LOST WARRIOR – The Al-Shabaab penitents

Are they red or pink? What colour are the passports, Mohammed asks himself while looking at those of Fathi, his wife, and Yassir, his child. Mohammed can only dream of this priceless intensely colored document, a surviving fetish of the nation-state that divides the world between who is in and who is out.

LOST WARRIOR by Nasib Farah and Søren Steen Jespersen, presented at the last Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival, is the story of a 23 year-old former Jihadist foreign fighter and of his future, a story quite common to thousands of young men ‘retreating from the battle field’ after being fascinated by Islamic revolutionary extremism.

Mohammed is English, arriving in Great Britain when he was three years old, when the civil war in Somalia broke out and his parents sent him to a step-sister living there. Unleashed in 1992, after General Muhammad Siad Barre, the satrap who had led the country for thirty years, was ousted, the Somali conflict lasted two decades without  a moment ‘s peace for the country.

The death toll of Somalia’s disintegration in Somaliland (north-west), Puntland (north-east) and Jubaland (south) along with the evil anarchy generated by the warlords and their factions throughout the nineties, is calculated to be between 350,000 and one million people.

Two decades of political chaos and humanitarian disaster resisting the massive intervention efforts of the United Nations and United States between 1992 and 1995 finally resulted in the emergence of the Islamic Courts and the  extremist movement of Al-Shabaab, their operative arm.

Mohammed grew up without his parents, with his step sister. He was just like any other kid of his age, he went to primary school, then  high school and college, and played football. When he was 16 he became involved in drugs, like many others of his age. It was only a short step to prison.

«In those two years in prison I changed, I became religious, I was looking for a sense of belonging. After prison I was deported to Somalia and I joined Al Shabaab. […] I thought they were good guys fighting for the Somali people. They gave me an opportunity to establish a life in Africa. I was never a frontline soldier. I never carried a gun for them. I never killed anyone. I could speak English, I was educated and I knew how to use a computer, so they had me do other things for them. I am not a terrorist, I am not a suicide bomber. When I saw the civilians dying in the bombings I realized that Al Shabaab was a terrorist organization killing innocent people, I realized I had been tricked.»

There are roads of no return, disgracing lapses, choices that cannot be taken back. Al-Shabaab, like any other terrorist organization, does not tolerate penitents or drop-outs. Mohammed was repeatedly arrested  for being part of the Jihadist organization. His uncle and the local clan leader help him to be released from prison, but the indelible brand of Al Shabaab remains.

The Al-Qaeda affiliated organization has recruited hundreds of Somali youth from the West and re-gained control over the South of the country from where the Ethiopian military had driven it back in the previous years (2006-2011). Since 2014, the number of the civilians killed by Al Shabaab militias has constantly increased despite the escalation of American raids and the large-scale deployment of the AMISOM, the African Union mission acting under the UN Security Council.

On 14 October 2017, Somali experienced its deadliest bomb attack with a suicide bomber killing over 300 people. Far from being weakened, Al Shabaab was able to reenter Mogadishu after having been pushed back to the rural areas of the country.

«I don’t have a British passport so I can’t get back into the UK because I was an ex-member of Al Shabaab. It is very difficult for me to get back to England and it is dangerous to stay here as they want to kill me.»

Mohammed lived in Mogadishu as a stateless person, unsuccessfully searching for a way to get to the United Kingdom, where Fathi lives with little Yassir, who has never met his father. There is no solution for him, not even under International Protection as an English lawyer for human rights explains to him.

«I don’t think you have understood your legal position. You were convicted and deported to Somalia. You will never have British citizenship nor a special permit to remain there because you have been deported. Having made two asylum applications the likelihood of you being able to even enter the UK is pretty remote and even if you are able to,  you will be prosecuted for  being involved with terrorist organizations. There are people who have been sentenced for up to 18 years. Your prospects don’t look too good at all».

«Don’t they even consider that I had arrived in England without a family, without parents?»

Fathi and her child live in a small flat in East London with nine other family members. When she was 15 years old Fathi was sent away for three years for “re-education” in Somalia. Here she met Mohammed and they got married. Fathi returned to London alone, 17 years old and pregnant.

«It was written, it had to be.» (Fathi)

All doors are closed to Mohammed, even the Somali Embassy in Nairobi where he has arrived after crossing the border illegally in a transport container. Mohammed does not have a passport, just like many others of the 250,000 Somali immigrants living in Little Mogadishu, a small suburb in the eastern part of the capital.

«If I cannot return to Great Britain, there is always plan C… returning to Africa”, Mohammed tells Fathi who has reached him in Nairobi with their little child. There is no question for Fathi. «There is no way that I and my child can live in Africa, I can’t see myself staying in Africa.»

One last ride on the merry-go-round with little Yassir, a child who is supposed to live without a father, just as he had done himself. Mohammed is still living in Nairobi in a detention center for ex-foreign fighters, waiting for someone who considers that he was a boy without parents, he never killed anyone, he is not a terrorist nor a suicide bomber…

Share your thoughts