ACCRA – A 25-year-old Muslim from Ghana has traveled to an Islamic State training camp, becoming the first known recruit from the West African nation to join the militant group, his family said on Tuesday.
The decision by university graduate Nazir Nortei Alema is likely to shock a country that prides itself on its ability to preserve social harmony and manage political and communal disputes peacefully, in contrast to some of its neighbors.
“We are devastated. Since the news came his mother has been crying,” Alema’s father Abdul Latif Alema said, adding that he believed IS should be crushed.
About a third of Ghana’s population of 27 million is Muslim. They coexist peacefully with the Christian majority and have so far apparently avoided the influence of the kinds of radical Islam that have taken root in neighboring Nigeria and Mali.
Alema spent much of his spare time online and it is almost certain he was radicalized through his interactions on Facebook rather than through anything taught in mosques in the Osu neighborhood of Ghana’s capital, his family and friends said.
He finished a government internship in July and had initially told his parents he was traveling from his home in Accra to Prestea, a mining town in the west of the country.
“Two weeks later on Aug. 16, we got a Whatsapp message from him saying he was at a training ground to join the Islamic State group in an unknown country,” his brother Kabiru Alema said.
Thousands of foreigners from more than 80 nations have joined the ranks of IS and other radical groups in Syria and Iraq.
Kabiru Alema said his brother had not expressed any particular interest in radical Islam but, in his message, Nazir Alema said that by joining IS he was obeying a call from Allah to abandon what he called “the corrupt system.”
“He said he loves us so much and that we should forgive him for not making his intentions known to us from the beginning,” his brother said.
The Ghanaian government was not immediately available for comment.
Nigeria’s Boko Haram, West Africa’s deadliest Islamist militant group, swore allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in March.
Sheikh Armiyawo Shaibu, adviser to Ghana’s chief Imam, condemned Nazir Alema’s claims that he was joining the militant group to fulfill God’s work.