Al Shabaab's glossy ads for global jihad aimed directly at Westerners


JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – The jihadist speaks with an unmistakable London accent, railing against “disbelievers who dominate our lives and our lands” in a glossy propaganda video for al-Shabaab, the Somali Islamic extremist group that claimed responsibility for last month’s attack on Kenya's premier shopping mall.

The masked militant who appears to have featured in similar videos in the past makes a well-rehearsed argument about the evils of the “disbelievers.”

The remarkable thing about these glossy infomercials for global jihad is that they are being directly aimed at potential recruits from the West.

This video released Wednesday, along with mounting evidence that al Shabaab has dozens of American and British fighters in its ranks, underlines the threat that this group poses not only in countries like Kenya, but also the United States and Western Europe. Indeed, intelligence experts estimate that al Shabaab counts a larger contingent of Americans that any other al Qaeda offshoot.

Against a backdrop of sweeping shots of the London skyline, the narrator names ten militants – men with apparent links to Britain – who he says have been killed in armed struggle, becoming “martyrs.”

He lists British cities that he claims recruits have come from: London, Liverpool, Cardiff, Bristol and Birmingham. He names a militant called Asmat, calling him “an Indian brother from London” who tried to go to Afghanistan before traveling to Somalia to fight.

He introduces another fighter called Talha, saying he’s “a towering figure” from London’s East End.

Talha then turns towards the camera and delivers a call to arms.

“I call on you today – all the Muslim men in Britain, especially the city of Tower Hamlets,” referring to an impoverished part of East London with a large Muslim population. 

At the end of the hour-long film that appears to have been filmed over several years and refers to terrorist attacks in the United States and Europe, violent, computer-generated imagery invites viewers to join al-Shabaab.


The group has released dozens of such highly-produced propaganda videos over the last few months – even trying to recruit Americans and members of the Somali community in Minneapolis.

Alongside the guns and grenades of its daily battles, the militant group is known to have used YouTube and Twitter in its long-term propaganda war. 

This newest version is just more evidence of Western links to the militant group behind last month’s attack at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, in which at least 67 people were killed.

As if to underline the threat felt in the West, on Oct. 5 U.S. Navy SEALs launched an operation on the Somali coast – days after the Westgate attack and almost 20 years to the day after “Black Hawk Down’ – in what intelligence insiders say was a failed attempt to capture a senior al Shabaab commander, a Kenyan man known as “Ikrima.” 

A leaked Kenyan intelligence report, seen by NBC News, also names British woman Samantha Lewthwaite – the daughter of an English soldier – as a logistician in a terror cell that Ikrima led. Kenyan officials have said she was part of a foiled plot planning multiple attacks towards the end of December 2011 and early 2012. Among the alleged targets were Kenyan parliament buildings, United Nations office in Nairobi and Kenyan political and security officials.

Lewthwaite is the widow of Germaine Lindsay – one of four terrorists who blew themselves up in London on July 7, 2005, killing 52 civilians. She is now one of the world’s most wanted women after Interpol issued a global “red notice” to find her.

Lewthwaite is thought to have gone on the run from Mombasa, a coastal town in Kenya, in 2011. She left little behind at a sprawling villa where she had lived, which NBC News has visited, except a birth certificate and some hand written notes that appear to form the first draft of a book outlining her radical ideology.

In that draft, she appears to have recorded proposed chapter headings, which include “guidance to jihad” and “your reasons for fighting and leaving all you love behind.” She also celebrates her former husband for living “a life terrorising [sic] the disbelievers as they have us.”

Lewthwaite’s notes offer an insight into the mind of a suspected jihadist. But counter-terrorism officials on Kenya’s coast believe that there are many more westerners who see East Africa as a potential battlefield in their war against Europe and the United States.

But perhaps the most pressing concern for the security services in the United States, Britain and elsewhere, is not what those home-grown militants might be doing abroad, but how they might use that knowledge if they return home.

This is a point the masked militant in al Shabaab’s latest video seems intent on driving home when he asks: “Where do you, the Muslim in the West, see yourself in this bigger struggle?”