This weekend in Somalia, a man named Abu Abdulla Almuhajir brought grain, powdered milk, and dates in order to feed hundreds of starving Somalis. Mr. Almuhajir’s skin was white and he spoke perfect English, with an American accent. However, this mysterious man was not a member of NATO or a humanitarian organization. According to Mr. Almuhajir, he was a member of Al Qaeda. “Our beloved brothers and sisters in Somalia, we are following your situation on a daily basis,” proclaimed Mr. Almuhajir as he distributed donated grain in sacks marked “Al Qaeda campaign on behalf of Martyr Bin Laden. Charity relief for those affected by the drought.”
Officials are beginning to pose many questions about this strange occurrence. For one, is Mr. Almuhajir actually a member and representative of Al Qaeda? Yet, assuming he is part of the terrorist organization, this situation also raises the questions: “What exactly is Al Qaeda these days? Is it a philosophy that anyone can claim to represent? Or is it a centrally organized group that sends emissaries on public relations missions to places like Somalia?” It is true that Al Qaeda is very active in Somalia. Some of its biggest agents that were recently killed, including Fazul Abdullah Mohammed and Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, were hiding in the war-torn country. Additionally, foreign Al Qaeda commanders have taken on top leadership roles in Al Shabaab, the radical militant Islamist group looking to take control of Somalia in order to turn the country into a seventh-century-style Islamic state.
Somali officials like Abdulkadir Hussein Mohamed, the transitional government’s information minister, insist that the food handout is simply propaganda. “They want to take advantage of the hungry people, in order to get child recruits.” I would have to agree with this view. Time and time again, radical Islamist organizations have taken advantage of unstable governments in order to gain recruits and power. They offer essentially what the present government cannot: social welfare and the promise of stability. For years, Hamas provided Palestinians with health resources and increased funding towards education, and in return, Hamas won a decisive majority in the Palestinian Parliament in 2006. The Muslim Brotherhood has also provided massive amounts of social welfare to those in need in order to gain recruits throughout the Arab world. It seems that Al Qaeda is following the same formula in Somalia. Somalia is plagued by war and famine (most of which can be attributed to the actions of Al Shabaab), and Al Qaeda views this as an opportunity to gain influence in Somalia, new recruits, and regain some of the power it has lost in the past few years.