Isiolo leaders and security officials have been angered by reports profiling the county as an Al-Shabaab hub, saying the narrative is hurting the local economy and tainting the devolve unit’s image.
Speaking at Isiolo Girls High School on Saturday over the 100 per cent transition policy to secondary schools, the leaders said the county is not a centre for terrorists.
Led by the county’s deputy governor Abdi Issa, Isiolo Senator Fatuma Dullo, Isiolo North MP Hassan Oda, County Woman Representative Rehema Jaldesa and County Commissioner John Ondego, they said the negative profiling is scaring away investors and tourists.
They said the media has negatively focused and sensationalised the issue of radicalisation, a problem they maintain is national rather than local.
But the leaders acknowledged that a number of local youths were lured into joining Somalia’s Al-Shabaab terror group even though those involved in terrorist activities have also been drawn from other counties.
Mr Ondego said no Isiolo youth has crossed over to Somalia last year, a positive indication that anti-radicalisation campaigns were finally bearing fruit.
“We agree that our children have been affected but we cannot profile Isiolo as an Al-Shabaab hub since the perception is killing our economy,” said Senator Dullo.
Last year, a county action plan on countering violent extremism was launched with security officers backing use of hard and soft approaches to countering radicalisation
Ms Dullo, who blamed high unemployment rates, poverty, and drug abuse for making the local youth easy targets for recruiters, defended the county insisting that only one suspect involved in the last month’s Dusit office complex attack was from Isiolo.
Ali Salim Gichunge, one of the terrorists involved in the recent attack was from Isiolo and had disappeared in 2015.
“The boys who participated in the recent attack were from other regions too including Kiambu. Why is it that Isiolo is the one mostly featured!” she questioned.
Isiolo Muslim clerics also dismissed reports aired by a local TV station that five mosques and football playing grounds were being used as radicalisation hubs as cited by an Al-Shabaab returnee who was interviewed.
The clerics through their umbrella body, the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya (CIPK), demanded an apology within 14 days from the media house.
The deputy governor claimed that the television programme which aired the expose’ was trying to ‘finish’ Isiolo economically and marginalize the county more since leaders were not interviewed.
“There is no mosque and I want to repeat and refute.. …I am ready to resign as deputy [governor] of Isiolo if you tell me that there is a mosque that is encouraging and promoting terrorism because I normally conduct my prayers there. We are against it,” said Mr Issa.
Starting next week, he said the county will urge prominent clerics to speak to youths to discourage radicalisation.
The leaders also agreed that there is need to formalise the Nyumba Kumi initiative to deal with insecurity and other challenges.