Al-Shabaab gunmen are extorting money from Somali citizens under the pretext that the group has authority under sharia law to collect and distribute zakat to the needy, but in reality the money is going to the group's military coffers, residents and officials say.
By Mahmoud Mohamed in Mogadishu
Saturday, August 25, 2012
Isaac Osman, a 42-year old resident of Buurhakaba, 60 kilometres east of Baidoa, says al-Qaeda-allied al-Shabaab extorts money from the local population at gunpoint.
"Extremists take our money by force under the pretext of zakat or to support the mujahedeen," he told Sabahi. "If we tell them we have already paid our zakat directly to those who deserve it, they will not accept that. Instead, they impose on us steep penalties and take from us double the amount at gunpoint."
On August 19th, the first day of Eid al-Fitr, al-Shabaab militants detained at least 35 individuals in the Bay, Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions, accusing them of violating their system of collecting zakat and giving it directly to people in need.
Nur Abukar, a businessman in Marka, said, "People living in areas controlled by al-Shabaab give their zakat money to those in need and then have to pay extra money to al-Shabaab because they fear the consequences of ignoring their demands."
Abukar told Sabahi that al-Shabaab militants take money from merchants, farmers and herdsmen and call it zakat. He said they do not distribute this money to the needy, however, and instead using it to fight Somali and allied forces.
"Local residents have no other choice but to cough up whatever the radicals demand," he said.
Bay Governor Abdifatah Mohamed Ibrahim said the extortion is part of al-Shabaab's long-standing abuse of civilians.
"This kind of behaviour, forcing people to part with their money, is part of ongoing aggressions and cruel extortion practiced by the radicals against civilians," he told Sabahi.
Ibrahim said the Somali National Army, backed by allied forces, plans to liberate the rest of the Bay region from al-Shabaab, adding that he expects al-Shabaab's "imminent defeat". He called on locals to support the government forces in eradicating the threat posed by al-Shabaab.
Al-Shabaab has no authority to collect zakat
Clerics say sharia law does not give al-Shabaab the authority to take zakat money.
"The only entity that is authorised to collect zakat money to distribute among those in need is the legitimate state. An armed gang like al-Shabaab has no right to take zakat from Muslims," said Sheikh Nur Barud, vice president of the Somali Muslim Scholars Association.
Barud called on Somalis to pay their zakat directly to the needy, as paying al-Shabaab means assisting in the spread of corruption on earth. "I urge people not to give their zakat money to al-Shabaab because it is prohibited to give away money -- even if it is not zakat -- to a gang that uses this money for violence and terrorism," he said.
Sources of funding drying up
Abdirahman Mohamed, an analyst who monitors al-Shabaab, says the group, which is suffering from a huge financial crisis, is seeking alternative sources of funding to continue its military operations after losing many of strategic cities and towns that provided a steady revenue stream.
He said the group established a special unit to collect money from locals called the "Zakat Diwan Office".
"In order to close its funding gap, al-Shabaab is looking for alternative sources of income and in this context, the group is forcing people to pay zakat money directly to them so it can use these funds to finance the wars it wages against the Somali people," Mohamud told Sabahi.
Because of its deteriorating financial situation, al-Shabaab has continued to pursue the illegal trade of charcoal, which is banned under Somali law and a UN resolution, as well as resorted to selling hyena meat.