WikiLeaks Releases: Nairobi Cable No. 53: Al-Shabab Recruting in Kenya
Viewing cable 09NAIROBI1171, A PORTRAIT OF AL-SHABAAB RECRUITMENT IN KENYA
DE RUEHNR #1171/01 1621431
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 111431Z JUN 09
FM AMEMBASSY NAIROBI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9802
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE
RUEHDR/AMEMBASSY DAR ES SALAAM 6572
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 3213
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 3084
RUZEFAA/HQ USAFRICOM STUTTGART GE
RUZEFAA/CDR USAFRICOM STUTTGART GE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 NAIROBI 001171
AF/E:SUSAN DRIANO; INR:MOZELLA BROWN; S/CT:ZACHARY
ROTHSCHILD; S/CRS:NADIA BLACKTON
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/07/2019
TAGS: PTER PREL SOCI PGOV KE SO
SUBJECT: A PORTRAIT OF AL-SHABAAB RECRUITMENT IN KENYA
Classified By: Ambassador Michael Ranneberger, reasons 1.4 b,d
¶1. (C//REL TO USA, KEN, GBR//) There are a number of factors that make Kenya a fruitful source for recruiting young men to join such extremist groups as the Somalia-based al-Shabaab militia. While we have been focused on Nairobi’s Eastleigh suburb and the North East Province as particular areas of concern, new information indicates that al-Shabaab recruitment efforts may have also reached Isiolo, located in Kenya’s geographic center. An Isiolo businessman claims that 60 young Kenyan Somali men have disappeared from Isiolo since January 2008 to fight in Somalia, and that two he knew personally recently died while conducting suicide bomb attacks in Mogadishu. Recruitment in Isiolo, he said, is directed from a radical mosque in Eastleigh but carried out by members of four radical mosques around Isiolo. Parents of these missing youth are grieving in private but are afraid of speaking out, he said. Even if the Kenyan Government becomes actively involved in rooting out the recruitment network, there are no easy answers to this problem. We will continue to actively explore ways the United States can be of assistance. End Summary.
Kenya: A Good Source of Recruits
¶2. (C//REL TO USA, KEN, GBR//) There are a number of factors that make Kenya a fruitful source for recruiting young men to join such extremist groups as the Somalia-based al-Shabaab militia. Kenya’s close proximity to Somalia, its sizeable population of ethnic Somalis, high levels of poverty and unemployment, a history of poor governance, and a worrisome youth bulge all contribute to the risk factors. Kenya’s ethnic Somali population in particular suffer from lower levels of development and education than their fellow Kenyans. Idle, unemployed youth are at particular risk. The continuing legacy of the Shifta Wars in the 1960s, certainly a contributing factor to Kenyan Somalis’ lower level of development, also leaves them feeling like outsiders in their country of birth. We have focused our attention for some time on Eastleigh, a well-known Somali-majority suburb of Nairobi, and the North Eastern Province, which directly borders Somalia, as possible recruitment locations. We also have reason to believe that some limited recruitment by al-Shabaab has occurred in Dadaab refugee camp (septel).
¶3. (C//REL TO USA, KEN, GBR//) New information indicates, however, that al-Shabaab recruitment efforts also have reached Isiolo. Located in Kenya’s geographic center, Isiolo has a mixed population but was originally settled during the colonial period by members of the Isaq and Harti clans from Somaliland who fought for the British in the First World War. The area has become a center for cattle rustling and is awash in small arms (septel). As in Muslim majority areas (Coast Province and North Eastern Province) and other urban areas throughout the country, traditionally moderate, pro-establishment Sufi mosques have gradually been overtaken by more activist, sometimes extremist, Wahhabi-led institutions whose clerics bring much-needed cash into the Isiolo area. These Wahhabist clerics may have direct links with radical mosques in Eastleigh, and may be acting as recruitment agents for extremist groups in Somalia.
¶4. (C//REL TO USA, KEN, GBR//) As the battle in Somalia becomes more clan-based and Somalis increasingly join clan-based militias instead of al-Shabaab, some have postulated that al-Shabaab is increasingly in need of foreign fighters to keep up its numbers. Frustrated and aimless Kenyan Somali youth, therefore, are a prime target. In Isiolo, this recruitment effort is reportedly targeted specifically at members of the Somali Isaq and Harti clans.
Residents Concerned in Isiolo
¶5. (C//REL TO USA, KEN, GBR//) On June 3, an Isiolo-based Kenyan Somali businessman told PolOff that he was extremely worried about the Islamic extremists’ reach into Isiolo and what it means for his family and his home. Since January 2008, 60 youth have gone missing from Isiolo, he said, presumably to fight in Somalia. Two suicide bombers who recently struck in Mogadishu were from Isiolo, he claimed, and the businessman said that he knew the boys personally.
