March 01, 2012
Police are investigating at least six religious leaders in Garissa in connection with encouraging Kenyan youths to join al-Shabaab, North Eastern Provincial Police Chief Leo Nyongesa told Sabahi.
The investigations started in January and are on-going, Nyongesa said.
"We summoned six imams and preachers and we are in the process of questioning others," he said. "We want to establish if they are aiding in recruitment after some information from the public suggested so."
Authorities say al-Shabaab has been recruiting youths from the region to fight in Somalia for several years.
In 2006, Former North Eastern Provincial Commissioner Kiritu Wamae said the government had the names of more than 400 youths enlisted in foreign militia groups. "We have names of Kenyan youths who have been recruited to fight in Somalia. Families have been mourning secretly," he said at a Kenyatta Day celebration in Garissa. He added that the government had reports that some local leaders were involved in the recruitment.
Musa Hussein Abdi, a Wajir native, was charged in 2007 for possession of illegal explosive materials and released two years later for lack of evidence. In June 2011, he was killed in a fire-fight with Somali forces alongside Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, al-Qaeda's point man in East Africa who was indicted for planning the 1998 US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Similarly, Said Ali Ibrahim, another Wajir native, was killed by Somali forces in Dobley, Somalia, a month earlier.
Sheikh Juma Ngao, chairman of the Kenya Muslims National Advisory Council, said he blew the whistle on al-Shabaab recruitment in Kenyan mosques beginning in 2005.
"The recruitment was done in some mosques all over the country, but currently, because of the campaigns initiated by the government against the terror group, it has stopped," he told Kenya's The Standard newspaper in September.
"But it could be going on in private houses," he cautioned. "Some imams were brainwashing the youth and parents that the recruitment was meant for holy war while they are just killing innocent people."
"There is no jihad in Somalia," he said, likening the recruitment of youth to human trafficking for ethnic clashes, tribalism, politics or personal benefit.
Sheikh Hassan Amey, chairman of the Garissa branch of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya, acknowledged that there are foreign fighters in Kenya, but dismissed the claims that religious leaders were involved in recruiting for al-Shabaab.
"Religious leaders and residents are being harassed in the name of fighting al-Shabaab," he told Sabahi.
But Abdullahi Ibrahim, 22, a Garissa resident, told Sabahi that al-Shabaab attempted to recruit him in December, through a religious leader based in Nairobi.
Ibrahim said his cousin established the connection with the religious leader, with the promise of a job offer. "[My cousin] told me he had a job for me and I should not let him down," Ibrahim said. "The religious leader told me that I was to be a project manager with a non-governmental organisation."
Ibrahim's account reveals an intricate network of al-Shabaab operatives in several cities.
"I was asked to go to Mandera near the Kenya-Somalia border, where I was to be picked up by the people I would be working with in Somalia," he said, adding that two weeks lapsed before anyone showed up. Ibrahim said he was offered 30,000 Kenyan shillings ($363) for the job, but was told he would have to accompany two children to Nairobi before assuming the new position in Somalia.
Ibrahim said he was asked to escort the children across several Mandera checkpoints because they were in the country illegally, but since he is a Kenyan citizen, security forces would be less likely to question him. "I later learnt that the mother of the children, who is the wife of the sheikh, had used another route on her way to Nairobi," he said.
"When I delivered [the children] to the sheikh in Nairobi, he asked me to be a mujahid for al-Shabaab," he said.
When Ibrahim asked the religious leader about the promised job, he did not get a clear response. "That is when I learnt that the non-governmental job was a ploy," he said, adding that he was never paid any money.
"I know of several youths who joined the militants through that route. Some dropped out after realising that they were deceived, while others soldiered on after they were told they would be paid to be fighters," Ibrahim said.
"I informed my father of the turn of events and he called my uncle and the sheikh asking them why they risked my life in Somalia and they panicked," he told Sabahi. Ibrahim said he circulated a copy of the religious leader's photograph in parts of Garissa, warning people that the sheikh was behind the recruitment of youths for al-Shabaab.
Ibrahim reported the incident to the Anti-Terror Police Unit in Garissa in January, a month after the recruitment attempt, to clear any doubts about his connections with al-Shabaab. Since then, he said al-Shabaab has threatened him for reporting the religious leader and his cousin to the police.
Nyongesa declined to confirm whether the clerics being questioned in Garissa were connected to Ibrahim's case, but said authorities were actively investigating the circumstances of his attempted recruitment.
Security has been heightened in the region after a series of grenade and landmine attacks targeting civilians and security officers, North Eastern Provincial Commissioner James ole Seriani told Sabahi.
He expressed concern that al-Shabaab might have sympathisers in the region and said regional security and public co-operation go hand-in-hand.
"Residents know that their involvement in identifying the criminals and their associates is crucial to their safety. Al-Shabaab attacks are indiscriminate and we are glad some of the arrests have been made possible because residents co-operate with the security organs," Seriani said.
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