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COMMITTED TO ISLAM: A man from a Somali tribal clan supporting al Shabaab carries an AK-47 and the Islamist black flag with the words “There is no God but Allah and Mohamed Is the Prophet of Allah.”
Associated Press/Photo by Farah Abdi Warsameh
COMMITTED TO ISLAM: A man from a Somali tribal clan supporting al Shabaab carries an AK-47 and the Islamist black flag with the words “There is no God but Allah and Mohamed Is the Prophet of Allah.”

Exporting insurgency

Somalia | Somalia's largest terrorist group may be losing its grip within the country but is moving across borders with violence and persecution

Issue: "Another dark day in America," Jan. 12, 2013

Mursal Isse Siad became one of the latest victims of Islamist violence in Somalia when two masked men shot and killed the 55-year-old on Dec. 8. The assailants fled after gunning him down in Beledweyne, his hometown 200 miles north of Mogadishu, the capital.

Siad received death threats on his cell phone for leaving Islam, local sources told Morning Star News: “He failed to attend the mosque for prayers and used to pray at home. He used to share with us about Jesus,” explained his 15-year-old daughter. A Muslim resident in Beledweyne said he “deserved to die” because he was no longer committed to Islam.

A UN-backed government in Somalia—supported by an 18,000-strong African Union force—has made important gains in recent months against al Shabaab, the terrorist movement fighting for control in Somalia. Al Shabaab has lost key cities, including the port city of Kismayo, which fell to AU forces in October, but it still controls large parts of central Somalia. There the militants have banned radio stations from playing music and outlawed bell ringing to signal the end of classes “because they sound like church bells.”

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Siad and his wife, who converted to Christianity in 2000, moved to Beledweyne in central Somalia after the government and AU forces captured the town from al Shabaab last year. Siad had taken a job with a local nongovernmental organization but was known to have left Islam. His death is a reminder that targeted violence against Christians in Somalia hasn’t diminished, and al Shabaab, even on the losing end of war, has promised to rid the country of Christians, who are mostly converts from Islam. 

Of mounting concern to Somalia’s neighbors is that as the Islamic insurgency movement gets squeezed in Somalia, it is finding new life in nearby countries, particularly Kenya. 

From Somalia across Africa, alarm is spreading about the rise of Islamic extremists, some with ties to Pakistan-based al-Qaeda. U.S. Defense Department officials plan to seek new authorization from Congress in the new year to go after such groups after one al-Qaeda offshoot took over territory in Mali last year and is fighting its government. The U.S. administration has called the Mali situation a “powder keg,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

“The conditions today are vastly different than they were previously,” Gen. Carter Ham, the head of U.S. Africa command, told the Journal. “There are now non-al Qaeda-associated groups that present significant threats to the United States.” He said a debate over new authorization is a “worthy discussion.” 

In East Africa, cross-border attacks from Somalia against Kenyan churches are on the rise, with all the markings of al Shabaab violence. Somalis have taken refuge from their country’s violence not only in sprawling camps near the border but for years in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city. Not all are destitute: New luxury condominiums and other real estate boons are the result of bounty offloaded by Somali pirates, locals say. 

But Kenya is also experiencing a dramatic rise in terrorist violence, particularly in Eastleigh, a clogged suburb east of Nairobi’s central business district also known as “Little Mogadishu.” Kenya’s Christians make up 85 percent of the country’s population, but entering Eastleigh is like arriving at an Islamic, even Arab, enclave. Women dress in full-length black head coverings, and calls to prayer blare from megaphones mounted over shopping malls. 

With the changes have come rising violence directed at Kenyans, and particularly Christians in Eastleigh. Last November a grenade attack killed seven residents, and authorities say they traced it to al Shabaab. In December militants killed 14 people in three separate attacks in Eastleigh, the worst killing at least 10 people when a bomb exploded on a minibus full of passengers. And on Dec. 16 another grenade explosion injured one resident.

I met with one of Eastleigh’s Christian leaders in an upstairs apartment stocked with bookshelves full of NIV Bibles and Bible commentaries. He is not named for security reasons—as he is a former Muslim who studied and trained for a time, he said, with jihadists associated with militant jihadist groups. In 2006 after becoming a Christian he moved to Eastleigh with his wife: “We used to do outreach in Eastleigh but now there is only one church remaining.” 

Of 200 churches in the area, all but one, called Deliverance Church, have been destroyed or forced to shut down. In a case that made headlines and eventually went to court, a group of Somali backers managed to secure the deed to property for one of the largest churches, a 13-acre site on a prominent corner where Eastleigh’s Gospel Furthering Bible Church had met since 1968. Missionaries held services on the property going back to the 1930s. The Somalis eventually forced out the congregation and bulldozed the church, leaving a mostly vacant parcel surrounded by 20-foot-high corrugated metal barriers.

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