¶6. (C//REL TO USA, KEN, GBR//) The businessman said that the first suicide bomber — a friend of XXXXXXXXXXXX — was a 25-year-old man named Tawakhal Ahmed. Ahmed, he claimed, was responsible for the February 22 bombing of the African Union compound in Mogadishu (a blast that killed 11 Burundian peacekeepers and injured 15 others). Ahmed was originally recruited in 2006 to fight in Somalia against the Ethiopian occupying forces after getting involved with a Wahhabi mosque. According to the businessman, Ahmed grew his beard, found religion, came into good money, and disappeared into Somalia to fight the jihad. When he came back, Ahmed reportedly told the businessman how he had travelled to Somalia: the journey started at the Garissa Lodge in Eastleigh, then four to five boys at a time would go on a bus to Doble and onto Kismayo, where they trained in a camp for three weeks. After that, recruits received mobile phones, which is how they subsequently received their orders. When the Islamic Courts Union fell in late 2006, they reassembled in Doble and Ahmed returned to Kenya, but not before his commanders destroyed his (and others’) mobile phones, which had sensitive numbers programmed in them. On Ahmed’s return, the businessman said that he tried to convince Ahmed that Somalia was not his war and that he should stay home. By that time, Ahmed agreed and said that he wanted to get married and start a madrassa (Islamic religious school) in Isiolo. However, a few months ago, the men from Isiolo’s radical mosques returned with some men from Eastleigh to re-recruit Ahmed, the businessman said. The men from Eastleigh gave Ahmed USD 6,000, which Ahmed in turn distributed among his relatives and friends. After a three-day prayer ritual, Ahmed left once again for Somalia, this time to carry out the February 22 suicide bombing.
¶7. (C//REL TO USA, KEN, GBR//) The businessman said that the second local man was named Yusuf Mohammed Warsame, who was 25 or 26 years old and who, like Ahmed, finished secondary school in Isiolo. The businessman said that he did not know when Warsame left for Somalia, but claimed that he was responsible for the May 24 suicide bombing in Mogadishu. (Note: The May 24 blast killed 10 people, including six soldiers, but an al-Shabaab spokesman has claimed that the bomber was a Somali, not a foreign fighter. End Note.)
¶8. (C//REL TO USA, KEN, GBR//) The businessman said that four Isiolo area mosques have been taken over by radical Islamists who are not originally from Isiolo and are being used as underground recruiting centers for al-Shabaab. The mosques are: Masjid Hidaya and the County Council Mosque, both in Isiolo Town; Masjid Noor in Bula Besa; and Masjid Taqwa in Bula Oda. The businessman said that these mosques act as satellites of Eastleigh’s Sixth Street Mosque, which directs recruitment operations. (Note: Isiolo’s most prominent mosque, the Grand Mosque, is run by a moderate imam who has presided over the mosque for years and has resisted the overtures of Wahhabist clerics. The businessman opined that the radicals may be waiting for the imam to pass away before they make their move for the Grand Mosque. End Note.)
¶9. (C//REL TO USA, GBR//) The businessman expressed frustration at what he perceived as a lack of concern or follow-up by Kenyan officials, with whom he has already shared these concerns. (Note: He claimed that he had spoken with Isiolo’s District Commissioner, Isiolo’s Member of Parliament, and representatives of the National Security Intelligence Service to no avail, which is why he approached the Embassy. End Note.) He said that he has been following up on the stories of missing children himself, as he is frequently accosted by family members who tell him that they have not seen their sons. Parents who lose their children mourn in private, and are afraid to speak out about what is happening. One mother, he said, actually travelled to Kismayo, Somalia to look for her missing 12-year-old son and she found him in a training camp. The son reportedly told her to return to Isiolo and leave him there, or else she would be killed by the camp organizers. Concerns from Other Interlocutors
¶10. (C//REL TO USA, KEN, GBR//) While it would be difficult for us to confirm that the two men from Isiolo are indeed the suicide bombers responsible for attacks in Mogadishu, the story of the recruitment process and the disappearance of young men is plausible and matches concerns reported by Kenyan District Child Protection Officers from Nairobi and Garissa to UNICEF’s Kenya office.
¶11. (C//REL TO USA, KEN, GBR//) Comment: If true, the reports about a possible al-Shabaab recruitment network that reaches all the way to Isiolo is disturbing. There are no easy answers to this problem, even if there were Government of Kenya involvement. To date, much of U.S. counter-terror support has focused on helping to secure Kenya’s borders: we are providing assistance to Kenya’s army to help them better react to major security incidents along the porous Kenya-Somali border and we are initiating a program to help the Administration Police and Wildlife Service to provide the first line of security along the border according to their mandate. In the maritime arena, we provide support to the Navy and the Maritime Police Unit to better police Kenya’s territorial waters. We also work with the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority and the Kenya Airports Authority to enhance aviation safety and security throughout the country. Recently, however, USAID began a youth employment/youth inclusion program in Garissa with 1207 funding specifically aimed at reducing the vulnerability to recruitment of young Kenyan Somalis. We hope that it can serve as a model for reaching Kenyan Somalis and youth who are at risk in other areas of Kenya as well. We will continue to follow up on the recruitment issue and explore other ways the United States can be of assistance. End Comment.