By LUCAS BARASA firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted Saturday, October 29 2011 at 22:30
Posted Saturday, October 29 2011 at 22:30
Hundreds of Kenyan youth have been recruited into Al Shabaab over the last six years in a process that has complicated efforts to tackle extremism in the region and which the government is now urgently seeking to reverse.
Internal Security PS Francis Kimemia on Saturday called on recruits to turn themselves over to the government and request amnesty so that they could be put under a rehabilitation programme. (READ:State offers amnesty to Kenyans in terror group)
“Other countries have conducted such rehabilitation before. Just as we did to Mungiki we will use local leaders and experts to enable the recruits to return to normal life,” Mr Kimemia said.
How Al Shabaab came to enlist so many Kenyans is described in vivid terms by a leaked US cable seen by the Sunday Nation, which detailed the activities of a network of recruiters who exploited youth unemployment and the lure of easy money to net hundreds of young men.
The cable dated July 6, 2009 titled, “A Portrait of Al Shabaab Recruitment in Kenya,” named Eastleigh, North Eastern Province and Isiolo as some of the areas where Kenyans were enrolled to the militia group in their dozens.
Some limited recruitment also occurred in Dadaab refugee camp. Mombasa has also been named as a recruitment hub.
An Isiolo businessman is quoted in the cable claiming that 60 young Kenyan Somali men had disappeared from the area from January 2008 to fight in Somalia, and that two whom he knew died while executing suicide bomb attacks in Mogadishu.
Recruitment in Isiolo, he said, was directed from a radical mosque in Eastleigh but carried out by members of four mosques in Isiolo.
“Parents of these missing youth are grieving in private but are afraid of speaking out,” the businessman is quoted as saying in the cable signed by then US ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger.
Kenya’s proximity to Somalia was cited as one of the reasons the country was a fruitful source for recruiting young men to join the extremist group.
The other reasons are Kenya’s sizeable population of ethnic Somalis and high levels of poverty. It noted that Kenya’s ethnic Somali population suffers from lower levels of development and education than other Kenyans.
“Idle, unemployed youth are at particular risk. The continuing legacy of the Shifta wars in the 1960s, certainly a contributing factor to Kenyan Somalis’ lower level of development, also leaves them feeling like outsiders in their country of birth,” the cable said.
Despite these claims, Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere has recently pointed out that the Shabaab militia is no longer an ethnic Somali affair. (READ: The new face of Al-Shabaab)
Numerous youth from other communities are in its ranks with a youth from Western Kenya confessing to carrying out recent grenade attacks in the city.
The government has recognised the danger these recruits pose to the country and government spokesman Alfred Mutua issued a statement on Saturday urging all Kenyans that know of youth that have left for Somalia to report them to the police.
According to the US cable, one of the biggest drivers of Al Shabaab recruitment was the entry into Kenya of radical Islamists from the Gulf states.
“These Wahhabist clerics may have direct links with radical mosques in Eastleigh, and may be acting as recruitment agents for extremist groups in Somalia,” it said.
That account matches the description of recruitment efforts by the Shabaab offered by a Muslim cleric who was one of the first to protest over recruitment of Kenyans into Al Shabaab in early 2005.
Sheikh Juma Ngao, the chairman of Kenya Muslims National Advisory Council, who first blew the whistle over the recruitment said he knew dozens of families who had lost youth to the terror group.
Sheikh Ngao named a mosque in Nairobi’s Pumwani area and another in Mombasa’s Majengo estate as recruitment centres.
“We did our research in Biafra in Pumwani and got CDs which show there are youths who had joined Al-Shabaab. We got their names and others have since died,” Sheikh Ngao told the Sunday Nation.
The cleric said the recruitment started when a senior Somali government official who was previously a key member of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) began visiting Nairobi and Mombasa in 2005.
“The sheikh was being hosted by imams from Mombasa and some Muslim leaders in Nairobi. The meetings continued until they formed ICU and recruitment of Kenyans started,” Sheikh Ngao said.
Sheikh Ngao, who was the first Muslim cleric to go public with his opposition tot he recruitment resulting to his being declared an unbeliever, said in 2007 the Imams who were supporting the effort changed tune and demanded the release of Kenyans held in Somalia and Ethiopia.The cleric said many youths were taken to Somalia after being brainwashed that they were going to fight a holy war.
On Saturday, Sheikh Ngao accused the government of not taking the enrolment of Kenyans into Al Shabaab seriously, adding that provincial administration at the Coast did little to contain it.
The Kenya military is in the third week of an offensive that seeks to rout the Shabaab militia from the region near Kenya’s border.
The concern over the activities of the militant group and the danger it poses to Kenya’s security has now drawn wide attention due to the incursion into Somalia.
But the US cable indicates security officials have been worried about Shabaab for many years.
The cable said that as the battle in Somalia became more clan-based and Somalis increasingly joined clan-based militias instead of Al-Shabaab, the militia has increasingly seen the need to recruit foreign fighters.
“Frustrated and aimless Kenyan Somali youth, therefore, are a prime target. In Isiolo, this recruitment effort is reportedly targeted specifically at members of the Somali Isaq and Harti clans,” it said.
The Isiolo businessman who spoke to US diplomats is said to have told police that he was extremely worried about the Islamic extremists’ reach into the town and what it meant for his family and his home.
He named one of the suicide bombers who truck Mogadishu in 2009 as a 25-year-old man named Tawakhal Ahmed.
Ahmed, he claimed, was responsible for the February 22 bombing of the African Union compound in Mogadishu (a blast that killed 11 Burundian peacekeepers and injured 15 others).
Ahmed was originally recruited in Isiolo in 2006 to fight in Somalia against the Ethiopian occupying forces after getting involved with a Wahhabi mosque, according to the businessman.
Ahmed, he said, “grew his beard, found religion, came into good money, and disappeared into Somalia to fight the jihad”.
The bomber is said to have started his journey at the Garissa Lodge in Eastleigh, then four to five boys at a time would go on a bus to Dobley and onto Kismayu, where they trained in a camp for three weeks.
After that, recruits received mobile phones, which is how they subsequently received their orders.
The unnamed Isiolo businessman said that the second local man was named Yusuf Mohammed Warsame, who was 25 or 26 years old and who, like Ahmed, finished secondary school in Isiolo.When the Islamic Courts Union fell in late 2006, they reassembled in Dobley and Ahmed returned to Kenya, but not before his commanders destroyed his mobile phones.
The businessman said that he did not know when Warsame left for Somalia, but claimed that he was responsible for the May 24, 2009 suicide bombing in Mogadishu. The blast killed 10 people, including six soldiers.
The businessman said that four Isiolo area mosques had been taken over by radical Islamists who are not originally from Isiolo and are being used as underground recruiting centres for al-Shabaab.
The businessman said that these mosques act as satellites for another mosque in Eastleigh which directs recruitment operations.
The cable added that Isiolo’s most prominent mosque, the Grand Mosque, is run by a moderate Imam who has presided over the mosque for years and has resisted the overtures of Wahhabist clerics.