MOMBASA: An estimated 1,500 Kenyan youths who were recruited by Islamic extremists and even received military training in Somalia have surrendered.
According to the Government, many of the youths are from Kwale, Mombasa, Kilifi and Lamu counties and other parts of the country including Central Kenya.
Monday, Interior Permanent Secretary Karanja Kibicho unveiled a group of 19 youths, including five women, whom he said were part of a group of 48 former radicals who had surrendered.
The youths have undergone a government sponsored de-radicalisation and rehabilitation programme.
The figure of 1,500 given by the State yesterday did not indicate how many were women, but officials indicated that this was a conservative estimate representing only those who had responded to a Government amnesty for surrender.
A number of youths who spoke to The Standard indicated they were radicalised through the Internet or after listening to fiery sermons of slain radical Mombasa preacher Sheikh Aboud Rogo. Sheikh Rogo had preached at the controversial Musa Mosque until he was killed in the coastal city on August 27, 2012.
During a visit to the Government Training Institute in Matuga, Kwale, Mr Kibicho announced that “these are among the 1,000 who responded to the amnesty call by the Ministry of Interior sometime back and the number has since increased to 1,500”.
He was referring to the group unveiled yesterday who he said had undergone a retraining programme to wean them from extremist beliefs, rehabilitate and reintegrate them into society.
The PS said many of these youths went to Somalia where they received military training. He added they needed to be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society so that they do not become a security threat.
“We call upon those who are out, that these 19 are part of 48 others going about their normal life and they should follow suit. The amnesty is sincere and they should not be skeptical,” he said.
The PS said the Government decided to use amnesty rather than force because of the radical teachings that the youths had undergone.
The 19 were then handed what was termed as a reintegration kit, which included motorbikes, handcarts, together with carpentry, sewing and cooking equipment.
The PS said through a Government-private sector partnership, they had tailored programmes to normalise the youths.
“The tutors studied each of them and looked at the depth of their minds to remove the philosophy that caused youths to disregard life and property,” he added.
He said radicalisation was a worldwide problem and the trainers had undergone a lot of bench-marking. The PS said the State has in place a monitoring and evaluation mechanism to ensure the returnees do not fall back.
“There was a total of 48 youths in the training. We have another 300 in the queue,” he said.
One of the returnees said on condition of anonymity that the gesture was good.
“Sincerely speaking, there are some potential returnees out there who are closely monitoring what is happening before they can come out. Although they want to surrender, they haven’t been sure how to,” said the returnee.
The 36-year-old said he had initially doubted the amnesty, but he had now discovered it was sincere.
In an earlier interview, the returnee narrated how he went to Somalia in 2008 after being radicalised through Rogo’s teachings.
“We were put together in a cluster of five people each that also consisted of Tanzanians. We then travelled by public means up to Kilifi and took another vehicle to Lamu where a private car came to pick us at night,” he said.
After reaching Kismayu in Somalia, the youths were given new names and were not supposed to know their colleagues’ original names or where they came from.
He said there was an option of fully being incorporated into Al Shabaab’s military wing or staying in the camp though they had been trained in arms and fighting.
“Those of us who stayed behind would be picked once in a while to go and assist those on the front line,” he said.