Nageeye Ali Khalif
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Nageeye Ali Khalif: Lecturer by day, Al-Shabaab agent by night

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A screen grab from a video of Nageeye Ali Khalif explaining his reasons to join al-Shabaab.

Photo credit: Pool

For most of the recent years, Somalis, and donors, applauded the talent of Nageeye Ali Khalif as a prominent poet and university lecturer.

Aged 32, his eloquence made him one of the figures to turn around the skills of the youth, and also dissuade them from joining Al-Shabaab militant group.

It turns out everyone was wrong.

On Wednesday, Nageeye turned out to be an Al-Shabaab agent, who disguised himself as a youth leader while all along obtaining crucial private data on Al-Shabaab targets.

Here is how he played the public.

On X he identified in the Somali syllabic pronunciation: Nageeye Cali Khaliif. He said he “works at the Department of Journalism and Communication” at the Somali National University (SNU).

His X handle had slightly more than 10,000 followers, which made him some kind of celebrity to his followers.

But there was more.

He also posted photos of his ‘training’ sessions in an EU-funded programme. One post indicated that trained journalists on ‘professional skills.’

Some of these training workshops were sponsored by the European Union, through various entities such as Vikes in Finland and Free Press in Netherlands, according to posters.

Nageeye, who claims to have joined Al-Shabaab in 2021, often presented himself as a young tutor ready to engage young journalists.

By the time of publication of this story, the EU delegation to Somalia had not responded to inquiries by the Nation on how they funded a programme and how they engaged someone who is affiliated to Al Shabaab without verifying his background.

Usually, the first place to check is whether Nageeye belonged to a credible local journalist organisation or professional body and whether he had any criminal record.

Either way, Nageeye used a very useful profession to Somali society to gather as much information for a group that has often attacked and killed journalists in Somalia.

On Friday, Somalia’s Interior Minister Ahmed Moalim Fiqi confirmed Nageeye had indeed defected and was no longer a lecturer.

He acknowledged a disturbing trend where several government officials, including intelligence agents and law enforcement officers, had joined the militant group.

Nageeye Ali Khalif

Nageeye Ali Khalif conducts a donor-sponsored training for journalists in this undated photo posted on his X account last year. 

Photo credit: Pool

Some analysts think Nageeye has challenged the government strategy to counter Al-Shabaab narrative.

“This is a famous poet, and former lecturer in Mogadishu who is eloquent in the Somali language. Before he declared his Al Shabaab membership, he had publicly given very nationalistic views and resentment for the presence of foreign forces in Somalia,” said Abdullahi Abdi Sheikh, a former head of BBC Somali Service, now Director of BV International, running a Horn of Africa consultancy.

“The interview he gave serves as a strong message to those with nationalistic views in Somalia that they cannot thrive as long as those forces are present,” he added.

As his poems targeted the youth, most of whom are disconnected from the clan-based politics of Somalia, Sheikh argued that Somali authorities must adopt a new strategy to counter and neutralise his alarming message.

Nageeye’s shocking revelations emerged from a controversial interview with al-Furqaan, a media outlet associated with the extremist Al-Shabaab group.

His reputation was built from poems and the fact that he had taught at the state-run Somali National University for more than six years.

Those who knew him hardly believed initial reports that Nageeye might have joined Al-Shabaab when he disappeared at the end of October.

Last Wednesday, however, Nageeye reappeared in an interview unequivocally affirming joining the Al-Qaeda-linked terror group, describing the ideology that magnetised him.

“First of all, when I relocated from Somaliland in 2017 (the self-declared authority) to Mogadishu, I believed that something serious was wrong with the Somali government,” he said in the interview.

He made numerous trips between Somaliland and Mogadishu without raising suspicion.

“The government lacked the moral value,” he added, explaining that the extremist ideology was nurturing his soul.

In October 2023, when news of Nageeye’s disappearance emerged, Somalia’s National Intelligence and Security Agency (Nisa) announced that it had launched investigations to establish Nageeye’s whereabouts.

By last week, it had made no revelations about the investigations while the university management kept mum.

On various occasions, Nageeye told the media that he was born at Daror location in the Somali State of Ethiopia in 1992.

Despite his relatively young age, he had been involved in the world of arts and media for over a decade. His early education was in Hargeisa, the capital of the self-declared Somaliland, where he attained a secondary leaving certificate.

He achieved a higher education in Addis Ababa where he graduated with a Bachelors Degree in Political Science and Masters Degree in Journalism. Thereafter, he took up lecturing jobs in various institutions.

His noted poems include Dabadhilif (Follower), Gobanimo u-dirir (Freedom fight), Hami (Ambition), Duufaan (Cyclone) and Garmaqaate (Idiot). But, his most celebrated poem is Dibadjoog (Staying abroad).

In all his poems, his verses often depicted strong anti-Ethiopian sentiments.

“All foreign agents and troops are here (in Somalia) for their interests,” Nageeye said in the latest interview on Wednesday.

These views are contrary to those of the Somalia government which upholds that foreign troops are helping the country fight insecurity including terror groups. 

Nageeye is not the only high-profile deserting to Al-Shabaab. In 2010, an outspoken member of Somalia’s parliament Salah Nuh Ismael better known as Salah Badbaado, disappeared. Then reappeared, several days later, announcing his membership to Al-Shabaab.

Ismael had been one of the 275 MPs selected at the end of the Somali Reconciliation Conference in Nairobi in 2004.

After six years with the radical group, on July 26, 2016 Ismael rammed a lorry full of explosives into the perimeter fence of the main base of the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) in Mogadishu.

Ismael’s suicide mission killed him without causing much damage.

These events paint a paint of a militant group keen on tapping on the knowledge and networks of people otherwise considered harmless.

Al-Shabaab has similarly infiltrated the Somali civil service as well as its security agencies.

Some of its agents have in the past been employed as clerks, who later became suicide bombers. Others have been unlikely popular artistes, like Nageeye.

A journalist who attended an EU-funded programme with Free Press and Vikes, told the Nation that Nageeye’s last moments in public life were curious as he recorded contacts and home addresses of journalists he supposedly trained.

This data is now likely to be in the possession of Al-Shabaab.

Meanwhile, the police in Puntland, one of the federal member states of Somalia on Thursday said it had captured two foreigners serving Islamic State (IS) cell in Somalia also known as Daesh.

The two men were identified as Morocco national Hassan ibnu-Mohamed ibnu-Hussein and Syrian Mohamed ibnu-Mohamed Ahmed.

The statement did not associate the men with specific tasks within the extremist group.

Police report further indicated that Puntland forces seized over the past 6 months IS and Al-Shabaab operatives and militants hailing from Morocco, Sudan, Syria, Ethiopia and the southern regions of Somalia.

In 2015, a group of militants, led by radical cleric Sheikh Abdulkadir Mumin, defected from Al-Shabaab and formed the IS branch in Somalia, declaring allegiance to hitherto IS supreme leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.