London, December 26, 2009 – Tears filled Abdul Kadir Ali’s eyes as he
sat in a rundown community centre in Acton, West London, and told of his
sister’s life and untimely death.
Qamar Aden Ali fled Somalia with her two young children in 1986, he
said. She settled in Wembley, learnt English, took British citizenship,
studied law at Thames Valley University and joined a law firm helping
asylum-seekers. Then, in 2005, she returned to war-ravaged Somalia to
become the transitional government’s health minister.
“She said, ‘I need to help my country’,” recalled Mr Ali, a coach
company manager. “I told her many times that it’s dangerous, you have no
bodyguards, every day they are killing ministers and MPs. She said, ‘The
day of my death is already written’.”
On December 3 she attended a graduation ceremony for 40 young doctors at
a hotel in a supposedly safe part of Mogadishu. A suicide bomber dressed
as a woman blew himself up, killing 22 people. They included the
minister, 52, and her cousin, Sadia Said Samatar, 31, also a British
“When al-Jazeera showed pictures of the scene I could see them lying
there on the floor,” Mr Ali said.
His shock was compounded when the bomber was identified as a young Dane
of Somali descent. It could so easily have been a British Somali, he
In Northolt, two miles away, another Somali immigrant family is
struggling to recover after their 21-year-old son quit Oxford Brookes
University, went to Somalia and blew himself up at a checkpoint in the
town of Baidoa in October 2007, killing 20 soldiers.
It is easy to think of the war in Somalia as being, to quote Neville
Chamberlain, a “quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we
know nothing”. That is a dangerous illusion.
This is a conflict that has driven tens of thousands of Somali refugees
to Britain. They are probably the poorest and most disadvantaged ethnic
community in the country, a people whose disaffected young are all too
easily recruited by gangs or, worse, Islamic extremists.
Government officials say that dozens have already returned to Somalia to
join al-Shabaab, the brutal militia with links to al-Qaeda that is
fighting the Western-backed Government. They fear that these
battle-hardened jihadists will bring their newly acquired skills back to
the UK. One senior official told The Times that Somalia had risen
sharply up the list of threats to Britain’s security and was probably
now second after Pakistan. “It’s something we worry about a lot,” he
Lord Malloch-Brown, the former Foreign Office Minister, warned before
leaving office in July that “the main terrorist threat comes from
Pakistan and Somalia, not Afghanistan”. Radicalized Somali immigrants
have already launched botched terrorist attacks in Britain and
The Government has no reliable statistics on how many Somalis now live
in Britain. One official reckoned that there were 150,000 legal
immigrants and three times as many illegal ones.
The usual estimate is about 250,000, mostly in London but with sizeable
numbers in Liverpool, Sheffield, Bristol, Cardiff and other cities.
It is almost certainly the biggest Somali community in the worldwide
diaspora and suffers from shockingly high levels of unemployment, low
levels of education and wretched living conditions.
A 2008 report by the Institute for Public Policy Research suggested that
46 per cent had arrived in Britain since 2000, 48 per cent had no
qualifications and barely a quarter of the working age population was
employed — mostly in menial jobs.
In 1997 Haringey Council found that 50.6 per cent of its Somali adults
were illiterate in any language. Sue Lukes, the co-author of an imminent
report on housing, says that Somalis are “possibly the worst-housed
ethnic community in Britain, certainly in London”. Many do not speak
English, received no education because of the war, or have known nothing
The community is fractured, has largely failed to integrate and has lost
its traditional social structures. Britain has only one Somali mayor, in
Tower Hamlets, East London, and one former councilor, in Liverpool.
The Metropolitan Police employs not a single Somali policeman, although
it is now training four. “It has been called the invisible community,”
Mohamed Aden Hassan, co-founder of the Somali London Youth Forum, said.
Not surprisingly, some marginalized young Somalis join gangs: the
Tottenham Somalis, the Woolwich Boys, Thug Fam. Anecdotal evidence
suggests that Somalis are too often the perpetrators, or victims, of
Two Somali brothers, Mustaf and Yusuf Jama, murdered PC Sharon
Beshenivsky during a robbery in Bradford in 2005. In 2006 another young
Somali, Mahir Osman, was stabbed to death at a Camden bus stop by a gang
of 40 youths, several of them Somali.
Rageh Omaar, the Somali-born television journalist, has talked of the
“crisis of our young men” and a “sense of denial” within the community.
Other young Somalis, angered by the US and British-led wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan, have followed the siren call of Islamic fundamentalism. Two
of the four men who tried to bomb the London Underground on July 21,
2005, were Somali asylum-seekers.
Others have gone home to fight for al-Shabaab, which, until Ethiopian
troops withdrew from Somalia in February, portrayed itself as a
nationalist group fighting foreign occupiers and enjoyed considerable
support among British Somalis.
British officials are uncertain whether the converts are recruited on
the street, in mosques, or through the internet, but al-Shabaab
certainly exploits the latter. In one online video two young suicide
bombers talk of the “sweetness of jihad”.
“How dare you sit at home and see Muslims getting killed . . . Those who
are in Europe and America, get out of those countries,” they say.
Officials do not know exactly how many have gone because they cannot
distinguish between Somalis travelling home for legitimate and
illegitimate reasons. “It’s not hundreds, but it’s more than single
figures,” said one senior Whitehall source, who added that non-Somali
British had also gone to global jihad’s latest battleground.
A counter-terrorist source said: “They are not just fighting and
learning new skills, but forging contacts from around the world.”
Leaders of Britain’s Somali community are appalled at the image that it
has acquired and argue that most Somalis in this country are peaceful
and law-abiding. They say that the community increasingly sees
al-Shabaab as the terrorist organization that it is.
Belatedly, they and the authorities are taking steps to protect their
vulnerable youth and Mr Ali is now joining them.
He is setting up a foundation in his sister’s memory to combat the
radicalization of young British Somalis. He intends to campaign in
schools, mosques and workshops against extremists who brainwash
susceptible young Muslims like his sister’s Danish killer.
The stakes are high, he says. When the recruits have finished fighting
in Somalia “they will send them back to Europe and America. It will be
very, very dangerous.”
Home in Britain
estimated number of Somalis living in London
Somali nationals granted British citizenship in 2005
Somalis became asylum seekers in the first half of 2009
of these were in the EU
The Sources of this estimation came from: UNHCR, 2001 census, BBC, Home
Source: Times Online, December 23, 2009