Twenty-five year old Sadio Gassama started by giving free check-ups at his mosque in Senegal’s poor southern region of Casamance. Now, the medical student says he is treating Islamic State fighters in Libya.
Pictures posted on Gassama’s Facebook page before he joined Islamic State show him hugging his young niece. Now, he is brandishing a machine gun, his name stitched on to his military uniform.
Friends and family say Gassama’s decision to join thousands of militants in Libya in December during the fifth year of his medical studies was sudden and unexpected.
His shocked father described him as a ‘humanist’ motivated by a desire to help others. A former professor called him a “brilliant student, incapable of hurting anyone”.
But an interview with Gassama showed a darker side. 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 and paying his way with his student grant.
“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.”