Somalis say that the fly that keeps flying into cold water is bound to find its way into hot oil. This story is about an individual who had been a member of the Shabab until karma caught up with him. I will call this former Shabab individual “Ali” to help protect his identity.
Ali was perhaps the most extreme Shabab member I have ever met. Before joining the Shabab in early-2009 – when the Shabab ranks swelled with opportunists and extremists from less-extreme groups that decided to either join the government or demobilise – he had been a member of a Jabhatul Islam (the fighting arm of Al-I’tisam) battalion that would demobilise as the Jihadi on Jihadi civil war was about to start. He was the bodyguard of a top official in that battalion whom I advised to demobilise or be prepared to fight the Shabab – only the blind could not see the Shabab sharpening its knives, and that turned out to be almost all the other Jihadi groups who were too naïve to see their comrades-in-arms gear up to slaughter all rivals.
Being a yes-man, Ali quickly gained the trust of the Shabab and was attached to foreign fighters in Mogadishu when I met him again in 2010. He would go shopping for them and was basically their errand boy, but he had a strange sense of pride that he was chosen to cater for the foreign fighters.
He would debate with me about me being “a sitter” – someone who had abandoned an obligatory Jihad. He would then go ahead to misquote the Quran to prove his point as I would mock his little understanding of the book he claimed to be protecting. I swear I know 12-year-old girls that know and understand the Quran more than he does.
He upped the ante and started accusing me of being a spy – a common Shabab practise to silence opposition. But unfortunately for him, I knew the Shabab more than he did and thus knew that only the security department could arrest a potential spy. The fact that the commander of the Somali Shabab in the area knew me also meant I was not in danger. In the end he just decided to stop arguing with me, and that was that; I did not hear from him until late last year.
Ironically, the Shabab security department arrested him for being a spy and held him in safe houses in Mogadishu, Baidoa, and finally in Marka. He claims to have been severely tortured together with other detainees into confessing to espionage crimes they did not commit.
According to Ali, the Shabab interrogators would whip detainees, electrocute them, and also remove their fingernails if they refuse to confess to outrageous charges. Once one accepts to make a confession, a camera crew is called to record his confession and then he is presented to a judge. The Shabab judges apparently only consider live confessions, and almost none of the detainees would make confessions to the judge, prompting new, more vicious torture tactics to be administered by the Shabab security operatives.
Ali claims he was taken to the judge twice and retracted his confession when he was taken to court. In the end, they had it with him and released him to his clan, battered and malnourished.
If you torture people, they will tell you what you want to hear. That would rarely be the truth: they will tell you whatever they think will stop you from continuing to punish them. Torture is a sadistic practice that can not be justified in the pursuit of information or confessions as shown in this and countless other stories.
Ali claims that the foreign fighters “suspected” him and were the ones who reported him. Naturally, he now hates them and the Shabab as a whole. He refers to the Shabab as “dhaalimiin” (tyrants, oppressors). Yeah, who woulda thought that?
Interestingly, he still thinks of the Somali government as an apostate regime. He argues that the Shabab being oppressive does not mean that the government has any Sharia legitimacy, despite having perhaps the most Islamic constitution in Africa (the argument is that because the process that led to the constitution is unislamic, the product can never be Islamic according to Shariah. Furthermore, the democratic system of government is considered apostasy by almost all Salafists – the ones that allow partaking in democratic elections cite the need to block secularisation)
Clearly, you can remove the man out of the Shabab but not the Shabab ideology out of the man. And yet, former Shabab members are still being admitted into government security forces. To achieve long-term security in Somalia, former Shabab members should be discharged from the security forces and reintegrated back into society.