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Somali Militants Prey on Khat Addicts

Islamic militant group Al-Shabaab targets young addicts to strengthen its ranks.

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Khat is a popular herbal stimulant among
Somalis. Photo via

By Bryan Le

02/23/12

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Young men of Somalian origin living in Britain may find their khat dependency gets them whisked them away into the ranks of Islamic militants. The chewable plant stimulant is legal in the UK. Members of Britain's large and longstanding Somalian community typically consume khat in discreet urban cafes called "marfishes." These establishments have reportedly become a recruiting ground for Islamic militant group Al-Shabaab, which is fighting against Somalia's transitional government and is believed to be affiliated with Al-Qaida. The addicted Somali men targeted are often depressed, jobless and affected by khat-inspired paranoia. "Young people become vulnerable, not clearly thinking, and the paranoia kicks in and that's when they start to hate the British public—especially the police," says Abubakr Awale, an anti-khat campaigner and former user. "They are thinking everybody is out to get them and that's exactly the kind of individuals the likes of Al-Shabaab are targeting." Those who resist Al-Shabaab's recruitment still fear being arrested for terrorism—as well as Al-Shabaab members knocking down their doors for being “anti-Muslim.” Those who join up are taken to Africa to fight, leaving their families to speculate on their fate; it's estimated that a quarter of foreign fighters in Somalia are British nationals.

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