Al-Shabaab magazine attempts to justify violent jihad

Al-Shabaab supporters volley between local gripes and global issues in the latest edition of their online magazine, but their calls for violent jihad and overthrow of democratic governments are falling on deaf ears, Kenyan religious leaders and security analysts say.


n the sixth edition of pro-al-Shabaab magazine Gaidi Mtaani, the editor’s statement in the preface reveals one of the major themes of the issue, remarking in Swahili, “Democracy is blasphemy and jihad is the solution.”

The other significant motif encourages Muslims to migrate away from “unbelievers” and to seek paradise through martyrdom. Toward this goal, the magazine features Qu’ranic quotes translated from Arabic to Swahili that encourage readers to participate in violent jihad.

It also covers abuses by Kenyan security forces against Muslim communities, and in a more global view, dedicates a passage to criticising the actions of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Alawite sect in the brutal war in Syria.

The final page is saved for a graphic of slain al-Shabaab supporter and radical Mombasa recruiter Abubakar Shariff Ahmed, known as “Makaburi”, who was allegedly killed in a government-sponsored hit in April 2014, just weeks after winning a cash judgment in court against the Anti-Terror Police Unit.

Calls for jihad

Each edition of Gaidi Mtaani, or “Terrorist on the Street” in Swahili, is published predominantly in English and Swahili, with some Arabic passages, and features glossy and provocative photographs and images.

One of the longest English-language articles in the sixth edition comes from “Yahya al-Amriki”, an anonymous Somali diaspora member who left his home country when he was young to settle in an unidentified Western city.

The author accuses Westerners of largely lacking morals and caring foremost about money, which he said inevitably led him to join al-Shabaab in order to “live under the banner of sharia”.

Other fighters are profiled in the edition, and out of the four al-Shabaab fighters covered extensively, this anonymous author is the only one who appears to be alive.

A subsequent section hails the exploits of three ex-fighters from Minnesota who were killed in action years ago in 2009: Dahir Gure, Troy Kastigar (a Muslim convert who had lived in a predominately Somali neighbourhood in Minneapolis) and Mohamud Hassan.

It is possible that the article highlighting the life of Minnesotan jihadists was intended to reinvigorate an audience that al-Shabaab has lost in recent years as the group’s reputation deteriorated — contributing to radicalised individuals being more likely to join the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

The magazine gives a few details on the experiences of these fighters in battle and circumstances of their death, and is lacking in any dazzling prose.

However, the core goal of these pieces is to attract audiences with provocative graphics, simple messages and selective proof-texting from the Qu’ran.

The degree to which Gaidi Mtaani is successful at doing this is difficult to measure, but the content does not lack in any of the prerequisites to contribute to the radicalisation of its target audiences.

Al-Shabaab does not speak for Muslims

Supreme Council of Kenyan Muslims Vice Chairman Abdullahi Sirat said al-Shabaab is misrepresenting the Qur’an to push for their violent agenda.

He said Muslims in Somalia and Kenya have denounced the group and its violence and have not appointed al-Shabaab to speak on their behalf.

“Islam is peace. The Qur’an advocates for peace and not violence,” he told Sabahi.

Al-Shabaab is raising the issue of democracy only to spark Muslim disobedience against governments, Sirat said. “They are portraying democracy as if it is another religion, yet we know that religion and democracy are two different things but are compatible,” he said.

Security analyst and retired Kenyan army Major Bashir Haji Abdullahi said Gaidi Mtaani has lost its momentum.

“The publishers recycle the same propaganda from the first publication,” he said. “No one looks forward to the next edition because it is inconsistent. As a result, the curiosity that existed in the early publications among Kenyans has died down.”

“Even the publishers have run out of ideas. That is why they are appealing for anyone to contribute content to fill the publication,” he said, referring to an advertisement in the magazine calling for writers.

The Arab Spring and the Caliphate

In an article entitled “Fight for the Sake of Allah Not for Democracy”, author “Abdullah al-Kenyi” argues that the Arab Spring revolts in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria and Yemen have not produced the desired results of the protesters, thus “proving” that efforts to form democracy in Muslim countries are “doomed” to fail.

The article hints at the return to autocratic rule in Egypt, simmering battles in Libya and the intensification of the war in Syria, but puts no attention to the democratic gains in Tunisia.

In addition, it states that any stable governments in predominately Muslim countries inevitably produce Western-allied governments and militaries that “target Muslims”, pointing especially to Egypt’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist movements.

In response, it argues that Muslims should focus on the re-establishment of the caliphate, but conveniently ignores how ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi controversially declared a caliphate in June 2014.

As a result, it could be argued that the authors behind the magazine — along with its al-Qaeda allies in Yemen — do not acknowledge the legitimacy of ISIL’s “caliphate” and continue to support al-Qaeda leadership — which remains a bitter rival against ISIL in the fight for supremacy in the jihadist hierarchy as the latter continues to attract other allies.

Targeting Kenyan Muslims

Abdullahi, the Kenyan security analyst, said al-Shabaab is hard pressed to attract new recruits in Kenya.

“When [Gaidi Mtaani] started publishing, the target was clearly people in East Africa region,” he said. “But now it appears they are casting their net far to target people in the Middle East by trying to align itself with ISIL activities. It could also be seeking to have some ISIL fighters join its ranks.”

“It is not a coincidence that lately al-Shabaab has taken a more violent approach associated with ISIL and Boko Haram, which include mass kidnappings and executions,” he said.

The magazine also dedicates a page in which it implores all Muslims in the Kenyan security forces to desert their jobs and wage jihad on non-Muslims. It brands all Muslims in the various security forces as non-believers and encourages them to seek alternative sources of income.

Security analyst and retired Kenyan army Colonel Daud Sheikh Ahmed said the magazine falls just short of calling for Muslims in the security forces to execute a coup.

“When one joins the Kenyan security forces, particularly the military, they have a duty to defend the country from external threats irrespective of the aggressor,” he told Sabahi. “At such a time when the country is faced with terror threats, it is the best time for soldiers irrespective of their faith to show their patriotism.”

Nonetheless, he said, Muslims in the military are aware that al-Shabaab is the enemy of the people and also the enemy of Islam.

“Al-Shabaab’s calls are likely to fall on deaf ears because the Muslim soldiers in this time of war have no time to even read the magazine,” he said.