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Why Al Shabaab is using Kenyans in acts of terror
By Silas Nyamweya | Updated Jan 19, 2019 at 12:52 EAT

The revelation that some of the gunmen and facilitators of terrorism acts in Kenya are actually Kenyans has generated deep concern in the country

So far, investigations reveal that most of the perpetrators and coordinators of the dusitD2 Hotel terror incident were actually Kenyan born militants who had joined Al Shabaab

The revelation that some of the gunmen and facilitators of terrorism acts in Kenya are actually Kenyans has generated deep concern in this country which has constantly been targeted because of its anti-terrorism policies targeting Al Shabaab.

So far, investigations reveal that most of the perpetrators and coordinators of the dusitD2 Hotel terror incident were actually Kenyan born militants who had joined Al Shabaab.

For instance, reports from security agencies indicate that the suicide bomber who blew himself up at the dusitD2 Hotel was Kenyan, born in Mombasa, Majengo area. He is said to be have been recruited at Musa Mosque in Mombasa which was at one time accused of radicalising youth by the Kenyan Government. Forensic studies on the other terrorists killed are ongoing and the report will reveal among other things their nationalities and origin.

Ali Salim Gichunge alias Farouk who is said to be an architect and organiser in this terror act alongside her lover Violet Kemunto Omwoyo are also Kenyan born citizens who lived at Kiambu area at the time of the attack.

Ali Salim is reported to have grown up in Nyeri while her lover a Kisii. Detectives have also revealed an intricate of networks of individuals and groups of Kenyans who in one way or another facilitated the attack.

 Suspect fires at people inside the dusitD2 Hotel in Nairobi before he was killed by police on 15th January, 2019. At least four members of Alshabaab were killed by police. [Courtesy]

During the terrorist attack on Garissa University in 2015 where students lost their lives, one of the architects and attackers was a son of a Kenyan Government official who was a bright law graduate at University of Nairobi. Abdirahim Abdullahi had been reported to authorities to have been missing by his father, a council official based in Mandera who had feared that his son had been radicalised by the Somali based militants.

According to a Garissa-based official who spoke to the media at that time, the Government had established that “Mr. Abdullahi had joined the Alshabaab group in 2013”. He had also added that “despite him (Abdullahi) being a bright student, he nonetheless got these crazy ideas to join the militant group.”

Although Westgate attackers were said to have been eliminated by the military, there have been no information about their identity or origin so far. However, independent investigation by the New York Intelligence Service indicated that the gunmen had disguised themselves as victims and sneaked out with others. Despite this, some of the facilitators who are currently arraigned in court are said to be Kenyans.

So what is drawing Kenyans to Alshabaab and why are they used as scapegoats in committing heinous acts?

According to a 2015 investigation by Aljazeera, Youth unemployment in Kenya is a big concern where almost three quarters of the population are under 30. The report also noted that poverty and hopelessness have pushed thousands of Kenyans to join illegal groups just to earn a living and end their desperation.

Rowbow Ochola, an activist and a radio DJ whose work involves rehabilitating former fighters told Aljazeera that since Al Shabaab considers Kenya as its enemy; it has increasingly targeted its recruiting initiatives in the country in order to have as many Kenyans as possible in its network.

“Hopelessness and lack of opportunities are among the core reasons why young Kenyans are joining Al-Shabaab” explained Mr Ochola.

Fatuma, a former Alshabaab fighter but who is now a social worker and a taxi-driver who had been rehabilitated by Rowbow Ochola told him that circumstances force young people to engage in terrorism.

“If I had a job which could enable me put food on the table like I do now, I would not have seen the need to join Al Shabaab.”

Ochola says that Al Shabaab is using Kenyans to wade off suspicion from security apparatus and to make their work easier. Women are also being used to collect information, gather intelligence and as spies.

 “Obviously, Kenyans with ID cards and who speak Kiswahili will arouse fewer suspicions among security authorities when organizing the attacks,” he noted.

In making their game of recruitment appealing, Al Shabaab normally dish out huge sums of money to interested members while also promising them goodies when they become members.

An investigation by the BBC which managed to access and interact with an active Kenyan Al Shabaab fighter in 2014 confirmed that joblessness and monetary rewards were key motivators to join the group.

“The issue here was money, I was jobless, and when they approached me with huge sums of money which they were willing to give, I had no otherwise” the Kenyan fighter told the BBC.

“Most of us youth are joining Al Shabaab not as Islam or Jihad but because but we want something to do for money.”

However, as one returnee found out, things are not as rosy as expected at the Al Shabaab camp in Somalia. The former fighter now reformed and who was interviewed by the BBC while at the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) revealed that the majority of Kenyans joining the Al Shabaab were being used as sacrificial lambs.

The fighter who came back to the country in 2013 because of what he termed as “frustrations” claimed that many of the foreign fighters within the group were discriminated.

According to this returnee, Al Shabaab’s Jabha (foot soldiers component), and Istishadi, (explosives unit) mostly use foreign fighters as a litmus test on their loyalty alongside reducing their influence within the group. They are also given no option of refusing the assignment while also being promised huge sums if they accomplish the mission successfully.

“You either go to the mission or you get killed,” said the returnee.

The returnee explained that the mistrust between Somali and foreign fighters within the group was something that was obvious.

This Mistrust of Kenyans and other foreigners has reportedly led to a significant number of Kenyan members to sneak back to the country. 

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