NAIROBI – Kenyan authorities say at least 350 young people who joined the Somali Islamist militant group al-Shabab have surrendered this year and will be reintegrated into society.
Security agencies in Kenya’s coastal region say fewer young people are traveling to Somalia to fight for the group, a sign that counterterrorism measures are working.
Kenyan counterterrorism officials are in Mombasa County this week to help raise awareness in the community against violent extremism and to assist former al-Shabab fighters.
Their efforts target six counties directly affected by the terrorist group’s activities along the Kenya-Somalia border.
Canon Harun Rashid, head of violent extremism prevention at the Kenya National Counterterrorism Center, said the center treats more than 300 former al-Shabab fighters seeking to reintegrate into society.
Understanding the crimes
“It’s not just a blanket return program,” Rashid said. “All of these individuals coming in, there is a process of screening and understanding the type of crime they have committed, and the justice system is also waiting to see areas open to prosecution once these returnees are brought into such a program. the awareness part, the deradicalization part. “
For more than a decade, the militant group has used local and historical grievances to get young Kenyans to join in its violent activities.
A few thousand young Kenyans are still fighting alongside al-Shabab in Somalia, but the increase in security operations and awareness-raising campaigns inside Somalia and in the northeastern and coastal regions of Kenya have reduces the recruitment of young people.
Rashid said counterterrorism programs now target security agents involved in counterterrorism, so that they can understand the process of radicalization.
Security guards must “understand the radical drivers, understand the legitimacy behind the radicals who claim their agenda,” Rashid said.
Nairobi-based security analyst Richard Tuta said Kenyans who joined al-Shabab could return to Kenya if the government accepts them.
Some were looking for income
“Remember that some of these young people didn’t go because they were radicalized,” he said. “They went there because of other factors – like, for example, to get a source of income, because one of the means used to cross is because they are even promised to be paid in dollars. So when the government grants them an amnesty, it makes it easier for them to come back. “
Munira Hamisi, responsible for youth affairs and community empowerment in Mombasa County, said her county was ready to provide economic opportunities to more than 100 young people returning from Somalia.
“As a department, we have a Mombasa County revolving fund that has an economic stimulus plan for our youth, where youth-led business licenses have been removed,” she said. loans to businesses owned by young people and women.
The counterterrorism centre’s campaign plans to expand and target a total of 12 counties in the hope of encouraging more young Kenyans to give up terrorism.