With al-Shabab on the retreat in the face of gains by African Union (AU) forces in Somalia, the militant group is looking for new avenues to exert control both in and outside of Somalia. The group is focused on recruiting Kenyan Muslims to revolt against, what they term, state-sponsored oppression directed against them. Mohammed Yusuf has more from VOA’s East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.
Somalia’s Islamist movement al-Shabab has distanced itself from a series of grenade and bomb attacks inside Kenya, including last Saturday’s deadly explosions. However the group has not stopped recruiting Kenyan youths and calling on them to carry out attacks in Kenya.
A United Nations report released last year put the number of Kenyan youths recruited by al-Shabab at as many as 500.
Some security observers say al-Shabab has taken advantage of the Kenyan youths, who many times come from a background of poverty and limited opportunities.
Sheikh Juma Ngao, the chairman of Kenya’s Muslim National Advisory Council, says Muslim youths should participate in nation building instead of fighting against their own government.
“I strongly [do] not support the call [of] al-Shabab that the Kenyan youths should involve themselves to fight the government,: he said. “This call is totally out of sight. Majority of the Kenyan muslim youths are not well educated but that is not the cause to tell our youths they must stand up and fight the government of Kenya. How can they fight the government of Kenya by killing innocent people?”
Kenya has witnessed a series of grenade and bomb attacks for the last six months, killing dozens. The Kenyan government has blamed al-Shabab.
Ngao calls on youths to participate in activities that benefit them, rather than taking part in violence and the killing of innocent people.
A Muslim youth leader involved in empowering youth in his area told VOA they are victimized by the police because of a few local individuals who have joined al-Shabab and sent video messages back home.
One of those young people who joined al-Shabab, and commands 500 Kenyan youths in Somalia, is Ahmed Iman Ali, Chairman of the Muslim Youth Centre (MYC). According to the U.N. monitoring report, Ahmed Iman Ali used the community based organization openly in recruiting for al-Shabab in Kenya and making it easy for the recruits to travel to Somalia for training and then fighting in both Kenya and Somalia.
Like other clerics in the region, Sheikh Ngao has stressed there is no Jihad or holy war in Somalia, but a political war.
“In Somalia there is no Jihad, in Somalia what we are witnessing is political wars among Somali tribes so anybody who is changing the perception of these political and tribe war in Somalia to a holy war he is totally out of sight in Somalia there is no jihad,” he said. “You cannot preach Islam in an environment where there is no peace, so I am advising my brothers’ al-Shabab militia groups to create a space for peace in Somalia.”
It is unclear if messages like this from religious leaders will reach young members of al-Shabab in Somalia.
Meanwhile, the al-Shabab group continues to resort to violence. And on Tuesday the group banned the British-based aid agency, Save the Children from Somalia, accusing the organization of distributing stale porridge to children, as well as being corrupt and failing to comply with the rules laid down by the al-Qaida-linked group.