It’s all lies, returnee says of Shabaab promises to youth

Monday March 16 2020

A communications mast in El Wak, Mandera County, which was destroyed by Al-Shabaab in 2018. A young man says he was recruited to join Al-Shabaab and taken to a camp in El Wak before he escaped. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


A paltry Sh14,000 lunch allowance split between nine unemployed youths, a promise to serve in the Somali National Army, and a promised Sh10 million payout is all it took to convince Kenyan youngsters to join the Al-Shabaab militant group.

The man recruiting them has been labelled a specially designated global terrorist (SDGT) by the United States.

Ahmad Iman Ali alias Abu Zinira is the founder of Al Hijra, the terror group’s radicalisation wing, and served as the head of Al-Shabaab in Kenya.

The recruitment of the young men took place in 2008 inside Majengo Mosque in Nairobi.


The target was young unemployed youths, so desperate that they would easily fall for a promise of a job and hard cash.


The promises were too enticing to resist. But, in the end, it all proved to be lies.

Joe (not his real name) is one of the young men who was talked into joining the terror group.

But he later managed to escape and returned to his native home in Nyeri.

Joe told his story to the Nation.


“It does not take much to convince a Kenyan youth to join Al-Shabaab. They look for the most desperate ones and promise them the best in life. My best friend and I are some of those who were easily lured into the terror group.

“I had just finished high school but, instead of going back to Nyeri, I opted to live with my best friend’s family in Eastleigh. This was our strategy – to hit the ground running in life; you know, hustle, as we waited for results and the possibility of joining university.

“His parents were very welcoming and his father actually gave us a single-room house to live in as we hustled. Edu* and I got our first hustle selling mitumba and slippers together with his mother at Gikomba market.


“Life seemed normal at the beginning as we experienced the many surprises of adulthood. One of the places we would frequent most was Jamia Mosque and Majengo Mosque.

“I am not a Muslim, but I was used to living with Muslims. Even while we were still in school, we would sneak out together with other Muslim students to go to the mosque on Fridays. For us, it was for leisure and the thrill of not having to be in class on Fridays.

“One day while we were at the Majengo Mosque, some people approached us and invited us to a meeting. I did not know who they were but this did not bother me as I assumed they were Edu’s friends.

“At the time, the mosque was still under construction so we held the meeting in one of the old rooms on the ground floor. We were nine of us.

“During the meeting, one of the men who invited us told us that there were job openings in Somalia. He told us that we would join the Somali Army. It all sounded like hitting the jackpot. They said we would be in the Somali Army and, after our return, we would be untouchable.


“At the end of the first meeting, we were given Sh14,000 to split among ourselves. This was kind of a lunch allowance for attending the meeting. Of course when we were invited for the second time, all the nine of us showed up. Who wouldn’t? That is how they got us to attending more meetings.

“During the meetings that followed, they told us that if we agreed to join the army, we would all receive Sh10 million as payment. That is how they convinced us that this was the best move for us. Imagine getting Sh10 million. I would live a lavish life with nice cars.

“But we had to do one thing before we could proceed for training. We had to convert to Islam since none of us was a Muslim. We all agreed and took new names. I took the name Farah Idid. We were promised certificates to show we were Muslims but we never saw them.


“At the mosque, we were introduced to someone who would turn out to be a leader of Al-Shabaab in the country. We met an Iman who would come for Madrassa classes where they taught us Sharia law and other Islamic doctrines.

“At some point, we started pushing to be told where we would go for training since they had already told us that we were joining an army. Because of our insistence, a trip to the training camp was planned.

“They told us our destination was El Wak in Mandera. We were given facilitation and put on a bus. We did not carry any clothes or personal belongings.


"Actually, I did not even have a national identification card. I was still in the application process and I was supposed to travel to Nyeri to get my mother’s particulars. I abandoned that plan and lied to my mother that I had found a job in Mombasa. She sent me Sh3,000 for upkeep.

“We travelled to El Wak and then to a village called Basili. In the village, we met a man by the name Farouk. With him were other men who appeared to be of Pakistani origin. From what we were told, they were aid workers who had volunteered to build a mosque in El Wak.


“They would later take us to camps in the bush where there were other militants. They called themselves Jeish.

“Farouk and the rest of the commanders would sleep in tents while the Jeish stayed up to guard the camp.

“Our training started by being shown a lot of propaganda videos of Al-Shabaab missions and a lot of talk about Jihad. They would show some of the militants and claim that they used to be Kenyan police officers. During the day, they taught us how to use guns; they started by showing us how to operate a pistol.


“A few days into the training, I started getting scared of the whole idea because what we had been taught at the mosque had now turned into something sinister. This was no longer the Islam I knew from my friends.

“I spoke to Edu about it and told him this was a bad idea. But his focus was on the money. Talking him out of it was not going to work but I had already made up my mind that I would run away.

“So one day when we were asked to help out with some supply errands to El Wak, I sneaked away from the group and boarded a lorry that was transporting animals.

“From there, I hitch-hiked all the way to Mombasa but using different routes because I was afraid they would try and set a trap along the way we had used to the camps.


“Once I returned to Nairobi, I lived in hiding. I wanted to go to the police and report what had happened but I was scared. I feared that they would see me as a terrorist and kill me. So I opted to write a letter and put it inside the suggestion box at the Central Police Station.

“After that I still feared for my safety in Nairobi because I felt that the recruiters would come after me to silence me. That was when I decided to return to Nyeri.

“I do not know what happened to Edu or the rest of the group. Maybe he became a suicide bomber and blew himself up.

“But I know and can attest that the promises they make are false. It is all lies but it is enough to lure Kenyan youths."