Hundreds of Al-Shabaab returnees are facing difficulties surrendering to authorities for fear of reprisals despite running away from being killed in Somalia after falling out with the militia leaders.
Some of the de-radicalised youth said they had run away from harsh conditions in Somalia after realising the high life they had been promised was hot air or falling out with their commanders who suspected them of being spies. Others escaped the increased operation and bombardments by the Kenya Defence Forces.
The returnees who sought anonymity for fear of victimisation said a number of them had been killed especially in Lamu, Mombasa and Kwale counties by al Shabaab sympathisers who accused them of betrayal or security personnel.
According to authorities, hundreds of the youth who had joined the militia had returned following a government amnesty issued in 2015, with some successfully reintegrating into the society.
Others are living in fear of both the government and the militants.
“They do not know where to go. Police are after them and so is their group. Life is miserable for them,” said a community policing official from Kwale who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Intelligence sources indicate that at least 140 al Shabaab returnees had slipped back at the coast by April last year.
“These include those who went three years ago. The figures cover the coast region alone,” said the source.
Police sources revealed that a number of those who have returned are based in Kwale, Mombasa and Malindi in Kilifi County.
“Kwale leads in the whole region and they are the same people who have been carrying out attacks targeting police officers,” revealed the source.
In Kwale, the returnees were linked to the killings of two staff of Technical University of Mombasa, Mabokoni Campus.
The staff were shot dead by gunmen in ambush on a vehicle that they were riding in last September.
Outgoing Coast regional police boss Larry Kieng said the returnees have integrated with locals making it difficult to deal with them.
NO AMNESTY INTEREST
He said they have been working closely with the locals to get information on the suspects who have not shown interest in government’s amnesty.
“There are those who do not want to take advantage of the amnesty and those are the ones we want to deal with. We believe they are part of those terrorising people in the county,” said Mr Kieng.
Mombasa County commander Johnstone Ipara urged the returnees to surrender to the government to be rehabilitated and live a normal life.
“If you were misled and left the country for ‘greener pastures’ just surrender. Terrorism is headed nowhere. Our officers are everywhere including the borders,” urged the county police boss.
He urged parents with details of their missing children to help the government with information.
Contacted, Assistant Inspector-General of Police and commander in charge of Operation Linda Boni Douglas Kirocho expressed confidence that the war on al Shabaab will be won.
He said since the inception of the Operation Linda Boni in 2015, they have rehabilitated a number of returnees.
Reporting by Kalume Kazungu, Mohamed Ahmed, Winnie Atieno, Fadhili Fredrick and Charles Lwanga