MOMBASA, KENYA— Kenya's anti-terror police have carried out dozens of arrests in the last few weeks, targeting suspects in the coastal city of Mombasa. One man allegedly trained by the Somali militant group al-Shabab is ready to testify in court against an accused recruiter.
On October 10, police raided the house of Swaleh Abdallah Said in Mombasa, Kenya's second largest city. According to the police, they found a grenade at his place. Said was arraigned in court the following day.
Fifty-one-year-old Jeronimo Lokolonyei Lorinyok, also known as Maalim Yusuf, is a Muslim convert and a preacher.
Yusuf said that Said, using a different name, recruited him and eight other Muslim converts for al-Shabab in 2004, in the coastal town of Lamu. “One man approached us and introduced himself and told us to go with him and preach in Somalia," he said. "The man's name was Issa Ahmed Said. Then nine of us left for Somalia. He took us for religious purpose and to preach peace. When we got there it wasn’t about religion and peace.”
U.N. reports have put the number of Kenyan youths recruited for al-Shabab at more than 500.
According to Yusuf, Said had a lot of money. Yusuf said he and the other converts initially thought Said was a good Muslim, but changed their mind when Said told them that there is nothing to preach, there is only jihad, and they have would have to fight for Islamist terror cells in Somalia.
Kenya security forces have charged Said with possession of weapons - a charge he denies. His wife, speaking to local media, said she didn't know the kind of work her husband was doing, but denied he is a terrorist or involved in terror activities.
Police have asked for more time to continue their investigation.
One human rights activist, who visited Said in jail and also his family, told VOA the suspect had multiple identification documents, with different names from different countries.
Yusuf said the suspect has a Kenyan national identification card and a Tanzanian passport.
He also alleges Said is an al-Shabab member who ranks high in the group when it comes to terror activities.
“He knows very well [about the group]; he is the one who taught me how to use G3 [rifle]. They told us there was no government [in Somalia] and everyone should have a gun. We went to a camp and we took guns, we even know how to use and throw grenades. We were also told and taught to hate non-Muslims,” said Yusuf.
The Muslim preacher said four of his colleagues died in Somalia. He said Said killed one during a disagreement, and killed three others - one by beheading - when they asked for their pay.
After 28 days in Somalia, Yusuf and the other four recruits decided to run away. It took them days to get back to the Kenyan border.
Sheikh Juma Ngao, the chairman of Kenya’s Muslim National Advisory Council, said al-Shabab is taking advantage of the poverty and lack of proper education in Kenya to recruit youths.
“My request to the Kenyan government they should create job opportunities to the youths. If our youths shall get employed I think the number of youths who are interested to go to Somalia shall go down,” said Ngao.
Yusuf said he is ready to help the police with their investigation and to get justice for his colleagues.
Because he fears reprisals from al-Shabab and their sympathizers, Yusuf is in hiding and lives with a Christian family, where for now, he feels safe.