- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 26, 2002

NAIROBI, Kenya "I dream, mostly, of leaving," said Ahmed Aden, 20, talking about his home. He has been living in the Dadaab refugee camp for 11 years, ever since his father was killed in Somalia's civil war and his mother fled across the border to Kenya with her four children.
The camp of about 120,000 Somalis, awash with arms and surrounded by bandits, is hot, increasingly desperate and dangerous, Mr. Aden added.
Western donors, overwhelmed with requests for funding to deal with new crises and for new refugee camps elsewhere, has all but forgotten Dadaab. The World Food Program (WFP), which provides all of Dadaab's food, cut its meal portions by half this year. By February, it expects to be out of corn. Cooking oil will be gone by May.
Some of this void is increasingly being filled by a Saudi-based Muslim aid organization called Al Haramain Islamic Foundation a group that the United States says has ties to al Qaeda.
So it is not surprising that ever since the bombing of a hotel in Mombasa last month, Dadaab has been on the lips of every investigative team in town. The FBI, Israel's Mossad intelligence agency and local Kenyan secret service are investigating how al Qaeda, which claimed responsibility for the attack, was able to bring in weapons (including two surface-to-air missiles that were fired at an Israeli passenger jet) and where it recruited its agents. The answer may lie in the camp.
The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Fund for Peace in Washington has been saying for the past two years that Dadaab, 60 miles inside the Kenyan border, is becoming fertile ground for terrorists. In interviews with camp refugees from August to December 2000, Kathi Austin, director of the Arms and Conflict Program of the Fund for Peace, found an intricate web of communication links and arms transfers going from Somali border towns through the refugee camps to downtown Nairobi.
"I had specific information [about terrorist training in Dadaab] before September 11," she said. "I was looking at arms networks going from Somalia into Kenya, and I ran into terrorists competing with criminal elements and clans to take advantage of those networks."
Ms. Austin, whose team returned to the camp in August, said that Dadaab is an "important pit stop" in the arms pipeline and also a "perfect" training ground for terror organizations. "There are a large number of people in a confined state with little scrutiny. Meanwhile, more radical Islam is taking hold there and being imposed on those not interested," she said.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Kenyan government and the myriad of NGOs working in the camp all say that they have not seen any such terrorist activity. Emmanuel Nyabera, UNHCR's public information officer in Kenya, said that Al Haramain is "not Taliban style," but rather "a normal, religious foundation which can't be denied camp access."
But none of the officials here reject the possibility that radical ideas and training are seeping in.
The renewed suspicions about Dadaab has led the Kenyan ministry of home affairs to limit journalists' access to the camp and to ask that visitors be accompanied by a ministry representative.
Al Haramain's role in Dadaab is not large, but is welcomed by camp officials. It has set up religious schools; started social programs; and begun distributing rice, sugar, and, during the holy month of Ramadan, offering up slaughtered camels and goats.
The United States, nonetheless, is wary of the group's activities there and elsewhere. In March, the United States blocked funds of the Somalia and Bosnia branches of Al Haramain, saying those offices were diverting charity donations to terrorist groups. "The Somalia office of Al Haramain is linked to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network and al Ittihad al-Islamiya (AIAI), a Somali terrorist group," said a March 11 Treasury Department statement. "Over the past few years, al Haramain Somalia has funneled money to AIAI by disguising funds as if they were intended for orphanage projects or Islamic school and mosque construction."
After the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombing in Nairobi that killed 219 persons, Kenya revoked the registration of five Muslim NGOs, including al Haramain, accusing them of links to the Islamic militants who carried out the attack. Kenya's High Court later blocked the deregistration. No ties between Al Haramain and the bombing was ever established.
On its Web site, Al Haramain says it is not a radical group. "If anyone's definition of radical is to be 'extreme or extremist,' then we, indeed, separate ourselves from that since our deen [Islamic law] is not one of extremes," it says.
In another section on the site, however, the foundation challenges Washington's definition of "terrorism" and says that "defending Islam and the Muslim community involves taking up arms against the enemy."
Meanwhile, the Sunday Times of London reported last month that the CIA had information linking Al Haramain to the bombing in Bali in which about 190 persons were killed. According to the Times, Omar Al Farouq, al Qaeda's senior representative in Southeast Asia, who was arrested in June, told interrogators that Al Haramain was the "principal source" of funding for the Indonesian Islamic group suspected of carrying out that attack.
"Our religion does not say to kill anyone," Mr. Aden said at the camp. "And I don't support bin Laden. But there must be others who do here. Clearly. Someone is doing the killing."
In the instance of the Mombasa bombing, that someone may be Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, who, according to officials, owned the vehicle used in the attack. Investigators found bomb-making material in his home on Dec. 16. Kenyan daily Nation reported on Dec. 17 that Mr. Nabhan was believed to have fled to Somalia. No ties between Mr. Nabhan and Dadaab have yet been established.
While it is illegal to leave the camp without permission, many escape the fenced confines and head to Nairobi. There are, according to aid workers, 20,000 to 100,000 illegal Somalis living in the Kenyan capital most of them in the teeming neighborhood of Eastleigh.
"You want a new-generation Kenyan ID card? No problem," grins Salim, a young Somali sipping strawberry yogurt at Eastleigh's Lebanon cafe. "You want a Kenyan driver's license? Easy. A pistol? $60 only. A cell phone, perhaps?"
Outside, the "Dadaab express" a colorfully painted bus dragging its muffler behind it grinds to a halt and unloads an incredibly large number of passengers, each carrying stuffed briefcases or baskets.
"Everything comes through here," explains Ali, an older Somali with a red tinted beard, who, like others interviewed in the cafe, refused to give his last name.
"Narcotics, electronics wholesale from Taiwan, cigarettes, messages, arms."
Both Ali and Salim started their Kenyan life in Dadaab, but now spend their days in Eastleigh ordering up spaghetti, chewing the popular stimulant khat, and "doing business." Would they, or their colleagues, work with terrorists relay messages, move arms from one place to another, spy?
"Who is a terrorist?" they ask. "We don't know and don't ask. We just do business."

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide