More than 60 Al Shabaab returnees including former university students are undergoing rehabilitation at undisclosed camps after surrendering to Kenyan security agents.
Most of the returnees fled their homes with the hope of a better life only to be turned into sex slaves and combatants by the militants.
Ciku*** (not her real name ) began her arduous journey to an Al Shabaab camp hoping to find acceptance after false belief that her parents didn’t like her.
Her quest for attention from parents she thought treated her like a black sheep led her to a Facebook page “A place to belong” with images of physically fit women holding guns.
She was attracted by regular messages of self actualisation and liberation which represented what she thought she really needed to have. Ciku was lured by a woman and taken to Somalia where she was turned into a sex slave.
Ahmed and Ali had been made to believe they were going to help their Muslim brothers in the Jihad war only to be put on the front line during battle.
The duo who hail from Kwale County, joined Al Shabaab in December 2014 after being recruited by their cousin.
An intelligence report by security agencies on the operation against Al Shabaab terror reveals that some returnees are helping the government counter the insurgents.
They are undergoing intensive psychological and medical support before they are finally reunited with their families and reintegrated back into the society.
“At this point, most of the returnees do not want to face their parents because they are burdened with guilt, so this rehabilitation process that cannot be rushed and has to wait until when they are ready. There is great need for creating awareness about the real situation these girls encounter in the hands of the terrorists. The false Jihad and revolution narrative is a myth that needs to be demystified before we loose more of these girls,” a counsellor at the rehabilitation centre says.
At least 54 university students abandoned their studies to join terrorist groups in Somalia, Libya and Syria in 2016 and 2017.
Some have been lucky to escape while other Kenyan youths who joined ISIS in Libya or Syria and al Shabaab in Somalia have been killed in counter-terrorism operations by security officers.
The report further says that sustained counter-terrorism efforts involving various security agencies in the country have disrupted terrorist plots through arrests and prosecution of suspects. They have also managed to infiltrate and disrupt of terror cells in parts of the country.
The report further shows that terrorists have exploited social media and other platforms like Whatsapp to lure university students.
“Through various portals put up by Al Shabaab, ISIS among other terror groups, propaganda is easily disseminated into the hands of students and readily shared among their peers through user-friendly platforms like WhatsApp.”
Students are also recruited by family members, radicalised through extremists and radical religious leaders while some voluntarily join terror groups.
However, there has been a decline of students joining these groups in 2017 with only 14 recorded compared to 44 in 2015 and 2016.
This has been attributed to counter terrorism strategies and initiatives by the Kenyan government, Non-Governmental Organisations an religious organisations.
“Following the shocking numbers of recruited students from the previous years, intentional counter-terrorism efforts were initiated by the government that geared towards close working relations between the security agencies and the public. This relationship has greatly improved the voluntarily sharing of information by the public with security personnel. This has helped us save,’’ said a security officer.
The report raised concern about the country’s future with the continued recruitment of youth into terrorism. Among the known university students recruited into terrorism is Moi University’s Jared Mokaya Omambia, who was executed by Al Shabaab militants in 2016 on spying charges. Many others have however been killed by Amisom and US forces in Somalia and Libya. Former Kitale hospital interns Farah Dagane Hassan, 26 and Hiish Ahmed Ali, 25 were killed in US airstrike on an ISIS camp in Libya.
Slain terrorist Abdirahim Abdullahi, a law graduate from Nairobi University student was in 2015 killed by security agents during the Garissa University College terror attack.
In May last year, three Kenyans - Adan Mohamed Sheikh, Said Ahmed Dabow, Mohamed Abdi Mohamed - and a Somali, Abdiqan Abdishakur Shobay, suspected to have been traveling to join ISIS in Libya, were arrested in Juba. In June 2017 police arrested five youths from Isiolo enroute to Somalia to join Al-Shabaab.
However, the counter-offensive operations against the militia group by Amisom, the Somali National Army, and the American military is eroding the appeal and attraction the group had among foreign fighters.
In the last three months US and KDF airstrikes have been successful in targeting active Shabaab camps inside Somalia. Kenyan fighters have also borne the wrath of Al-Shabaab executions within its ranks, for allegedly spying for KDF in Somalia.