Security agents say missing youth have joined al Shabaab
There is concern that thousands of youth reportedly missing from learning institutions or their homes might have been recruited into the militant group and travelled to Somalia for training.
In early October, a standard eight pupil suspected to have been radicalised and recruited into al Shabaab was arrested by anti-terrorism police in Nairobi.
The 14-year-old was scheduled to sit his Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examination. He, alongside 19 others, was in a hideout at the posh Kilileshwa estate.
They had been recruited by al Shabaab agents and kept in an expensive suburb apartment where they were given radical teachings and trained on how to handle guns in preparation for their travel to Somalia within two months.
Members of the al Shabaab cell rented the house for Sh75,000 per month.
Had the 14-year-old and his colleagues been successfully smuggled to Somalia, security agents say this would have been blamed on ‘extrajudicial killings’ and ‘enforced disappearances’ perpetrated by the police.
Although the police managed to rescue the 20 children, some 20 others are reported to have been sneaked out to Somalia earlier.
Security agencies now fear that the thousands of youth reportedly missing from learning institutions or their homes might have been recruited into al Shabaab and travelled to Somalia for training.
The police are cautioning parents to watch over their children and monitor their activities especially during this festive period, lest they fall prey to the allure of money offered by the al Shabaab recruiters who often instruct the recruits not to contact their families.
Hundreds of desperate families across the country have reported the disappearance of their children, most of whom have since been confirmed to have travelled to Somalia to join al Shabaab militants who are battling for control of the Horn of Africa country.
Intelligence reports have confirmed that al Shabaab recruiters are not only targeting youth in Muslim-dominated areas like Mandera, Garissa, Wajir, Mombasa, Isiolo and Marsabit, but they are now moving further to Eldoret, Nakuru, Kisumu, Busia, Kakamega and other major towns.
Apart from targeting schools, universities and other learning institutions, the recruiters are eyeing vulnerable youth, especially those who are idle and economically disenfranchised.
One Isiolo parent, Zainab Hashi, reported how her son disappeared from home on May 1, 2015 for a supposed Islamic retreat, only to receive a phone call from him a week later confirming her worst fear — her son had joined al Shabaab.
Kenyan security officers arrested him and three other boys as they attempted to cross into Somalia through Liboi.
Halima Hassan’s teenage brother joined al Shabaab a year and half ago, shortly after he had asked for Sh4,000 for a school trip that never was.
Hussein Sara Hassan was arrested last July in Mombasa for recruiting six youth into al Shabaab. The recruits were identified as Abdifath Hassan, Ali Abdulahi Ismael Sheik, Muhamed Isack Muhume Ibrahim, Ali Hassan Abubakar and Aweys Mohammed Shee.
When they were presented in court, the police argued that the suspects are linked to al Shabaab sympathisers, who have been aiding in youth recruitment in Coast region.
Hassan admitted to have travelled to Somalia numerous times. He however denied being a member of al Shabaab.
“I have been to Somalia numerous times. I came back about two weeks ago but that doesn’t mean I am a citizen of that country, and also it doesn’t mean I am linked to al Shabaab,” he said
Intelligence reports reveal that al Shabaab recruiters in Kenya are using ingenious advertisements, both online and in mainstream media, to lure unsuspecting youth with promises of college opportunities in Somalia and the Middle East.
Police have identified some of the suspects behind the disappearances as Abdifatah Abubakar Ahmed and Ahmed Iman Ali.
Abdifatah is believed to have sway on the youth in Mombasa and the entire coastal region. He is also accused of being responsible for a series of terror attacks at Coast and co-ordinating al Shabaab activities.
He was allegedly among commanders of Jesh Ayman in the Boni forest and spearheaded attacks in Lamu, Tana River county and was involved in the planning of the Westgate Mall attack that claimed 67 lives in September 2013.
Police say Abdifatah was also involved in the recruitment of youth at the Coast to join al Shabaab. The women he allegedly recruited include Ummul Khayr Sadir, Khadija Abubakar Abdulkadir and Maryam Said Aboud. The three were arrested in El Wak while attempting to cross to Somalia.
In Northern Kenya, 10 students from Isiolo Boys High school were last year reported to have quit school to join al Shabaab in Somalia.
Other students from Marsabit Mixed Secondary School and Moi Girls Secondary, also in Marsabit, Koseka Secondary, Birunda PAG Primary and St Patrick’s Bumula Secondary School in Western Kenya were reported to have escaped from school and joined the insurgent group.
In total, more than 200 pupils are reported to have disappeared from school in Isiolo and joined al Shabaab, although some of parents say their whereabouts are unknown.
To have them on their side and use them for propaganda, the police say al Shabaab recruiters encourage and offer recruits’ families support and regular cash rewards, which never comes once the youth arrive in Somalia.
In late April, Kenyan security agencies published a list of 85 people allegedly involved in terror-related activities.
On that list was Abdi Ibrahim Adan, a primary school teacher in Isiolo who has since denied any association with al Shabaab.
In October last year, Pumwani Estate residents in Nairobi attacked madrassa teachers, accusing them of recruiting their children into al Shabaab.
They demanded that the Anti Terrorism Police Unit investigate the activities of the madrasa teachers whom they accused of using the schools to smuggle youth, some as young as 15, to join the militant group.
“There is this group that came here about a year ago and claimed to take our children abroad. These people took my son and later I received a telephone call informing me that my son had died. They didn’t tell me where he died and neither did I receive his body,” the distraught parent narrated.
Shamsa Shariff Mohamed, a woman police believe is the wife of wanted al Shabaab fighter Abdalla bin Abdalla, was recently charged in court for forging identification documents and giving false information.
She was arrested in late July following investigations by detectives into the network of recruiters luring young Kenyan women to join al Shabaab and marry fighters in Somalia.
Shamsa pleaded guilty at a Garissa court on August 7 and was fined Sh120,000.
Early this year, three young women were arrested in Mandera near the border to Somalia. The three were identified as Ummukhayr Sadri Abdullah, Maryam Said Aboud and Khadija Abubakar Abdulkadir.
Intelligence reports indicate that prior to joining al Shabaab in Somalia, Abdalla bin Abdalla lived in Majengo Highrise estate in Nairobi and went to school in Shauri Moyo. He is associated with the late Hassan Omondi Owiti alias Budalangi and al Shabaab leader Ahmed Imani.
Intelligence reports reveal that Hassan Owiti was a trained militia who participated in various attacks in Nairobi in 2012. He was killed in May 2013 in a gunfight with police at his Githurai estate house in Nairobi.
Hassan and Abdalla were reportedly radicalised at darsas at Pumwani Riyadha mosque that has been associated with key al Shabaab leader Ahmed Imani.