Aboud Rogo

Islamic preacher Aboud Rogo Mohammed before a Mombasa court where he was charged with being in procession of illegal firearms before he was killed in 2012. Some of his followers are said to have fled the country.

| File | Nation Media Group

Trail of ruined lives as Aboud Rogo disciples unleash terror across region

The wave of terrorism gripping the region partly can be traced to Aboud Rogo, a radical cleric whose fiery teachings lured hundreds of youths from Kenya's coastal region to their ruin. 

It has now emerged that before an assassin’s bullet ended his life, Sheikh Rogo had not only radicalised youths at the Coast, his tentacles had spread even further across East Africa, where his influence continues to pose a threat, according to research by Ngala Chome dubbed ‘Eastern Africa’s Regional Extremist Threat: Origins, Nature and Policy Options’.

The research paper published by the Centre for Human Rights and Policy Studies reveals that Rogo’s radical sermons saw him spread his wings from Kenya to Tanzania and finally, to Mozambique, which is currently battling with the nightmare of terror attacks in its Cabo Delgado province.

IPK, where it all started

The report traces the rise of Rogo and other radical Kenyan clerics to 1990, when the government refused to register the Islamic Party of Kenya (IPK), leading to a series of violent riots in the coastal city of Mombasa.

Shortly after, the report states, a radical wing of the IPK took hold of an emergent informal space to mobilise and radicalise members. 

“By the mid-1990s, a number of former IPK members and supporters, namely, Sheikhs Aboud Rogo Mohamed, Abdul Aziz Rimo and Abubakar Sharif Ahmed (aka Makaburi) had taken hold of key mosque platforms to propagate a jihad Islamist ideology,” the report says.

Sheikh Abubakar Shariff alias Makaburi

Sheikh Abubakar Shariff alias Makaburi when he appeared before a Mombasa court on March 27, 2014.

Photo credit: File | Kevin Odit | Nation Media Group

In 1996 and 1997, Rogo’s mosque seminars (darsas) were comprised of young Islamist militants, notably Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, Haruni Bamusa, Fumo Mohamed Fumo and Ahmed Salim Swedan.

Nabhan played an important role, alongside Fazul Mohamed, in al-Qaeda’s second operation in Kenya on  November 28, 2002, when he, together with a Kenyan-Somali, Issa Osman Issa, shot surface-to-air missiles at an Israeli charter flight that was departing the Mombasa Airport with 246 passengers on board.

An undated photo of Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan. 

Photo credit: File

Sheikh Rogo himself would be arrested after the 2002 AQEA operations in Kenya, and acquitted in 2005, after which “he became Eastern Africa’s most well-known Islamist agitator”, building around himself a group of followers that included the future leaders of Kenya’s Islamist jihad group, reads the research paper.

Rogo started out by exacting particular influence on the Muslim Youth Centre (MYC), which was registered as a community-based organisation in December 2008 by the mosque committee of the Pumwani Riyadha Mosque, one of Nairobi’s oldest Islamic institutions, the research shows.

Aboud Rogo and Abubakar Sharif Ahmed Abubakar alias Makaburi in a Nairobi court where they were charged with being members of Al-Shabaab on December 22, 2010.

Photo credit: File | Anthony Omuya | Nation Media Group

In 2007, the MYC functioned as a ‘pressure group’ under the leadership of the charismatic Ahmed Iman Ali, who was born and raised in the Majengo slums of Pumwani.

In his report, Mr Chome reveals that the MYC group’s name was then changed to Al-Hijra, following  increased surveillance of its activities.

“But before Al-Hijra was able to conduct a spectacular, complex attack in Kenya, several of the group’s associates, including Sheikh Aboud Rogo and Abubakar Sharif (Makaburi), were assassinated,” notes the scholar.

Mosque raids

Subsequently, the administration led raids into the mosques where the preachers had exercised control and the authorities subsequently supervised the selection of new mosque committees, it says.

Meanwhile, the research shows members of a Tanzanian group identified as Ansaar Muslim Youth Centre (AMYC), based in the coastal town and region of Tanga, were also associated with Sheikh Rogo, from whom they also receiving radical teachings.

The Tanzania group was found to be engaging in radicalisation, recruitment and fund-raising on behalf of al-Shabaab. It was also using Tanga-based criminal networks in smuggling and drug trafficking to accomplish its objectives.

“Through its links with Kenya’s Sheikh Aboud Rogo, the AMYC sent its members to Kenya to study at Rogo’s madrassa at Kanamai (which was also attended by Pumwani’s Sheikh Ahmed Iman Ali) and at Masjid Musa and Sakina in Majengo, where Rogo exercised control,” the report reads in part.

Some AMYC members, it notes, also attended the madrassa at Bongwe in Kwale, Madrasatul Tawheed Islaamiya, including Ramadhan Kufungwa, one of the senior commanders of the Jeysh Ayman wing of al-Shabaab.

