Jermaine Grant to appear before Mombasa court in case highlighting fears Somalia becoming training ground for terrorists
A British man charged with possessing explosives is to go on trial in Kenya in a case highlighting fears that Somalia may become a new training ground for terrorists under the Islamist rebels al-Shabaab.
Jermaine Grant’s trial in Mombasa opens on Monday three days before Britain hosts a conference in London to formulate an fresh international approach to the crisis in Somalia, where al-Shabaab is fighting African Union peacekeepers, as well as Somali, Kenyan and Ethiopian forces.
Grant, 29, from Newham, east London, was arrested with three others in Mombasa in December and charged with possessing explosives and planning to use them in an attack in Kenya.
Kenyan police said he had also been questioned about possible links with al-Shabaab, which has already carried out deadly attacks in Kenya and Uganda.
Britain considers Somalia a direct threat to its own security, partly because of the presence of British nationals among the militants. The formalisation of an alliance between al-Shabaab and al-Qaida this month may signal a greater danger, although many analysts say both have been weakened and may be seeking to prop each other up.
Al-Qaida has been struggling since Osama bin Laden was killed in a US raid in Pakistan last May. Al-Shabaab has also lost popular support in Somalia because it carries out beheadings, amputations and beatings and because it prevented people from leaving its territory to seek aid during last years famine.
Grant, Warda Breik Islam, who he married just days before his arrest, Fouad Abubakar Manswab and Frank Ngala have been charged with possessing bomb-making materials.
They pleaded not guilty in a court appearance on 13 January. The trial was adjourned to allow more time for scientific analysis of the materials seized during the arrests.
Grant has also been charged separately by a Nairobi court in relation to an incident near the Kenyan-Somali border in 2008.
The prosecution in that case says he was detained by Kenyan police but escaped when suspected al-Shabaab rebels attacked the Dadajabula police station and stole weapons. He has been charged with multiple counts of robbery with violence as well.
“There will be separate trial for those charges and we don’t know when yet,” said Jacob Ondari, the prosecutor for the Mombasa case. Media reports in Kenya say Grant was arrested with two others in 2008 while trying to sneak into Somalia disguised as women.
Security sources in Nairobi say that when he was detained in December, Grant had plans for hotels and restaurants in the Kenyan capital, which has been on high alert since troops crossed the border into Somalia last October.
Kenya says it was forced to intervene after a series of cross-border raids and kidnappings, blamed by officials on al-Shabaab. The group has threatened to retaliate with attacks in Kenya.
In a report published in February, the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) said Britons make up about 25% of the 200 or so foreign fighters believed to have joined al-Shabaab, and that these overseas fighters could herald a new wave of international terrorism.
The thinktank said insurgencies and wars in Africa and elsewhere increasingly provide training grounds for individuals who would become terrorists, spawning a kind of terrorist tourism for “lone wolves” who have been radicalised by material on the internet.
Rusi warned that the return of self-radicalised fighters to Britain would coincide with a steady release from prison of people convicted of terrorist offences over the last decade. It also warned of the radicalisation of young Britons inside some of the country’s prisons.
The Sunday Times has said that Grant was radicalised when previously held for non-terrorist-related offences in Feltham young offenders institution in London. The paper quoted his mother as saying he converted to Islam while in Feltham.
from Clar Ni Chonghaile