Al-Shabab Recruits Kenyan Youths
The al-Shabab militants who have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families bereft.
Al-Shabab recruiters roam Isiolo town, targeting idle youths.Al-Shabab recruiters roam Isiolo town, targeting idle youths.
In the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive, there is agony, fear and lost hope.
At a relatively quiet open-air restaurant three kilometers outside Isiolo, several women meet to talk about their fears, their struggles to get loved ones back from the Somali militant group al-Shabab, and how to keep others out of the hands of recruiters.
Her son left home May 1 for what she thought was to be an Islamic retreat. A week later, she received a phone call.
â€œI lost my son. One day he disappeared, he left here on the first day of this month. He was with four other boys,â€ she laments.
The caller told Hashi they were in Liboi, a town on the Kenya-Somalia border. When she asked why her son hadnâ€™t phoned, the caller responded that Kenyan security forces had arrested the boys and that her son was afraid but fine.
A week later, her teenage son and three others were still in custody in Liboi, she says, accused of trying to cross the border to join al-Shabab.
Hashi seeks comfort and advice from Halima Hassan, another woman who says her own teenage brother has been with al-Shabab for eight months.
She says before he left, he asked for about $40 for a school trip and that was the last time her family saw him.
Three weeks later, he called home and told his family that he was with al-Shabab, was fine and was making a lot of money.
â€œThere is no way he can be found. He has become a criminal who has no sympathy and kills people. Even if he came back, he would bring that criminality here,â€ Hassan says, adding she â€œwill pray for God to guide him.â€
Each time Hassan sees her brotherâ€™s schoolmates, she feels bad and cries, she says. Hassan has yet to understand why he chose a gun instead of a pen and a book.
Al-Shabab has intensified its recruitment of the mostly Kenyan youth and other pastoralist tribes from the larger Isiolo County to beef up its ranks.
Al-Shabab operatives within Isiolo town have trained their eyes on mostly young and unsuspecting school girls and boys.
A vast network of influencers and recruitment agents freely roam around town, identifying idle youth who are their immediate targets. Once the identified youths have been lured to join the jihadist movement, another team takes over.
At least 200 boys are missing from schools within Isiolo and their whereabouts remain unknown.
VOA tracked recruiters complicit in a special kind of terror that uses poverty as an excuse to radicalize youths and turn them against education.
A man in his 20s who identifies himself only as Ali explains his involvement in al-Shabab recruiting.
He says boys like Hashiâ€™s son are drawn into the jihadist movement with promises of new educational opportunities. His work entails looking for idle young men and bringing them to the mosque, he says. From there, other people take over.
â€œI tell the boys they can go for an Islamic retreat for about four months. They then come to the mosque. The youth are made to believe they have sinned and are in need of Godâ€™s forgiveness,â€ Ali says,referring to the recruitment plan.
Those who heed the teaching are taken for further Islamic instruction but are effectively recruited into al-Shabab.
Radical preachers depend on Aliâ€™s peer connections to lure more and contacts into the militant group. The entire process is shrouded in secrecy.
Ali says he has stopped looking for recruits and is no longer involved in such activities. However, some Isiolo residents told VOA he is still in the business.
Al-Shabab mostly encourages the families of its recruits with social support, promising cash rewards whenever needed. The callers hardly ever disclose their location, only stating they are far away.
Al-Shabab recruiters contend that fighters hardly ever engage in the business for money, but for the sake of religion.
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