Kenya’s Muslim Youth Center Changes Name; Not Affiliations?

The United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea says that Kenya’s Muslim Youth Center – an organization alleged to be recruiting fighters for the Somali militant group al-Shabab – has changed its name and reorganized its membership. But, the one thing that has not changed is that its members still maintain links to the militant group al-Shabab.

The new United Nations Monitoring Group report – leaked earlier this week – does not give much detail about the recent activities of the Muslim Youth Center (MYC). That is compared to its 2011 report which outlined the group’s involvement in recruitment and financing drives for al-Shabab.

Following that report, a group of residents in the Nairobi suburb of Majengo went to court to challenge the MYC’s influence at a local mosque called Pumwani Riyadha.

Mahfoodh Awadhi, a Majengo youth leader and the Nairobi chairman of the Kenya National Muslim Advocacy Council, says his community was surprised when the court allowed the MYC-linked committee to continue to oversee the mosque given the alleged militant connection.

“They were two court orders which restricted them from running the mosque. And then later on, another judge took over the case and he went ahead and gave order to the effect that the registrar should recognize the said group. They were adversely mentioned in recruiting and supporting al-Shabab.”

The court did order the Riyadha mosque committee to elect new leadership and for Kenya’s registrar of societies to preside over the election.

But documents obtained by VOA from the registrar show the mosque instead reshuffled the current leadership, and appointed only three new members out of 17 on the board.

One of the new members is Hadija Nduta Njuguna, who came in as the new vice-secretary and the only woman on the board.

According to multiple sources, Njuguna is the former wife of Ahmed Iman Ali, the previous secretary of the committee who was named in the 2011 U.N. report for leading al-Shabab fighters in Somalia.

Another member who is listed as a trustee of the mosque committee is Mohamed Mwai Abbas, who was suspected of having trained as a combatant with al-Shabab in Somalia.

The head of the Law Society of Kenya, Apollo Mboya, says there needs to be more rigorous checking before registering questionable groups and organizations.

“We need serious reforms on how we do things how we re-engineer our processes of registration of persons, registration of groups. This is not an era whereby someone would just bring documentation and you submit it to the counter and you hope the counter will submit it to the intelligence and the intelligence gives a feedback on who those people are.”

Even though Mboya says reform is needed, he acknowledges that getting evidence needed to prove terrorism links and prosecuting it is difficult. Because of that, he says, Kenyans should not fault the court for releasing people suspected of being terrorists or linked with terror activities.

“Now when the court is not given sufficient information with regard to particular matter the court will decide based on what is before it, it cannot go on speculating and that’s why I am saying again it boils down to intelligence gathering, it boils down to different organs of government working in harmony. Is the intelligence being shared by the police and the prosecution?”

The Muslim Youth Center was established in December 2008 as a community based organization aimed at empowering youths and promoting peace. But in practice, the group has engaged in recruiting Kenyan youths to fight alongside al-Shabab and some members have openly flaunted its al-Qaida links.

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