They were rugged and craggy faced mean looking men with their piercing eyes set deep in their sockets. Their faces were hidden behind their bushy beards and the turbans on their heads.
They walked on foot and their rubber sandals had thinned; eaten away by the roads they had trodden on and the rough soles of their feet. They wore thin cotton clothes that waved in the wind.
They made friends with young local Muslim men with whom they moved on foot from place to place, telling everyone that they were looking for young Muslims to take for studies in their own oil-rich Arab countries. That was 1987.
By 1988 the youthful men were openly disputing what the older Muslim Imams and Sheiks preached in the local District mosques saying the latter had been taught a watered down version of Islam.
By 1989 the youthful men were evicting the old men from the district Mosque and soon there were running battles with the youth throwing stones and old men cowering in the mosque.
After some injuries Police intervened with teargas. The youthful men kept a low profile for a while. By 1990 the youth set their eyes on a bigger prize, the national Mosque in Kampala which they violently seized and evicted the old men.
Police intervened to restore order and soon there were gun battles, hostages, arrests and Police deaths including a police dog.
The Government restored order and the young men kept a low profile until 1995 when some of them were arrested after the army attacked and scattered a guerilla training camp at Buseruka in the west of the country.
Some of those who escaped appeared later in 1997, among the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), who attacked Western Uganda from then Zaire.
That is how humble and unassuming young men were turned into warriors.
Somalis have for decades fought a “domestic” inter and intra clan war which many outsiders could hardly understand until the rise of the Union of Islamic.
When the Islamic Courts fighters were driven out Mogadishu, Al Shabaab (the youth or the lads in Arabic) and later Al Hizbul (Party of Islam) were formed and declared war on the internationally recognized Government.
There are reports that the Al Shabaab and Al Hizbul Islamists in Somalia are recruiting young volunteers from the Ogden region in Ethiopia and North East Province of Kenya and as far as Mombasa and parts of the islands and coastal Tanzania.
Human beings have fought since time immemorial but many fought in hope of seeing victory. One General in the region who saw many dead combatants observed that when he looked in the faces of the dead they had died in surprise; surprise that they had been hit.
Many warriors go to battle believing that they are better than their foes, want to see victory and it comes as a surprise when they are hit. This is different from a person who goes to die and kill.
Over the last few years, the war in Somalia has born the hallmarks of the war in Afghanistan, pitting the Soviet Army against the Afghan and international Mujahedeen (the Strugglers), in many ways.
Just as cold war era powers and feuding neighbours fought proxy wars in Afghanistan; Somalia is turning into a battleground of proxies.
The US and its allies in the West worked with Communist Chinese Military instructors, Pakistan instructors, Conservative Saudi Arabia and Revolutionary Iran to train and finance the Mujahedeen guerillas in Badaber Valley against the Afghan Government, initially, of Nur Mohammad Taraki supported by the Soviet Union.
There are reports that different countries have offered support to the Somali Islamic militants such as Djibouti, Egypt, Eretria, Iran, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Syria.
Just as the Soviet Afghan war radicalized Muslim youngsters into international jihadists, the Somali Islamists insurgency is likely to spread jihadists in the region.
The influence and resources of warlords and backers from outside Somalia will certainly sow the seeds of radical Islamism in the Eastern African region as it did in case of militant groups like the Taliban, Al Qaeda, Chechnya Mujahedeen, India Mujahedeen and elsewhere.
The new trend in Al Shabaab and Al Hizbul Islamists is the use of suicide bombers; people who eagerly and joyfully kill themselves and as many other people as possible in the name of Islam.
It is easier to train and psyche up suicide bombers than warriors because the former set their eyes on becoming martyrs in a holy war because they, immediately after detonating their explosives, enter heavenly bliss in “an abode where there are eighty thousand servants and (are welcomed by ) seventy-two houri (virgins), over which stands a dome decorated with pearls, aquamarine and ruby, as wide as the distance from al Jabiyyah to San’a”, [according to Ibn Kathir, in his Tafsir (Qura’nic interpretation) of Surah Qur’an 55:72,], while the latter want to enjoy the spoils of victory in this world.
The militants in Somalia set their bait when they shelled AMISOM peacekeepers from areas heavily populated by Civilians in Mogadishu. Whether AMISOM troops shelled back or the bombs were lobbed by militants, many civilians died and the anger was directed at the peacekeepers.
It remains to be seen if the militants will fulfill their threat to attack targets in Uganda and Burundi but their threat should be given the due attention it deserves.
Young people who have known war and destruction, religious zealots and those in refugee camps may want to end their misery in this life and take a shortcut to bliss by detonating an explosive device at a busy petrol station, ramming a loaded fuel tanker into a busy target, blowing themselves in a busy complex or downing passenger planes at airports with shoulder held missiles. Whereas Somalis are distinctive in the region, people from Kenya, Tanzania and elsewhere in the region from outside Somalia may not be and these pose the greatest threat.
Should the Islamists in Somalia attack Uganda, Burundi or another country in the region they may stir a regional response as the attack on the world Trade centre in New York did to the Taliban in Afghanistan.
For years the Northern Alliance led by Ahmad Shah Massoud and allied warlords had battled the Taliban and foreign Jihadists just as, former leader of Islamic Courts Union, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed’s Transitional Government is battling the Islamists.
Faced with a determined National or regional army, the rank and file among the Islamists will melt away as the ICU militants did in face of Ethiopian army after all they are a collection of different warring factions brought together by the seemingly imminent victory .
By attacking targets in Uganda or Burundi the attempt might boomerang when the regional governments see them as a regional problem other than a Somali one.
A regional intervention may bring relief and freedom to the Somali people and the whole region.