A Somali-Canadian allegedly lured to Mogadishu to fight for al-Shabaab is the niece of Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, Canadian officials said Monday. The 19-year-old woman, who has not been identified, is a University of Toronto student who disappeared in January with a female friend and e-mailed her family later to say she had enrolled in a school in Mogadishu. Both women are believed to have joined al-Shabaab.
"We don't know anything about whether she joined or not, but all we know is that she went to Somalia and she sent an e-mail telling her mother she is fine and attending school," a relative said of the prime minister's niece. Until two years ago, the woman was apolitical and wore jeans. Then she started denouncing foreign powers occupying Somalia and wearing traditional Islamic dress.
Prime Minister Mohamed, an American citizen with relatives living near Buffalo, has led Somalia since October. He warned that Western governments cannot "wait until these crazy people here [in Somalia] recruit youngsters."
Relatives of the young woman said al-Shabaab has established Islamic schools near Mogadishu where Westerners are groomed to become terrorists.
"As far as we know they use women as human shields," said Omar Jamal, who represents Somalia's United Nations mission. "They put them at the front line so they can claim there have been civilians killed."
"Once these young people get there, it is quite difficult," Jamal said. "Even if they change their mind, Shabaab kills them because they don't want anyone to leave."
Mohamed's niece is the second current or former University of Toronto student in the past week to be publically linked to al-Shabaab. On March 29, police arrested Mohamed Hersi at Toronto Pearson International Airport as he prepared to board a flight to Cairo through London. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said that Hersi, 25, a former University of Toronto health sciences student, planned to travel to Somalia "to join al-Shabaab and participate in their terrorist activities."
Canadian Security Intelligence Service officials have been going door to door in Somali-Canadian communities asking about individuals who may be connected with al-Shabaab.