Foreign jihadists heed call for holy war in lawless Somalia

One was a taxi driver in the United States, the other a part-time baker in Britain. Now they have returned to their native Somalia to fight "the enemies of Allah."
"Hey brother, what's up?" chirps Abu Muslim, lapsing with obvious relish into colloquial English, as he phones his fellow jihadist or holy warrior Abu Dujanah.
The two trained together in the southern Lower Jubba region to become part of the hardline Shebab militia, a group with links to al-Qaeda which is bent on ousting Somalia's moderate Islamist president as well as foreign peacekeepers.
They are part of a growing contingent of foreign jihadists who have flocked to lawless Somalia in recent months and whose number includes Arabs, Western Muslim converts and members of Somalia's large diaspora. Abu Muslim, who prefers not to reveal his real name, said he was inspired to quit his university course and job at a bakery in England after browsing the Internet to learn about the so-called U.S.-led "war on terror."
"I didn't come here in search of excitement, it's a real decision to die for my religion," he said during an interview in Mogadishu.
Sporting a patchy beard, thin glasses and white turban, he speaks in a poised, professorial tone and is equally comfortable in English and Somali. He says he returned to Somalia in late 2006 to fight invading Ethiopian troops and professes his admiration for Osama bin Laden.
"I don't believe that any country in the world has the right to draw up wanted lists. Bin Laden is a brave Muslim leader for our century and those who are using him to justify invasions will always lose," said the 28-year-old.
He still carries his UK credit cards in his wallet but says he prefers his new lifestyle as a fighter, sleeping with his brothers-in-arms on Somalia's beaches.
A recent Internet video showed a light-skinned American identified as Abu Mansur al-Amriki urging "all the brothers overseas, all the shebab (youth), wherever they are, to come and live the life of a mujahed (holy warrior)."
The clip was interspersed with songs and rapping in what the Middle East Media Research Institute described as "a clear appeal to foreign youth, especially in English-speaking countries, to join the jihad in Somalia."
Officials recently said that around 450 foreign jihadists were currently on Somali soil, many of them entering through the northern semi-autonomous territories of Puntland and Somaliland.
The foreign-bred Somalis among them blend in easily, added the young man, who married his military commander's step-daughter and has an 18-month-old son.
"Many people think it's a difficult process to come to Somalia for jihad but it's simple and many young men have arrived recently," his friend, Abu Dujanah, said on the phone from southern Somalia.
"I have been in Somalia for the past year-and-a-half and have fought several battles against the enemies of Allah," said the 23-year-old, who gave his name only as Mohammed.
Abu Dujanah left Somalia in 1994, three years after the start of a bloody civil war sparked by president Mohamed Siad Barre's ouster, and was granted asylum in the United States with his family.
There he went to high school but failed to get a place in university.
"I used to go out to entertainment centers with my friends, both Somalis and other nationalities. It was a life full of fun, no hardships, but it was not an Islamic lifestyle," he said.
Under pressure from his family to change his ways and get a job, he became a taxi driver but soon became outraged by the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I could not endure what was happening there and I was eager to assist my Muslim brothers but there were too many far away borders to cross," he said. "My dream came true after getting the chance to join the holy war in my homeland," he said, referring the Ethiopian occupation.
However observers argue it was the Ethiopians' pullout earlier this year that opened the floodgates, leaving the lawless Horn of Africa country at risk of becoming a haven for al-Qaeda affiliates.
Abu Dujanah says he might attempt a trip back to the United States one day to see his parents but he adds he doesn't miss home too much and rejoices at the idea that the Somali jihad's "English-speaking fraternity" is growing.