Report: Al-Shabaab now recruiting women in Rift Valley, Western

Bullet riddled Kapenguria Police Station in West Pokot after constable Abdi Maslah turned against his colleagues last month. Al Shabaab is now recruiting youth from ‘non traditional areas’ in the country. [PHOTO: FILE/ STANDARD]
NAIROBI: A new report has warned that Al-Shabaab is recruiting youth in the Rift Valley and Western counties.

The Inter-governmental Authority on Development (Igad) report released last Tuesday showed that the militant group has also changed the pattern of recruitment and radicalisation.

Unlike previously when the terror group preferred men now they also focus on women.“Patterns of radicalisation and recruitment by Al Shabaab and its affiliates have also altered. In order to escape scrutiny, the extremists have shifted their focus to ‘non-traditional areas,’ notably the Rift Valley and Western Kenya, and are placing a growing emphasis of recruitment of girls and young women. Al Hijra has been active within Kenya’s prison system, targeting vulnerable young men for radicalisation,” the report says.

According to the report, a copy of which we obtained, although Al Shabaab’s main area of operation remains Somalia, its identity and aspirations have changed. It has morphed into a transnational organisation with membership from across East Africa.

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Last month, a Kapenguria based police officer turned against his colleagues and shot dead seven before he was killed by GSU commandos.

The report has further identified Kenya’s Muslim Youth Centre (MYC), as the most active of Al-Shabaab’s regional affiliates. MYC is widely known as Al-Hijra.

Affiliated groups

“Al-Shabaab has inspired and encouraged the emergence of affiliated groups and autonomous networks of jihadists across the region. Although they differ considerably with respect to operational capability and in the nature of their relationship with Al Shabaab, all of these groups aspire and actively plan to engage in acts of terrorism,” the report states.

“The most active of Al Shabaab’s regional affiliates has long been Kenya’s MYC, widely known as Al-Hijra. In 2012, Godane reportedly named Al-Hijra’s leader, Ahmed Iman Ali, as Al-Shabaab’s ‘Amir’ in Kenya (although Ahmed Iman has denied this appointment), but Al-Hijra’s performance fell far short of expectations, and during the course of 2013 Godane began to explore other options to transform Al-Shabaab into a truly regional, transnational organisation.”

The evolution of Al-Shabaab from an essentially Somali movement into a regional one, the report says, is a reflection of the growing numbers of non-Somalis within its ranks, who aspire to bring the ‘jihad’ to their countries of origin.

Igad says hundreds of Kenyans have crossed the border to join Al-Shabaab over the past decade with Tanzanians constituting the next largest cohort of foreign fighters.
The report is a culmination of Igad governments bid to step up their efforts to understand, monitor, and counter terrorists threats.

In April 2015, Ethiopia and Kenya jointly commissioned a study on Al-Shabaab presence and activities in their respective countries, as well as the opportunities for enhanced cooperation in countering this threat. In August 2015, Somalia expressed an interest in joining this initiative.

Heads of Intelligence and Security Services of member countries of Igad and East African Community met twice in 2015 to deepen security cooperation and harmonise efforts to fight terrorism and violent extremism.

In August 2015, a two-day experts’ meeting in Djibouti took the first steps towards the establishment of a Centre of Excellence to Counter Violent Extremism for the Igad region. In addition, the Igad Security Sector Program launched a new Transnational Security Threats Initiative to promote security cooperation between member states. It is under this initiative the report was been commission and published.

“Al-Shabaab’s East African affiliates and networks have been forced to evolve and adapt. This has involved a degree of atomization as networks sub-divide, operatives disperse, and new cells proliferate – some linked to Al- Shabaab, others inspired by the movement and eager to join it. One such group in Mombasa has made efforts to recruit on behalf of both Al-Shabaab and the ‘Islamic State’ in Iraq and Syria,” it adds.

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