How Al-Shabab Succeeds In Winning Young Kenyan Men As Its Fighters


The Somalia-based Al-Shabab, an Al Qaeda-linked militant group, has launched several attacks against Kenya. The group has also scored success in luring many of young Kenyan men and students into becoming its fighters. And not much attention has been paid on how the terror group makes huge achievements in its recruitment in Kenya even as majority regard them as brutal and fighting insensibly against general norms and belief.

Well, not anymore, as a Special Correspondent Nick Schifrin via the help of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, met up with three of Al-Shabaab’s Kenyan recruits, and published a report that gives insight into why young men join the group.

The report shows that on the edge of Nairobi, in the Pumwani slum, radicals find willing recruits including the three Kenyan Muslims who were interviewed for this report. Each requested that their names should be changed.

Right here, we have the audio from the interview.

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Here Is The Full Transcript Of The Interview.

ABDUL: We’re supposed to, when we see a policeman, to kill him right there.

HASAN: You should die fighting for Islam.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Do you remember your first big battle with Al-Shabab?

MOHAMMAD: We carried out an ambush against Ethiopian forces near a river.

They were all praying the building towering over the slum — the Pumwani Riyadh Mosque…at the time Sheikh Ahmed Iman Ali, took power in 2007.

Ahmed Iman was innocent with an inspiring charm when he was a Kenyan preacher. His followers loved him including Mohammad.

MOHAMMAD: Those two years that Sheik Iman was there, he woke us up.

HASAN: His preachings were popular. Most of the youths felt that he was genuinely talking for them and teaching them. He was preying on the most vulnerable people. Because most of the youths in Pumwani–they were, and they are still living in abject poverty.

ABDUL: We were going sometimes hungry. My siblings were hungry.

NICK SCHIFRIN: What did you use to do on these streets right here?

ABDUL: We were mugging people like you. We were carjacking public vehicles.

After being arrested and jailed, Abdul learned about violent jihad from fellow Kenyan prisoners who’d fought with Al-Shabab in Somalia.

ABDUL: These people were returnees from Somalia. They started talking, how their business was good. As a recent Muslim convert, I thought fighting in Somalia was lucrative as I was given $500 to join and $100 a week.

NICK SCHIFRIN, the interviewer: That was good money for you, right?

ABDUL: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Mostly what inspired me to go there was money and to be where the police of Kenya won’t get me. The police wanted to kill. I was their target.

That was Sheikh Iman’s second inroad: using propaganda videos to identify Kenyan police as oppressors.

PROPAGANDA FOODTAGE: If Muslim clerics in Kenya stood for truth, they should have announced jihad long ago, as Muslims were being oppressed.

This police officer—whom we granted anonymity—admits he stole from Muslims who couldn’t defend themselves… as a way to supplement low-income.

POLICE OFFICER: Looting of property, extorting money from those arrested.

NICK SCHIFRIN: So you believe that your work increased radicalization?

POLICE OFFICER: Of course, it increased. Because it was like the government was targeting Muslims alone.

MOHAMMAD: The oppression that was taking place could not be eradicated through words. The only response was to take up arms to fight the oppression.

NICK SCHIFRIN: This is called little Mogadishu?

ROBERT OCHOLA, a community organizer said: I heard about Sheikh Iman’s radicalization campaign and started a grassroots organization to fight it.

ROBERT OCHOLA: It’s a battle. It’s a battle of hearts and minds, and [it] depends on who will offer these people you are fighting for more. He was always seeing incubators of radicalism: Muslims living with poverty, illiteracy, hopelessness.

ROBERT OCHOLA: When you have nothing, you don’t have anything to lose. When you’ve dropped out of school, probably in primary school, you know, your mind is somehow, it’s closed in a box. And then comes in somebody feeds and fills up your mind with some radical things.

ABDUL: That Imam was the one who made me leave all my burdens. I was telling him what we were taught. He told me that’s not Islam religion. Ochola offered me and other young men what the community never had: positive role models.

ABDUL: I thought he was somebody I can trust. Maybe I felt him in my heart.

ROBERT OCHOLA: [in radio studio] In 10, 20 years, we’re going to have so many mentors in the community that whoever comes up with a negative narrative will be hitting a wall.

ROBERT OCHOLA: We’ve lost people we know, not people who somebody else knows, people we literally interacted with. To us, it’s practical. It’s not theoretical. So we come from a ground point of view.

NICK SCHIFRIN: And not only is it practical, not theoretical, but it’s also literally life and death.

ROBERT OCHOLA: It’s life and death, yeah.

NICK SCHIFRIN: How many friends have you buried?

ABDUL: [at cemetery] More than 500. This is known as Abdul Aziz. There is another one there of my brother called Abdul Sanka. I concluded that I was never going to fight for Al-Shabab after I’ve lost many of my friends.

ABDUL: Sometimes I come here in this cemetery, and I just call myself lucky. Even now, even if I touch my heart, it’s running.

MOHAMMAD: There was no equality. I went thinking I would find justice. But that didn’t happen. I had walked out of Al-Shabab, as the terror group’s leaders in Somalia were no more supplying Kenyan fighters with weapons, and they treated us like lesser recruits.

JUMA MOHAMED: The government is neglecting us, and al-Shabaab treated us badly too. The treatment from the government was  if they were saying, ‘Because you are Muslim, if you want to die, you die here.’ They don’t support us.”

ROBERT OCHOLA: All we offer them is hope — hope for a better future. The other side is giving them immediate gratification, giving them, providing for their food, clothing, shelter, comradeship.

HASAN: People are still vulnerable to recruitment, because it has moved from the mosque to internet. Like the other day, Mohammad Iman posted on YouTube, talking to the youths and telling them to join them.

NICK SCHIFRIN: And today that message of recruitment is still popular?

HASAN: It is. It is popular.


In 2009, Sheik Iman dumped the mosque to head Al-Shabab’s. But before then, he had succeeded in radicalizing many young Kenyans, with a message of economic empowerment including Hasan.

Abdul says he too was lured into becoming a member with money.

Al-Shabab portrays Kenya as a predominantly Christian nation that oppresses Muslims. Sheik Iman promises revenge — in the name of Islam. The message about revenging which Sheikh Ahmed had sent through a footage recruited Mohamed to join Al-Shabab.

The part Sheikh Ahmed Iman Ali spoke about revenge on a footage converted Hassan and it says:

 The day they decide to come out for a face to face battle I am going to put away my AK-47 inside and take out my sword. These fellows know nothing about battle.

A speech by one speakers of Ochola who hosts community events initiated to battle Al-Ahabab’s radicalization made Abudul repent from heading to Somalia. Though, Abdul was already a thief as a teenager all to afford food, he changed his mind before he could make it to Somalia after Ochola held talks that focused on the value of honest work and moderate Islam.

Ochola holds talks in radio as a show to touch the lives of some men who can be referred to as bold, and emulative mentors to make less youths from Pumwani waste their lives in Somalia.

Today, more than six years after Sheikh Iman left, the Pumwani Riyadh Mosque is still fighting to wipe off his legacy.

The mosque no longer permits the preaching of violence or any form of claimed oppression. A madrassa teaches elementary school kids mainstream religious lessons, a secular school teaches three-to-six-year-olds and a soup kitchen offers much-needed, free food.

The mosque de-radicalizes with moderate preaching and job training. Imam Juma Mohamed revealed that they provide resources the government had failed to bring to the community. But even if the mosque no longer preaches violence… Al-Shabab can still recruit more men because of the negligence.

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