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 coast region say fewer youth are crossing to Somalia to fight for the group in a sign that counterterrorism measures are working.
Kenyan counterterrorism officials are in the county of Mombasa this week to help sensitize the community against violent extremism and to assist former al-Shabab fighters.
Their efforts are targeting six counties directly affected by the terror group’s activities along the Kenya-Somalia border.
Canon Harun Rashid, chief officer in charge of preventing violent extremism at Kenya’s National Counter Terrorism Center, said the center is processing more than 300 former al-Shabab fighters who are seeking to re-enter society.
Understanding the crimes
"It's not just a blanket returning program," Rashid said. "All these individuals who are coming in, there is a process of filtering them and understanding the kind of crime they have committed, and the legal system is also waiting to see prosecutable areas once these returnees are put into such a program. Then there is the sensitization part of it, the deradicalization part of it."
For more than a decade, the militant group has used local and historical grievances to get Kenyan young people to join its violent activities.
A few thousand Kenyan youths are still fighting alongside al-Shabab in Somalia, but increased security operations and awareness campaigns inside Somalia and Kenya’s northeast and coastal areas have reduced youth recruitment.
Rashid said the counterterrorism programs now target security officers who are involved in fighting terrorism, so they can understand the process of radicalization.
The security officers need "to understand the radical drivers, to understand the legitimacy behind the radicals calling for their agenda," Rashid said.
Nairobi-based security analyst Richard Tuta said Kenyans who joined al-Shabab could return to Kenya if the government accepted them.
Some sought income
“Remember, some of these young people did not go there because they were radicalized," he said. "They went there because of other factors — like, for instance, to get a source of income, because one of the ways used to induce them to cross over is because they are promised even to be paid in dollars. So when the government gives them an amnesty, it makes it easier for them to make a comeback.”
Munira Hamisi, head of youth affairs and community empowerment in the county of Mombasa, said her county was ready to provide economic opportunities to more than 100 youths who return from Somalia.
“As a department, we have a Mombasa County revolving fund that has an economic stimulus package for our young people, where youth-led business licenses have been waived," she said. "We also have a revolving fund where we are giving out soft loans to businesses that are owned by young people and women.”
The counterterrorism center campaign plans to expand and target 12 counties in all in the hope of encouraging more Kenyan youths to forsake terrorism.