Recruiting Orphans For al Qaeda

Susan Page
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Wednesday - August 11, 2005
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My recent Dream for Africa’s Never Ending Garden mission trip to Swaziland has inspired me in recent columns to share my perspective on the HIV/AIDS and orphan crisis, and ways we can all help. This week’s focus is on the international security ramifications of a predicted 43 million African orphans by 2010.

Africa’s “in” right now with the media. Nothing beats the face of a celebrity like Oprah, Brad Pitt, U2’s Bono or Angelina Jolie to catapult a decade-long crisis into “breaking” news.

But what those high-profile news pieces miss is how African street orphans, their parents dead from AIDS, hungry, afraid and needing to belong, are vulnerable to certain other dangerous influences — dangerous to the free world — terrorist recruiters.

In Out of the Black Shadows, Christian evangelist Steven Lungu, orphaned at age 7, writes about how in 1962 communist factions in Rhodesia co-opted him and his gang to their cause by promising unlimited prosperity.

“The left-wing groups recruited from the tens of thousands of poor black youths … If you were homeless, jobless, hungry, dressed in rags — and desperate — wouldn’t you be tempted? I was,” says Lungu. “When the local political agitators found me I was a teenager living on my own under a bridge. My bed was a sandy grave I dug at night, my blanket an old burlap sack. I could not read or write. I could not find a job. The whites had helped me, true — by leaving their rubbish bins unguarded. I wore their cast-off shirts and trousers, and tied their wornout slippers to my feet with twine. My food came from their rubbish bins as well — slimy porridge, rotting fruit, leftover meat, stale bread. Our instructions were to cause the maximum amount of public terror and civil unrest that we could.”

Today’s Africa is a fertile breeding ground for al Qaeda. Consider the following:

• “The language of jihad is growing louder among some of the [African] continent’s 300 million Muslim faithful,” says veteran journalist Arnaud de Borchgrave. “The Muslim clerics get stipends from the Saudi Arabian Wahhabi clergy and train youngsters to become jihadis (holy warriors).”

• Western intelligence experts believe al Qaeda and its terrorist affiliates are looking for havens in many parts of Africa, to recruit and plan future operations.

• Al-Ittihad al-Islami, which operates as a religious organization in southern Somalia, has 17 mobile military training camps there and is listed by the U.S. as linked to al Qaeda.

• Haroon Rashid Aswat, a British citizen of Indian descent, was arrested three weeks ago in Zambia, linked to the July 7 London terrorist attack that killed 52 people.

• Twelve of the FBI’s 22 most wanted terrorists in the world come from African nations.

Do you have a son? I do. He’s now 30, but I clearly remember him at 12 — a boy, trying to be a man, resisting authority, yet needing love and hugs and guidance — and food, lots of food. When I hear of the plight of the homeless street boys of Kenya, Zambia, Mozambique, Swaziland and other African nations, I think of him and literally sob out loud. Children digging through garbage, using plastic bags for warmth, stealing for the older boys and being raped by them as thanks.

Many people have become desensitized by years of seeing images of starving, holloweyed African children, faces covered with flies and mucus, like those now seen in Niger. But we must look, and feel, and not give up on them. Steven Lungu believes in hope. Because one godly man cared, Lungu turned his life around.

Money isn’t the total answer, though the Saudis are pouring millions into building mosques and influencing governments. While I was in Swaziland, King Mswati III, after meeting with leaders of Arab Muslim nations, in return for an undisclosed financial arrangement, struck from Swaziland’s constitution the centuries-old clause pronouncing Christianity the official religion. (Hundreds of pastors protested to no avail.)

And the answer is sure not the United Nations, a largely corrupt body of nations with billions in aid money that never seems to anticipate a crisis in Africa. I favor hands-on efforts that focus on education, building orphanages and helping people feed themselves, like Dream for Africa (dreamforafrica. org). And I believe it’s a job too daunting for mere mortals. We need God’s help.

Recommended reading: “Al Qaeda Into Africa” by Arnaud de Borchgrave, “Washington Times,” March 22, 2004, and the book, “Out of the Black Shadows” by Stephen Lungu.

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