1. ITV Report

British families 'need help to free al-Shabaab captives'

Al-Shabaab fighters parade around the Ala Yaasir camp in Somalia, in 2011. Photo: Reuters/Feisal Omar

The father of a young British man who left the UK to join al-Shabaab in Somalia has appealed to the government to do more to support families like his to help free their loved ones from the jihadi group.

It is thought that as many as 100 young Brits from the Somali community have gone to fight with the group. Once in Somalia, many become demoralised with the group and the tough conditions, but they are not permitted to leave.

Special Correspondent Rageh Omaar reports.

Speaking anonymously, the father said that many British Somali families do not feel that they can seek help from the government as they fear the whole family will be placed under suspicion from intelligence agencies. The families are therefore left attempting to free their child from the clutches of the terror group alone. He explained:

Many of them feel that they have become victims twice over. On the one hand if they come forward seeking help if their young son has joined al-Shabaab, they come under suspicion by the security agencies. They are monitored, they are questioned.

Even if they want to try to get their son back, they receive very little help. On the other hand, they are victims because of what has happened to their loved one who has unbeknown to them, joined a group like al Shabaab.

An al-Shabaab fighter displays his loot of weapons recovered from peacekeepers, in Somalia in 2011. Credit: Reuters/Feisal Omar

The family back in the UK are often left shocked and devastated by the news their child has volunteered to become a jihadi fighter. Describing the lengths families go to to try and contact their child after they receive the news, he said:

When you get that call, it’s shocking. Devastating. They try to get in touch with anyone that they can on the ground in Somalia with any scrap of information. They try to find someone who can put them in touch with middle men who can get make contact with the group.

Some families I know don’t even wait to speak on the phone, but instead get on a plane and fly out to Somalia to search for their loved ones in person. After all, it’s your child - you can’t just abandon them.

An al-Shabaab fighter stands over women at a food distribution camp in Shebelle, Somalia, in 2011. MSF left the country last month. Credit: Reuters/Feisal Omar

Al-Shabaab exploits the unhappy new recruits as a funding mechanism for their terror activities. Many young men are held captive and only released after the family have gathered together huge sums of money.

Many families were force to pay large amounts. But even when you do the pain is not over. Because you can't bring your relative back home to Britain.The fear is that if you go to the police or security services for help your family comes under suspicion.

The father appealed to the government to be more sympathetic to British Somalis caught in the crisis of losing their loved ones, and to engage with young Somalis who joined and then left the terror group.

You'll never encourage more British Somalis or Muslims to leave groups like al Shabaab unless you set an example and engage in this process.

Many of these young men regret the choice they made, they want to start again.

And for the families going through what I did? My message is simple: Never give up. Never abandon these young men.

It’s like you’re child has been snatched by an crocodile, but if the whole family joins the fight and struggles with the crocodile you will get your child back from its jaws.