Up to 50 British “volunteers”, including white Christian converts and British-Somali men, have been recruited to fight for Al Shabaab, the al-Qaeda inspired Somali terrorist group.
Intelligence experts believe the British volunteers form the core of an international force of foreign fighters drawn from the United States, Canada, Europe and East Africa.
Government officials now fear that the failed state is rapidly becoming a recruiting ground for British Jihadists in much the same way as Afghanistan was in the 1990s.
MI5 already ranks Somalia as one of the top three countries in the world, alongside Yemen and Pakistan, that poses a potential terrorist threat to Britain.
The Security Service fears that British volunteers who survive the bloody civil war may return home as hardened terrorists eager to launch attacks against the UK.
The warning comes ahead of an international summit to be hosted by David Cameron next week on the future of Somalia, a country he recently described as “a failed state that directly threatens British interests” through kidnapping, piracy and the radicalisation of young Britons.
Al-Shabaab has managed to generate tens of thousands of pounds in funding through the UK-based Somali population which is estimated at 250,000.
While some British Somalis willingly donate to the terrorist organisation, a proportion of the cash legitimately sent back to extended families in the country is syphoned off by the Islamists.
It is understood that the group is now using the same connections to recruit young men from the Somali diaspora in the UK as well as British Muslims.
Al-Shabaab, which aims to turn Somalia into a hard line Sharia state, views British Muslims as prized assets because they are literate, motivated and have access to cash.
Last month one of those volunteers Bilal al-Berjawi from West London, was killed when missiles fired from an American drone hit his vehicle outside Mogadishu. At 27, Berjawi was already an Afghanistan veteran and a seasoned al-Shabaab commander.
Al Shabaab, which pledged its allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2010, has already carried out a number of cross-border attacks in Kenya and questions remain as to whether the organisation has the aspirations and capability to export terror to Britain and the west.
One expert said “Somalia poses a significant potential threat to the UK. It is regarded as a dog which has barked but not yet bitten.
“These people are no mugs. Somalia is awash with weapons and there are some very tasty fighters out there.”
The expert added that if anyone could survive for three years on the front line – and some have – they had the potential to become a “very accomplished” international terrorist.
He continued: “Young British and western Muslims are regarded as highly prized assets by Al-Shabaab, Most are educated, computer literate, can drive, have access to hard currency and will have connections in the west.
“Even a little money goes a long way in Somalia. So if a teenager arrives and he is not regarded as front line material then he will have other uses.
“But some will inevitably end up as canon fodder on the front line. Some arrive and with in a matter of days, with virtually no training find themselves on the front line – if they are lucky they might last a couple of days.
“Many young Muslims go on the “Global Jihad ticket” without really knowing what they are getting themselves into.”
It is understood that MI5 and the police have been contacted by concerned parents of young Muslim men who they suspect of being recruited by Al-Shabaab.
It is understood that in some cases officials have made direct contact with individuals and explained the reality of life in Somalia.
Another British Somali volunteer is believed to be masterminding Shabaab’s new Twitter feed, posting updates on the groups military campaigns against Western-backed African Union forces in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.
Kataib Media, Shabaab’s official television channel, conducts “embedded” reports with militiamen that are then posted on jihadist websites and on YouTube. His accent suggests he has spent time in the United Kingdom.
The government is particularly concerned about the possibility of terrorism during this summer’s London Olympics, much of which will take place in East End districts where large numbers of Britain’s Somali community are based.
Although experts believe that Al-Shabaab currently lacks the capability of launching an attack in the UK. Shabaab, whose name means “the young men”, has a history of attacking sporting events.
In 2010, it was blamed for a bomb attack in Uganda that killed 76 people watching a World Cup mounted as revenge for Uganda contributing troops to the African Union force in Somalia.
The role of Somalia as a potential breeding ground for terrorists is one of the driving reasons behind next week’s summit which will be attended by African and Middle Eastern heads of state, as well as the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.
The prime minister hopes the conferences will kick-start years of stalled and failed diplomatic initiatives and will build up political momentum to create a Somali government to replace the quarrelsome and ineffective Transitional Federal Government that has been in place since 2004.
Other British Somalis have also been involved in a number of terror-related incidents in connection with Shabaab. In 2007, Ahmed Hussein Ahmed, a 21-year-old student from Ealing, west London, dropped out of a business studies course at Oxford Brookes University to serve as a volunteer with Shabaab, flying first to Kenya and then crossing into Somalia by foot on bush tracks. He then detonated a suicide bomb at a checkpoint manned by Ethiopian Army troops, killing 20 soldiers.
In a “martyrdom” video shot before his death, he issued a call to fellow British Somalis to follow his example, delivered in a soft, earnest, English accent.
“I advise you to migrate to Somalia and wage war against your enemies,” he said, speaking against a backdrop of a black and white Shabaab banner.
“Death in honour is better than life in humiliation.”
Last month Shabaaz Hussein, 28, pleaded guilty to sending £10,000 for terror training in Somalia. Woolwich Crown Court was told that he had transferred cash to three British friends “engaged in terrorist activities in Somalia”, named as Muhammed Jahangir, Tufual Ahmed, and Mohammed Shahim.
Abdirhman Haji Abdallah, said he believed his son had been “brainwashed” into fighting a holy war. Ramzi Mohammed and Yassin Omar, were also part of the team that carried out the failed July 21 bombings in London in 2005.
A senior Whitehall Source added: “All MI5, the police and their equivalents overseas can do is seek to counter the threats from violent extremists connected to Somalia.
“But a long-term solution to this terrorist threat can only come from finding ways to tackle the whole range of Somalia’s problems. This week’s international conference will focus on the underlying causes of Somalia’s instability.”