A British Islamic State leader has set up a base in Somalia to extend its influence in the Horn of Africa for the first time, Sky News reports.
Somali commanders have urged the international community to help crush the operation, amid growing fears he may have forged connections with some in the large UK Somali diaspora.
Sky News Special Correspondent Alex Crawford was given exclusive access to the base, having travelled to the autonomous region of Puntland and the remote Galgala mountains where the terror group has been operating.
Somali soldiers stormed the house in the village of Galgala which saw the Briton – Abdul Nadir Mumin, a UK passport-holder who lived in south London and still has links in the country – flee the area into the mountains, but not before recruiting and indoctrinating fighters.
He and his supporters have pledged allegiance to IS, having split from Somalia’s al Shabaab terror group. The jihadists left a trail of destruction before they fled – burning and trashing homes and terrifying residents.
Female survivors spoke of regular beatings and abuse for not covering themselves up enough. One woman told Sky News: “They throw you around from one man to another man and while that’s happening, they hit you with whips.”
Puntland army chief General Saed Mohamed Hirsi warned: “If Puntland is not helped to fight terrorism, there will be a breeding ground for terror here that will spread to the rest of the world.”
Islamic State is relying more heavily on child soldiers as growing numbers of fighters desert the group. Some, aged between 10 and 15, were captured during an IS attack by sea and are being held in prison in the Puntland capital of Garowe.
The youngest boy described what happened to him when he tried to escape the terror group. He said: “They tied me on a tree for a day and a night … they used a whip to cane me.” Another said: “I don’t know the name of the group I was fighting for … they just told us we would go to heaven.”
Crawford said: “The authorities insist these boys will be rehabilitated but they’re part of a new generation of fighters being ruthlessly exploited by competing jihadi groups.
“Now the international IS network has put its tentacles down in the Horn of Africa, how many will be coerced or tempted to join with the promise of paradise and riches?”