Drug Addiction Becomes Recruiting Fodder for Somali Militants
Drug addiction is an uncontrolled, devastating problem for the lawless land of Somalia. In a country torn by decades of war, famine, drought and wholesale ethnic cleansing, a large portion of the population has turned to drugs as their only means of escape. However, this has come at a cost – and that cost has now spread to other areas of the world. At Khat houses in Britain and other European countries, Somali militants are directly targeting the young men that abuse this drug for work in jihad camps and terrorist plots. Understanding this problem is critical, as Khat is becoming an increasingly more widely used drug in the United States – a significant terrorist target.
Khat is a stimulant drug that is generally chewed in order to obtain the “high” it produces. The drug isn’t well-known by the American public, but according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, officials are already combating its effects:
“Khat (pronounced “cot”) is a stimulant drug derived from a shrub (Catha edulis) that is native to East Africa and southern Arabia. The khat plant itself is not scheduled under the Controlled Substances Act; however, because one of its chemical constituents, cathinone, is a Schedule I drug, the Federal Government considers its use illegal.” (1)
But in Europe, the drug is legal and is used heavily in some communities. In Great Britain, shady establishments have been setup for the purpose of offering khat. These buildings are typically shuttered heavily and are difficult to get into if you are not a Muslim of a certain appearance.
Inside the Khat houses, called Marfishes, criminal activity is reportedly organized, and terrorist groups have been recruiting the drug addicts who go there to chew the plant. Unfortunately, these individuals are often poorly educated and lack the resources and financial backing to sustain themselves in a European economy that doesn’t particularly include these groups. This leads to a serious issue of poverty, addiction, isolation and disillusionment – prime factors used by militants for recruiting.
According to a recent article for CNN by Nima Elbagir;
“The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) estimates that Britons now make up a quarter of foreign fighters in Somalia, and says Al-Shabaab is stepping up its effort to make the most of this fertile recruiting ground.” (2)
Al-Shabaab is a Somalian warlord thought to directly recruit foreign fighters – particularly young men from khat houses in the UK. This appears to be an especially fruitful method of obtaining new fighters, as the difficult life that khat users often face can be an especially powerful weapon to turn them against their own people and join the militant mission.
However, not every khat user who is recruited from a marfish does so willingly. Reports have surfaced that some young men are whisked away from the khat houses, only to turn up thousands of miles away fighting wars they don’t understand and can’t possibly hope to win. For them, it’s unclear which war is more damaging: the war they fight with guns and explosives, or the war they fight as they battle their own drug addiction.
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(1) National Institute on Drug Abuse InfoFacts: Khat January 2011
(2) Elbagir, Nima Somali militants target addicts in UK’s ‘khat cafes’ CNN International February 23, 2012