“To shuttle its members to join al-Shabaab in Somalia, AMYC made use of its close association with Tanga-based drug-trafficking and smuggling networks that dominate Tanzania’s long and unpoliced coastline, shuttling AMYC members from the North-Eastern coast of Tanzania at Tanga, across the Kenyan coast to Kismayo in Southern Somalia,” the research shows.

Between 2006 and 2010, individuals associated with the AMYC, including local businessmen in Tanga who financed the AMYC – after  Al-Haramayn Foundation, another organisation accused of funding the recruitment was designated by the UN as an affiliate of Al-Qaeda – would actively and openly promote support for al-Shabaab in Somalia.

Move to Mozambique

The report says the Islamist militants have continued to present a security threat in Tanzania, and after being pushed by arrests and targeted killings from the North-eastern parts of the country, some have fled further south.

Reports indicate that among those who fled were Sheikh Rogo’s followers who then went to Mozambique.

This, Mr Chome says, was as a result of an agreement between Tanzania and the Mozambican police in early 2018 to collaborate in fighting cross-border crime on Tanzania’s Southern border.

“Later in that year, the Tanzanian police force undertook operations to put to an end a series of killings along the coastal areas of Ikwiriri and Kibiti, where Tanzanian (and some Kenyan) Islamist militants had escaped to following police crackdowns on suspected al-Shabaab members, especially in 2014 and 2015.

In Mozambique, Sheikh Rogo’s followers, who have since coalesced into a terror group, have reportedly carried out 120 attacks in a span of three months this year.

The attacks by the violent ISIS-linked insurgency in northern Mozambique, known locally as Ahlu Sunna Wal-Jamma, has grown rapidly since its first attack in the northern Cabo Delgado province in October 2017.

The Armed Conflict Location & Event Database (ACLED) is reported to have recorded the 120 violent events in Cabo Delgado between April 1 and June 30, 2020, an increase from 78 in the previous quarter.

 “The majority of these events involved the emerging ISIS affiliate and appeared to target civilians,” the US Department of Defense acting Lead Inspector General (Lead IG) Sean W. O’Donnell said in the report.

The report on the status of the East Africa Counterterrorism Operation states that the United States Africa Command assessed that ISIS in Mozambique represents “an emerging threat to US interests in East Africa”.

“The extremists’ attacks against Mozambican security forces, civilians and infrastructure demonstrate the group’s growing capabilities and effectiveness,” reads the report shared with the United States Congress.

Reports indicate some of the insurgents from Kenya joined the group after it had built a presence in Kibiti, Tanzania, in 2015, before they sneaked to Mozambique through Tanzania’s porous border.

According to a report dubbed ‘Islamic Radicalisation in Northern Mozambique: The Case of Mocímboa da Praia’, written by Saide Habibe, Salvador Forquilha and João Pereira, the Ansar al-Sunna, which initially called itself Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jamaa, was founded by a group of young men who had studied in Islamic schools in Somalia or had links with Salafi groups in Tanzania and Kenya.

The group, the report says, crystallised further when they incorporated the followers of Aboud Rogo Mohammed, the leader of al-Hijra, a Kenyan group allied to the al-Shabaab in Somalia.

Porous borders

Now, following the spread of violent extremism in East Africa through efforts by Sheikh Rogo, international militant Islamist organisations and groups with such ambitions have been reported to exploit the rising trends in the region to radicalise and recruit new members into their ranks – or to form alliances with them.

"Porous borders, corrupt state officials, smuggling and illicit cross-border networks have provided a suitable environment for the shuttling of new recruits and movement of small arms and weapons,” says Mr Chome. This environment of criminality, he adds, has also provided avenues for rent-seeking by militant Islamist groups and their affiliates in the region.

In places such as Cabo Delgado, the island of Zanzibar, some parts of the Kenyan coast and the predominantly Somali North-east region of Kenya, marginalisation, poverty and exclusion exist alongside constricted political environments.

"It is such poverty that has made outside networks and influences vastly significant in these regions, as many people feel excluded from mainstream political processes and culture in their home countries," he says.

The research recommends the development of a robust regional strategy including the formation of a framework and policy instrument that will not only guarantee the cooperation and build the capacity of the region’s security and intelligence services, but that which will also counter extremist ideologies through an emphasis on communal outreach and reconciliation, as well as addressing grievances through adaptive and democratic political structures.

This, Mr Chome says, can be implemented through combined efforts by regional governmental organisations including the African Union (AU), the East African Community (EAC), the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Due consideration, it emphasises, should also be given to the ideas of Islamist militants in the region, including the evolution of their thinking on Islam and politics.

Tomorrow: The foiled terror plots and revisiting Kenya’s burden of terrorism