News / Africa

Kenyan Youths Urged to Join Al-Shabab Jihadist Campaign

Al-Shabab fighters conduct military exercises in northern Mogadishu, Somalia, October 21, 2010.
Al-Shabab fighters conduct military exercises in northern Mogadishu, Somalia, October 21, 2010.

A new video message posted to a jihadist website calls on Muslim youths in Kenya to join the Somali militant group al-Shabab in its fight against Kenyan forces.  While the message is typical of the group's propaganda, the language is not. 

In a 50-minute video sermon, a man in a camouflage military jacket reads from the Quran and calls on Kenyans to join al-Shabab's jihadist campaign.

He tells anyone who will watch that Kenya has declared war against a Muslim nation in Somalia.  He adds they have sought help from Israel, and that there is no doubt jihad should now be waged inside Kenya.

What is striking about the message is that the man, identified as Ahmed Iman Ali, speaks in Swahili, not in Somali, as is typical of the group.

A report released in July from the United Nations monitoring group for Somalia and Eritrea identifies Ali as the head of the Muslim Youth Center, an organization in Nairobi that recruits and trains impoverished youths to join al-Shabab.

The report says he has been based in Somalia since 2009, and at the time of publication was said to command a force of between 200 and 500 fighters, most of them Kenyan.

Somali analyst Abdi Samad, of Nairobi-based Southlink Consultants, says Ali represents a relatively new strategy that the al-Qaida-linked militant group has taken.

“That's a clear indication of how al-Shabab is going to penetrate inside East Africa," said the analyst.  "And, in fact, they are getting recruitment from Tanzania, Kenya and as well as Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda.  So, basically, now they have friends inside the East Africa community as a whole.”

Kenyan authorities are aware of the threat posed by al-Shabab sympathizers within the country.  In October, a non-Somali Kenyan man was sentenced to life in prison after confessing to carrying out two grenade attacks in Nairobi that killed one person and injured 20 people.

The grenade attacks came shortly after the Kenyan military launched a major operation in Somalia targeting al-Shabab, which Kenya blames for a series of cross-border attacks and kidnappings.

African Union forces operating in Somalia have also joined the operation, as have soldiers from Ethiopia.

But while al-Shabab may be under pressure inside Somalia, Abdi Samad says the Swahili message is an ominous sign of the group's influence outside the country.

“Three years ago, four years ago we didn't have a Swahili preacher who can easily reach out to the population.  Now we have it.  What will we expect tomorrow?  Tomorrow we are expecting the worst. That's how things are,” said Samad.

Al-Shabab has always sought to recruit foreign fighters, including British and American citizens.

On Monday, the United States charged a former U.S. Army major for trying to join the militant group.  He was arrested by Kenyan police in December on his way to the border with Somalia.

Al-Shabab launched its first major operation outside Somalia in July 2010, when suicide bombers struck two nightclubs in Uganda, killing 79 people and wounding many others.

Top U.S. military officials have expressed concerns that al-Shabab intends to connect with other al-Qaida-linked militant groups in Africa.   

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