By Talib Gibran
Perhaps one of the unlikeliest things to have happened in this country was people waking up to the news that a young Gambian has joined the so-called Islamic State terrorist group. But what is scary is the news that he was recruited right here in the Gambia.
A young man called Dawda Jallow, a former Nusrat Senior Secondary School student, appeared to have joined the terrorist group after a video of him in which he pledged loyalty to ISIS went viral online.
He is said to have surreptitiously left the Gambia in 2015 purportedly on a fellowship to Morocco but never returned.
One Talibeh Touray, Dawda’s closest friend in the Gambia, said he was already indoctrinated before he left as he was obsessed with watching videos of radical Islamists from around the world.
“Every day he would watch videos and fatwa of prominent radical Islamists and we would debate about it all night. It reached to a stage, he went too far. I remember he once said to me that one cleric told him that it’s very easy to go to heaven. When I told him to share it with me, he said all I have to do is kill one disbeliever. That is when I knew the videos got into his head,” he said.
Dawda was newly married but, according to Touray, his wife also secretly followed him to Morocco where she is also believed to be an active member of the terrorist network.
“He just disappeared without informing anyone; not even his family. After six months, he sent me a message on WhatsApp and apologised for leaving promptly. I was just happy he was okay and then he told me he has fellowship to Morocco. I asked him where he got it because we were doing everything together. There was no way he would get something like that and I didn’t know about it. He said he picked a form at a certain office in the Red Cross building at Westfield and he was called just few days after submitting it. That’s how he left. His wife also left the same way he did; she just vanished,” he said.
The Gambia is a relatively stable country and the issue of terrorist networks recruiting Gambians has not been an issue. However, according to Touray, ISIS most likely has a recruitment team in the country that is brainwashing young ones.
“The way Dawda transformed from a rapper at school to ‘marakas’ and then, quickly, to a hardline Islamist was just too quick. There are people in the country who are indoctrinating them. Someone else must have introduced him into it. This office he claimed at Red Cross building where he picked a form should even be checked,” he told The Standard.
Musa Bah, English Language and Islamic Studies teacher, Nusrat Senior Secondary School, expressed shock at the news, adding that the school has always prevented students from reaching such levels of extremism.
“I can’t say I remembered when Dawda was here but I was shocked when I heard that he joined ISIS. At Nusrat here, we try to do everything to discourage extremism. It is a huge surprise that a Gambian can join such a group as ISIS, especially someone who passed through Nusrat. I guess all schools should learn from this and do more to enlighten our young ones,” he said.
Hundreds of people shared Dawda’s video on Facebook, most of whom are former Nusrat students but none of them ever imagined a humble young man like him would end his future even before it began.
Among those visibly disappointed is Ahmad Gitteh, a former head boy of Nusrat who was Dawda’s colleague at the school from 2005-2008. Speaking to The Standard online from Canada, Gitteh said: “I knew Dawda Jallow very well and we were very close as well. I personally taught Dawda Mathematics and he also worked under me as a senior prefect when I was headboy. He was a very smart, funny and discipline boy.
“We both lived in Bundung and he used to come to my house and study there up to late in the morning. We were still very close and in contact after we both left Nusrat. He became very pious and would attend the weekly programs that were held at Marakaz in Bundung. So when I left Gambia in 2011 for studies we lost contact. A few days after I saw his picture on What’s On Gambia, I felt very sad and disappointed. Dawda Jallow would have been an amazing asset for Gambia no doubt about that.
“I am sad and I pray to Allah that his family can bear not only the pain and sadness but also the stigma that may be attached to such a heinous crime.”
No one could tell if the video is recent or not but there was no argument about the young man in the video and, to a larger extent, it is a big threat to the country’s fragile security.
Contacted for comments, the Principal of Nusrat Senior Secondary, Karamo S Bojang, said he did not know Dawda during his time at Nusrat but he too has heard of the video. “I have heard of the video but I can assure you that whatever ideas he or his likes may develop started from where they came from before joining Nusrat. Some of these lads must have already completed secondary school at some Arabic school before joining Grade 8 in secondary school and since they are often very brilliant students, they have no problems in passing to Grade 12 with good grades. But we always have problems with them such as the way they cut their trousers or grow their beards,” Mr Bojang said.
A Gambian social commentator, upon hearing about the video, advised government to take proper attention to the proliferation of Madrassas in the country for security reasons.