The Softer Side of Jihad

To Win Westerners, Al Shabab Goes on Safari

View of Mogadishu fishing harbour from the Aruba Hotel in the Somali capital Mogadishu,  August 6, 2012. Stuart Price / AU-UN IST

Hunting giraffes with an AK-47 is not an activity that most people associate with the life of a terrorist, but for al Shabab, big game hunting is but one of the many perks of membership. A recent al Shabab video depicted fighters stalking and shooting giraffes, antelope, and buffalo, frolicking in a swimming hole, and sharing large plates of fresh fruit within Somalia’s lush expanses. Compared to the brutality of recruitment videos from the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), al Shabab is peddling a softer version of jihad.

This take on jihadi life is not always standard fare for the Somali terror group. Al Shabab’s cinematic efforts often feature brutality and violence. This video, however, is part of an attempt to reinvigorate a key element of its rise that saw it become, for a time, one of the world’s most prominent terrorist organizations. By casting jihad as a life of adventure and excitement, al Shabab is again trying to lure Western recruits. And its chances of success grow daily.


Al Shabab has always prized foreign recruits. In 2008, its spokesman Mukhtar Robow extolled foreign fighters as a “precious element” the group needed to attract. Particularly valued were battle-hardened terrorists from other conflict areas, including Afghanistan and Iraq, who brought fighting acumen, technological skills, and leadership experience. At one time, more than half of al Shabab’s governing council was thought to be non-Somali.

Unskilled recruits from the West have been useful as well. Anywhere from 20 to 60 Somali-Americans joined al Shabab as novice fighters. At least three of them became suicide bombers; others became foot soldiers or propagandists. Several non-Somali Americans also joined the group, as did citizens of Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

A still from Al Shabab's recruitment video, geared toward Western recruits.
A still from Al Shabab's recruitment video, geared toward Western recruits. AMISOM
Al Shabab’s Western recruitment efforts dried up as word of the group’s brutality toward Somalis and non-Somalis (even those within the group) began to spread. Several attacks within Somalia also soured the public on al Shabab, notably the 2008 suicide

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