Friday, July 15, 2011

ICE: Missing In Action XVI

More in the continuing saga of the failure of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations' (ICE HSI) to do its job. HSI routinely refuses to perform its duties as directed so by ICE's head, John Morton. But besides its unwillingness to perform its responsibilities, HSI is also a blundering failure at the part of its duties that it claims is its priority: finding, arresting, prosecuting, and deporting terrorists. In this case, Somali terrorists from Minnesota and Ohio have been organizing and traveling to Somalia to participate in Al Shabaab's war in the horn of Africa.

Why would you leave the safety and comfort of your home to go to a warzone? That is the question running through my mind at the JKIA in Nairobi as I board the plane for Hargeisa. I was on assignment to Somaliland to cover the swearing-in ceremony of the new President of the semi-autonomous region of Somalia. Outgoing President Dahir Rayale Kahin was handing over power to President-elect Ahmed Mohamed ‘Silyano’ Mohamoud.

My trip to Hargeisa coincided with that of the nine Al Shabaab recruits who had left their homes in Canada, US and Sweden to join the militia group which is linked to the Al Qaeda.

I had interviewed some of them a week earlier. Now five of them were on the same plane headed to Hargeisa and then from there to Mogadishu.

One of the recruits, Adan Hussein, told me they were to be joined by two others, Abdinassir Osman and Abdirahman Gullet, who arrived a few minutes later. Apart from Gullet who was dressed in a grey kanzu, the rest were wearing expensive jeans, sneakers, shirts or T-shirts. They each had an iPhone or lagged a laptop where they continuously updated their Facebook pages or emailed their families and friends back home.

Adan lifted his head from his laptop where he had emailed his mother to tell her he was in Nairobi and not to worry. He said he promised her he would keep in touch. “Frankly I’m scared, I do not know what to expect. It’s weird. It feels like it’s my first time to go to Mogadishu and yet I was born there! But my mind is made up,” he tells me. He says he does not know who is paying for his trip from the US to Kenya and now to Hargeisa. “I think it’s from a maalim at the mosque, we all just had tickets booked for us,” he says.

We go through the security checks at the JKIA then we board the plane which lands in Hargeisa’s Egal International Airport two hours later. The immigration process is smooth and not as intense as it is in Nairobi. We each pay $50 (Sh4,000) for the visa.

Immediately we all get a Somaliland Telecom SIM card which comes with a dollar as airtime. We exchange numbers with the recruits and I leave them to go and attend the swearing-in ceremony. Hours later, I joined the recruits at the lobby of the Star Hotel where they were waiting for their contact to arrive.

As we sip our soft drinks, the recruits are increasingly quiet. Twenty-year-old Omar Hassan who during our interview in Nairobi had been talkative and exuberant is now very quiet. He says little.

It is late afternoon when we are joined by an elderly man in his 50s whose long beard is dyed with red henna. He asks for a cup of coffee before greeting us. He is Mohammed Jimale, the recruit’s contact person in Hargeisa. He is taken aback by my presence and demands to know who l am and what l am doing there. I tell him l had got permission from the Al Shabaab spokesman Mukhtar Rubow to interview the recruits and accompany them to Mogadishu.

He reaches for his phone, dials a number and walks away to talk. He returns smiling and in a more relaxed manner. “How are the young Somalis in Eastleigh. I have been there a lot you know,” he says. He abruptly turns to the recruits and tells them: “You all know why you are here; Allah will grant you heaven as you are protecting our religion. “Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, and slay them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out; unless they (first) fight you there; but if they fight you, slay them,” the old man continues quoting the Quran.

He tries to clear any doubts that any of the recruits may have by saying that their mission was godly. “Allah has said it. It is clear in the Quran that there is reward for all those Mujahideens who fight to protect Islam,” he says. “If any of you wants to go back they can do it now. I am sure most of you left when you were still young. All you know of Somalia is what you have seen on TV in the comfort of your lovely homes. The situation is not as it’s reported,” Jimale says. “They do not report how many of our sisters, mothers and wives that they have killed, they say we are oppressing women while all we are doing is protecting Islam. What is wrong with introducing Shariah law in an Islamic country,” he tells the new recruits.

Omar Hassan who is a Canadian citizen is worried and wants to know what they should expect in Mogadishu. “How bad are things there? What happens once we get there? Will there be security for us?” he asks. “You’re the soldiers; you’re going to protect Islam. Do not worry. You will have a place to stay but your mission is not to come back and stay but to fight,” Jimale says, adding with a chilling finality: “Mujahideen should not care much about this life but the after life.”

Jimale warns me that it is not safe to go to Mogadishu with the recruits even if l had been given permission by Rubow. “It’s not safe my daughter. I think you have your story already” he tells me in impeccable English. “I’m a Danish citizen. I came to Somalia six months ago and then moved to Hargeisa, I want to do some business here and also bring my family members,” Jimale tells me when l ask him where he is from.

He asks the recruits when their colleagues would be arriving. “They would be flying in by 3pm as we used different airlines,” said Adan Hussein in halting Somali. Jimale laughs and makes fun of the way Adan and the others speak the Somali language. “You boys need not to forget where you come from even if you have grown up around the wazungus,” he says.

Before he left, he said once the others arrive, the team will be picked by two Land Cruisers and travel to another base where they will get final debriefing before starting the jihad. “Mujahideens like you need to be fit and prepared for the battle,” he concludes.

Three other recruits— Ali Mohamud ‘Amad’ from Ohio, Khalif Abdi from Sweden and Mukhtar Abdi, a Kenyan — arrive an hour later and join their colleagues. “This place is developed; they have nice buildings and architecture. It’s completely different from what we expected,” says Amad in his American twang. “Even the hotels are state-of-the-art and the internet is fast,” says Abikar who was using his iPhone to stay connected to the net. They, however, agree that the presidential palace needs an upgrade and a facelift.

I still have a nagging question: Why leave the safety and comfort of home for a warzone? Is it only about religion or is the financial reward an added incentive? “We have been told we could be given $250 (Sh20,000) per month as foreign recruits which is a lot of money in Somalia,” Abikar says. “We all make more than that back home. Even those of us who don’t have jobs get that as pocket money, so it’s not about the money. It’s about what we believe in,” he tells me.

Jimale returns with a younger man in his 30s who introduces himself as Ahmed. He asks me to leave as he wants to brief the recruits on their plans and destination. He tells me to join them after an hour.

When l join them later, l am told that the vehicles are ready to leave. I get in the back seat of one of the Land Cruisers together with five other recruits and we are off to Mogadishu. Seated next to Omar, l can see he is nervous and afraid. He tells me that I should stay behind. I am more concerned about him. “I’m scared but I cannot change my mind now. It’s finally real. I have come too far to go back,” he tells me.

The recruits joke about what they hope to find in Somalia. “For those who are single, this is a good place to get a wife who will always obey you,” Abikar says with a laugh.

After driving for hours and through several security checks in Somaliland, we make a brief stop over in Gaalcayo, a small town in Somalia. It’s here that we encountered the ruthless Al Shabaab militiamen.

Again, complete ICE HSI fail. Rings of alien terrorists have free reign in the U.S. and operate without fear of the government office with the responsibility to stop their criminal activity. A bureaucracy out of control, incompetent and a wast of taxpayer dollars.

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