Sadio Gassama, 25, a Senegalese medical student has enlisted with the dreaded terrorist group ISIS after an apparent appeal by Islamic State propagandists calling on doctors to make “hijrah”, or pilgrimage, to their African stronghold of Sirte in Libya.
Pictures of young Gassama posted on Facebook before he joined ISIS shows him hugging his young niece, now he is openly brandishing a machine gun with his name stitched as an inscription on to his military uniform.
According to sources, friends and family of Gassama say his decision to join the dreaded group in Libya during his fifth year of medical studies was all so sudden and unexpected.
Gassama’s shocked father, a former professor, described his son as brilliant student incapable of hurting anyone and a “humanist” due to his desire to help others.
But a trip to Libya has unearthed a darker side to him as an interview with Gassama now shows. Speaking from Sirte, he said he had been planning an attack in Dakar.
“Senegal is lucky. I was planning to commit an attack there in the name of the Islamic State before one of their contacts helped me go to Libya,” he told Reuters last month via the internet. He could not be reached subsequently.
Friends said he took trucks to Libya via Mali and Niger, accompanied by another Senegalese man as he payed his way with his student grant.
Read also: Terror attacks: Senegal arrests 900
“I left Senegal a year after embracing the ideology of the Islamic State,” Gassama said. “Joining ISIS in Libya was relatively easy and accessible. I wanted to contribute to the establishment of a caliphate in Libya.”
Asked what he was doing there, he replied: “I am a jihadist doctor.”
Security sources confirm fighters from countries including Chad, Ghana, Senegal and Nigeria are already in Libya, where the group is consolidating its presence and there are concerns more will travel there along the same desert routes migrants use to reach Europe, as Gassama did.
“Libya is closer and easier to reach for some African fighters than Syria, and the political disarray there opens space for fighters to enter and operate,” said Andrew Lebovich, a visiting fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations who focuses on North Africa and the Sahel.
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