing village, there was already a local soccer club – and its name was al-Qaeda. Not content to join a team others had started, the alleged mastermind of two terrorist bombings in East Africa organised his own. Its name – Kabul, like the capital of Afghanistan, where he allegedly trained with Osama bin Laden’s real al-Qaeda organisation.
“All along Kenya’s Indian Ocean coast, al-Qaeda members have woven themselves into the fabric of the region’s Islamic society. Using money to buy the allegiance of poor Muslims or passing themselves off as simple men looking for a quiet place to lead a devout life, the operatives have managed to build a formidable network throughout eastern Africa, US officials say.
“Foreigners like Fazul, who is wanted by the United States for the car bombings of the US Embassy in Nairobi in August 1998 and a coastal hotel in November 2002, settled in small towns and married local women. Kenyans like Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, who is suspected of building the bomb used in the hotel attack, sought out like-minded compatriots in the thousands of mosques that dot the coast.
“Hundreds of new al-Qaeda members have been recruited, and most remain at large – including Fazul and Nabhan – despite stepped-up anti-terrorism efforts, said US Marine Brigadier General Martin Robeson, commander of the regional US-led anti-terror task force based in nearby Djibouti. ‘We know for a fact of young al-Qaeda operatives who’ve moved into areas, put large sums of money on the table to marry local girls, purely and simply to establish a bloodline and a financial obligation they seek to turn into a guarantee of a safe place to live,’ he said.
“In general, the Islamic terror network has not found legions of Muslims in Kenya who share its religious views. For centuries, a relatively liberal and mystical brand of Islam has dominated on the coast, not the rigid interpretation promoted by al-Qaeda. But al-Qaeda operatives have found Muslims resentful in the East African country, not just over calamities across the larger Islamic world, but also over discrimination – real and perceived – at home.
“In its drive to recruit, al-Qaeda has exploited the resentment Kenyan Muslims feel toward their government, which since independence in 1963 has been dominated by Christians from inland tribes and has had strong ties to the United States and Israel. Al-Qaida ‘has corrupted some of our young people,’ said Sheikh Ali Shee, a prominent religious leader in the Indian Ocean port of Mombasa. ‘We were not always like this … we have a history of openness.’
“The coast’s distinctive Arab flavour – the region has absorbed waves of immigrants from Yemen and Oman over the centuries – has also made fitting in easy for Arabs operatives, like Mustafa Mohamed Fadhil, an Egyptian who married a Kenyan teenager and is wanted by the United States for his alleged role in the embassy bombing.
“Kenya’s notoriously weak security forces, coupled with the historically poor relations between the police and coastal Muslims, has allowed al-Qaeda operatives to work undetected, said one US official, speaking from Washington.
“In Siyu, Fazul had been hiding in plain sight. He was relatively unknown to US and Kenyan officials before the 1998 car bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, attacks that killed 231 people, including 12 Americans. But within months of that attack, Fazul was indicted by a US court that later convicted four other suspects. Since the indictment, Fazul’s face has been plastered on the walls of Kenyan police stations; he also has a $25m bounty on his head.
“Yet in January 2001, using the alias ‘Abdul Karim,’ he showed up with a group of itinerant preachers at Siyu, a village of mud and stone houses on Pate Island, about 275km) north of Mombasa. Fazul settled down with the family of a village elder, Mohammed Kubwa Seif, eventually marrying the man’s daughter, Amina. A native of the Comoros, an archipelago off the coast of Mozambique, Fazul spoke the local language, Kiswahili, and knew the coast’s Islamic culture.
“Yet even in Siyu, his religious fundamentalism stood out. Fazul ‘didn’t want us praying near graves or celebrating the Prophet’s birthday’ – two common Muslim practices on the coast, said Mohammed Ali, a fisherman. ‘Most people ignored him.’
“The police did, too. ‘I met him once,’ said Majid Hussein, a police officer in the nearby town of Lamu. ‘He was walking around reading from a little Quran … I thought he was just another one of these wandering preachers.’
“Fazul wasn’t. And Kenyan officials say some people in town may have been paying attention to what he was saying: Seif has been charged by a Kenyan court with conspiracy to commit murder for his alleged role in four al-Qaeda plots, including the embassy bombing and the 2002 hotel bombing north of Mombasa, an attack that killed 15 people, including three Israeli tourists. Seif’s son, Kubwa Mohammed, has been charged with murder in connection with the hotel attack.
“It’s not clear whether Fazul put down any money to establish a safe haven in Siyu, but he apparently felt the village was a safe place to hide. Following the hotel attack, he spent another two months in Siyu, disappearing only last January. However, he reportedly slipped back into Mombasa in May, prompting a round of terror alerts from the United States and Britain. US and Kenyan officials believe he’s still in the region, probably in Kenya or Somalia. Nabhan, who has not been charged with any crimes, also figured into the May terror warnings.
“The Kenyan is believed to have joined al-Qaeda after the 1998 embassy bombing and was the alleged ringleader of a plot to destroy the new US Embassy in Nairobi this past June. Raised in a relatively well-off Mombasa family, Nabhan regularly frequented the central Noor Mosque, which attracts poorer Muslims, in the two years before the 2002 hotel attack, said Abdullah, an elderly man at the mosque.
“Nabhan ‘was well-dressed, clean-shaven, very polite,’ said Abdullah, who gave only a first name. ‘Very quiet, very simple – he just prayed.’
“But Ibrahim, a 19-year-old Somali immigrant who also worships at the mosque, said Nabhan often preached to the younger Muslims. An illegal immigrant, Ibrahim spoke on the condition that only his first name be used. Nabhan, he said, ‘explained America, Israel are what? They are enemies. He said we must do what? We must destroy them.’
“It’s not clear whether Nabhan, who in the fall of 2002 rented a house in Mombasa where police say the car bomb used in the hotel attack was made, first met another Kenyan al-Qaeda suspect – Salmin Mohammed Khamis – at the Noor mosque. But when Khamis was arrested on June 17, he reportedly told police that Nabhan invited him to a secret al-Qaeda meeting a month earlier in Malindi, a town north of Mombasa, where the plot to destroy the new US Embassy was hatched.
“Like Fazul, Nabhan is also thought to be hiding in either Kenya or Somalia.”