Malaysia has confirmed that a citizen was arrested and charged in Somalia for working with al-Shabaab, an East African militant group with ties to al-Qaeda.The man, Ahmad Mustakim Abdul Hamid, had been a member of al-Shabaab for about nine years before his arrest in 2018, a security analyst told BenarNews. The U.S.-sanctioned Somali militant group has perpetrated brazen attacks at home and abroad.
Saifuddin Abdullah, Malaysia’s newly appointed foreign minister, said the relevant authorities in Malaysia had been informed of the citizen’s arrest.
“We have also notified his family,” Saifuddin Abdullah said on Saturday.
“Our embassy official in Khartoum, Sudan, has already visited him to make sure that his health and welfare are being taken care of. Our embassy will monitor his case and make sure that he is getting a fair trial.”
Malaysia does not have an embassy in Somalia.
News of Ahmad Mustakim’s arrest emerged after a British newspaper reported last month that the Taliban in Afghanistan had arrested two Malaysians suspected of belonging to the Islamic State (IS) militant group.
BenarNews could not confirm the Malaysians’ arrest by the Taliban.
Malaysian counter-terror police chief Normah Ishak told BenarNews then that there was no record of Malaysians having joined the Afghan Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP).
But Mohd. Mizan Aslam, a professor at the Naif Arab University for Security Sciences in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia confirmed the arrests to BenarNews, saying his sources in Kabul gave him that information.
A Taliban spokesman, Abdul Qahar Balkhi, did not respond to an email seeking confirmation of the arrests.
‘Entered Somalia via Kenya’
The Malaysian government released scant details of its citizen arrested in Somalia.
According to counter-terrorism expert Ahmad El-Muhammady, Ahmad Mustakim would be the first Malaysian to be arrested and tried for his alleged involvement with the African militant outfit, which wants to establish an Islamic state in Somalia.
“This would be the first time I have heard of the arrest of a Malaysian for his alleged connection to al-Shabaab,” Ahmad told BenarNews.
“However, the authorities used to look for al-Shabaab members in Malaysia. Five of them came to Malaysia disguised as students in 2014. Their detection was the result of intelligence-sharing with friendly services overseas.”
According to the security source, Ahmad Mustakim had been involved with the Somalian militant group since 2009.
“Ahmad Mustakim went to Yemen in 2006 for further studies at Iman University,” the security source, who did not want to be named because he was not authorized to talk to the media, told BenarNews.
After studying in Yemen for two years, the Malaysian allegedly left for Kenya, the expert said, adding that the suspect was involved in evangelism while there.
“In September 2009, Ahmad Mustakim entered Somalia via Kenya to join al-Shabaab,” he said, adding that the alleged militant received combat training with the Somalian group.
The source added that Ahmad Mustakim got married while in Somalia and has two children. His wife’s citizenship is not known, he said, adding that as far as he knows, the marriage was not registered.
“There are many other details that remain missing. Maybe the Malaysian authorities already have the information but are not sharing it with the public,” the source said.
‘Stonings and amputations’
Al-Shabaab was radicalized after the Ethiopian occupation of Somalia in 2006, says the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), a New York think tank.
Analyst Ahmad said al-Shabaab shares al-Qaeda’s ideology – to establish an Islamic state in Somalia with strict sharia law.
“It received funding and support from al-Qaeda. In fact, it pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2012 and Al-Qaeda encouraged people to support al-Shabaab,” Ahmad said.
CFR says that the Somalian group enforces its own “harsh interpretation of sharia” in the areas it controls.
In October 2017, Mogadishu suffered its worst ever terrorist attack when two truck bombs killed more than 500 people and injured scores. Although al-Shabaab never claimed responsibility, it is widely believed to have carried out the attack, CFR says.
Al-Shabaab has also struck outside Somalia. The group’s fighters claimed responsibility for a 2013 attack on a shopping mall in Nairobi, which killed 67 people. In 2015, the group killed 148 people in an attack on a university in the city of Garissa, a town in east-central Kenya.
The United States’ Congressional Research Service says al-Shabaab had been responsible for the killings of more than 4,000 people since 2010.