Wrangles, Suspicion Forcing Kenyan Youths to Abandon Al-Shabab

PHOTO CREDIT | COURTESY

Kenyan al-Shabab fighters are defecting Somali militant group after they became unreliable in the fight against government forces and African Union troops.

In the past year, more than 350 Kenyan youths have returned from Somalia after years of fighting for the group and will be reintegrated back to society.
 
Canon Harun Rashid, chief officer in charge of preventing violent extremism at Kenya’s National Counter Terrorism Center, said al-Shabab no longer trusts Kenyan fighters.
 
“There has been a lot of compromise in terms of the operations and they have always been treated as suspects. There have been suspicions that they are leaking the group’s information. That has put them in a very difficult situation and many of them opted to return,” Rashid said.
 
Most of the former al-Shabab fighters are from the counties of Mombasa, Kilifi, Kwale, Lamu, Mandera, Garissa and Wajir.
 
Kenyan authorities are conducting vigorous training, awareness and sensitization efforts targeting security forces and the population to counter-terrorism in those seven counties.

Over the years, Somali terror group have taken advantage of the lack of better opportunities for young people and community grievances to recruit a few thousands to bolster its ranks.
 
Kenya’s counter-terrorism agencies are working with the local government and community leaders to give the youths a second chance and provide them with opportunities to be more independent.

Authorities hope their willingness to give the former al-Shabab fighters a chance will encourage more to abandon the group.
 
According to the Lamu County Security Committee’s quarterly report, released in June, fewer Kenyan youth have joined the Somali terror group.

“We have realized we made very good progress. In fact, the assessment we did confirm from the actors that we could say we have been able to achieve our objective about 70 percent of the last year of the implementation. So through those activities, we can say we have been able to curtail incidents of recruitment of those terror groups and al Shabaab,” said Irungu Macharia, Lamu County Commissioner.

Lamu county which borders Somalia has been a key crossing point for al-Shabab recruits.

Kenyan security forces are engaged in security operations to flush out militants fighting in Boni forest, Lamu county. The militants hiding in the forest continue to carry out attacks against security forces and the public.

Macharia credits the recent security success to the good working relationship between Kenyan security agencies and the local communities living in the affected areas.
 
“We can say through our intervention we have seen more indicative positives in the community. Parents have been cooperating with us. We have been receiving information very well from the community. Even the relationship between the security agencies and the youths and the community at large has improved,” Macharia noted.
 
In May, Somali government forces launched an offensive against al-Shabab in central regions to secure the main cities from terror attacks.
 
Somalia government troops have won key and decisive battles against the militant group, the al-Shabab in the Central Somali region, which is crucial to the efforts to stabilize the country.
 
Somalia’s military officials said it has killed more than 150 fighters in the operations and liberated at least four towns from the group.
 
In June, Somali defense minister Hassan Hussein Haji, meeting top military officials in Mogadishu, said he was pleased with military progress and urged Somali forces to liberate more territory from the terror group.
 
“We are determined to get rid of al-Shabab from our country, a group which is now in control of a few areas,” Haji said.

According to some security analysts in the region, al-Shabab’s reduced strength is due to increased military offensive, travel restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 outbreak, a shortage of recruits from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
 
The ongoing offensive against the group has weakened the group’s both financial and military strength in Somalia, and this is coupled by lack of new recruits from East and Central African countries due to the emergence of the Islamic States Central Africa Province (ISCAP) in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Uganda.
 
The Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP), which emerged in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Uganda, has made Al Shabaab lose its attractiveness among jihadists in the region.

In March, Kenyan nationals Salim Rashid and Alfan Ali Juma allegedly joined an ISIS-linked terror cell in Mozambique.

Authorities arrested Richard Lazaro Kivatisi in Mombasa. According to court documents, Kivatsi was in close communication with Rashid and Juma, two men suspected of fighting for the terrorist group in Mozambique.

Authorities also said Juma and Rashid are facing terror-related charges in the coastal city of Mombasa.
 
Armed fighters from different African countries have wreaked havoc in Mozambique’s northern province of Cabo Delgado since 2017, killing hundreds, displacing more than 650,000 from their homes.
 
Richard Tuta, a Nairobi-based security analyst, says the terror group in Mozambique is offering what al-Shabab in Somalia cannot provide at the moment, which is attack after attack.
 
“Mozambique has proved to be where terror action is happening, not in Somalia where there are joint counter-terrorism measures that’s dealing with al-Shabab and reducing its terror activities,” Tuta said. “The young men are attracted to the activities in Mozambique. It’s a terror brand that all of them would like to associate with at the moment.”