KDF targets mosques in fight against Al-Shabaab
NAIROBI, Kenya - In the middle of increased terrorism activities within Kenya, the Kenya Defense Forces [KDF] may have after all changed strategy, targeting mosques which have been in the past used as recruitment cells.
Previously, the dreaded Anti-Terror Police Unit [ATPU] had been raiding such places of worship, but it proved counter-productive due to the subsequent rapid rise of Al-Shabaab attacks across the country.
But the KDF in collaboration with National Police Service in Kenya is now focusing on spreading counter-terrorism awareness in mosques across the coast and northeastern, which is the latest strategy to defeat the militants' ideologies anchored in extremism.
Imams within the KDF and other religious organizations are incorporated in the program. Debunking propaganda about Islam is one of the well-crafted messages by team leaders, KDF said.
For instance, this month, the team launched a massive campaign from 5th to 11th on the coastal region, which is prone to Al-Shabaab attacks. Some of the areas targeted were Malindi, Bombolulu, and Mombasa, officials said.
The first stop was at Husna Islamic Centre in Gede, Malindi where over 300 madrassa girls and other locals comprising of children, youth, men, and women were taken through true religious teachings and doctrine as a measure to curb radicalization.
The team commended the madrassas for being vocal in the dissemination of the true teachings of the Islamic religion. Terrorists have taken advantage of the ignorance of locals to mislead them.
At Bombolulu Cultural Centre and Frere Town Social Hall Mombasa, the forum attracted children, youth and the parents who were taken through issues pertaining to their security, religion, and discipline, KDF noted.
The origin of Islam dominated the campaign with the team sharing on what correct Islam teaching is. This aimed at strengthening the community against radical ideologies propagated by the enemy.
The youth, men, and women were encouraged to desist from divisive doctrines that benefit the enemy and instead work with the security agencies in the fight against terrorism within the community.
The interaction also created rapport among the locals and the security agencies towards a seamless working relationship in the fight against extremism in the region and the country at large.
Information in cyberspace remains a key area exploited by the extremist groups and the audience was asked to be keen on what they access online as much of it has contaminated religion due to war, politics and radical ideologies, officials added.
Emphasis was put on Islam as a religion of peace, love, intimacy, and affection but not killings and distraction further reinforcing that killing of non-Muslims is a non-sensible practice and that no one chose to be born a Muslim or Christian.
This year alone, Al-Shabaab has struck the country 18 times, leaving 24 people dead. The attacks were recorded in northeastern and coastal areas, police said.
One of the most deadly attacks was launched as Camp Simba in Lamu, in which the Al-Shabaab reigned on an American Naval Base, killing three people. The group termed it as "one of our successes" in recent years.
But in Somalia, US Africa Command killed Bashir Qorgab, the mastermind of the attack. Gen. Stephen Townsend said "he was one of the most wanted Al-Shabaab fighters. We are glad he's dead".
Defense Secretary Dr. Monica Juma on Friday lauded the KDF saying "they have played an important role in bolstering regional peace and keeping terrorists are Bay". She had visited Moi Air Base in Eastleigh.
Human rights groups had been accusing Kenya police of targeting "innocent" Muslims in the crackdown. But the latest change of strategy also involves giving incentives to youths to denounce violent extremism, KDF added.
KDF is scheduled to completely withdraw from Somalia by 2021 December, with calls to have the troops staged along the borders increasing from among political elites.
Al-Shabaab, which takes advantage of poverty to even recruit from within Kenya, has been fighting for a decade to topple fragile UN-backed Somalia government for a decade now.