Authorities in Kenya say more youths defect from Al-Shabaab
NAIROBI, Kenya - Authorities in Kenya have reported a mass exodus of youths from the Al-Shabaab group, where they had reportedly joined in the past few years, amid an ongoing crackdown to tame the militants from waging attacks in the country.
This year alone, authorities told Voice of America, at least 350 youths have dumped the Somalia-based Al-Shabaab militants and are now being reintegrated into their respective families. The defections mostly took place along the coastal strip of the East Africa nation.
At the moment, reports indicate, only a few youths from the coastal region are crossing over to Somalia to join the militants. This, officials said, is informed by counterterrorism strategies that have been put in place by security forces in Kenya.
Kenyan counterterrorism officials are in the county of Mombasa this week to help sensitize the community against violent extremism and to assist former al-Shabab fighters. Their efforts are targeting six counties directly affected by the terror group’s activities along the Kenya-Somalia border.
Canon Harun Rashid, chief officer in charge of preventing violent extremism at Kenya’s National Counter Terrorism Center, said the center is processing more than 300 former al-Shabab fighters who are seeking to re-enter society.
"It's not just a blanket returning program," Rashid said. "All these individuals who are coming in, there is a process of filtering them and understanding the kind of crime they have committed, and the legal system is also waiting to see prosecutable areas once these returnees are put into such a program. Then there is the sensitization part of it, the deradicalization part of it."
Reports still indicate that there are dozens of Kenyan youths still fighting alongside the militants in Somalia. The group is fighting to topple the fragile UN-backed Somalia administration now under the leadership of President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo.
The security officers need "to understand the radical drivers, to understand the legitimacy behind the radicals calling for their agenda," Rashid said.
Nairobi-based security analyst Richard Tuta said Kenyans who joined al-Shabab could return to Kenya if the government accepted them.
“Remember, some of these young people did not go there because they were radicalized," he said. "They went there because of other factors — like, for instance, to get a source of income, because one of the ways used to induce them to cross over is because they are promised even to be paid in dollars. So when the government gives them an amnesty, it makes it easier for them to make a comeback.”
Munira Hamisi, head of youth affairs and community empowerment in the county of Mombasa, said her county was ready to provide economic opportunities to more than 100 youths who return from Somalia.
“As a department, we have a Mombasa County revolving fund that has an economic stimulus package for our young people, where youth-led business licenses have been waived," she said. "We also have a revolving fund where we are giving out soft loans to businesses that are owned by young people and women.”
The coastal strip is one of the worst affected by the Al-Shabaab raids, with the group targeting areas in Boni Forest within Lamu County. Currently, the Kenya Defense Forces are running Operation Linda Boni which has largely succeeded.
Also greatly affected are Wajir, Mandera, and Garissa counties which border Somalia in the northeast. Last year, Al-Shabaab militants raided a US Naval Base at Manda in Lamu, killing three American nationals including a member of the forces.