‘He was brainwashed’: younger males disappear from Zanzibar. Are the extremists accountable?

Not less than 20 males have disappeared from the island since August. However a cover-up tradition round terrorism signifies that households have been left guessing about their destiny

At 10:00 a.m. on 16 August, Zanzibar police obtained a lacking particular person’s report of a person who had left his dwelling on the island for an “unknown destination”. It was the primary of seven experiences police would obtain that month about males aged between 19 and 36 who had mysteriously disappeared from the Tanzanian archipelago.

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Their households have been left to piece collectively the occasions that will have led to the sudden and inexplicable departure of their kin. Widespread patterns across the disappearances have emerged. Earlier than they left, that they had all change into lonelier, extra hardline of their non secular beliefs, involved about rising “moral turpitude” on the island and eager on the teachings of Aboud Rogo Mohammed, a radical Islamist cleric from Kenya. Rogo, who was killed in 2012, had nice affect throughout East Africa and had been linked by the UN to the Somali militant group al-Shabaab.

A number of the households now consider the boys left to hitch jihadist teams. One of many households has a letter they consider is from their 19-year-old son explaining that he had gone to “fight for the faith”.

newsnsideSabrina Khamis, 32, a henna artist from Michenzani in Zanzibar, says her husband, Sultan Mussa Sadiq, 36, disappeared when she was six months pregnant.

Khamis says her husband’s habits started to alter in April, throughout Ramadan. Sadiq, who had beforehand been observant however not a working towards Muslim, obtained into Rogo’s teachings. Earlier than, he had been joyful for the youngsters to observe cartoons on tv, however now he needed the household to pay attention virtually solely to Rogo’s teachings. Khamis says her husband, not one to journey, out of the blue knowledgeable her sooner or later in July that he would quickly be going to Dar es Salaam on enterprise. Aside from a name to say he had arrived, she has not seen or heard from her husband since.

In late August, following strain from households to analyze the disappearances, Zanzibar’s police commissioner, Hamad Khamis Hamad, stated: “I don’t want to completely rule out the possibility that some have gone to join terrorist groups but we can only establish that with evidence, otherwise are all assumptions.”

In the same month, President Samia Suluhu called on the police force to increase security efforts in Zanzibar, saying they were “weak”, that the island was “insecure” and that its borders were “porous”.

Khamis says her husband’s disappearance came as a shock. They were on good terms and doing well financially. She would later give birth to a boy, something the couple had been hoping for for years. Khamis believes her husband was radicalized.

“I ponder daily if he was in his proper thoughts,” she says as her children huddle around her on the living room floor. Even in the worst of times, she never thought her husband would consider leaving her or their children. Khamis cries as she speaks. “I believed him when he stated he would come again,” she says.

In September, the police interrogated two suspects in the disappearances. The commissioner revealed that in their initial investigations police had found documents used in “terrorist coaching”. The documents, he said, were aimed at encouraging young people to join extremist groups. However, he added that it was not clear whether the documents were “getting used on the island”, or by whom or how many people had received the training.

Zanzibar police authorities did not respond to the Guardian’s request for comment.

Although seven disappearances have been officially reported to the police, the actual number of missing men is believed to be higher. Investigations by local media identified 15 men who had disappeared suddenly this year and the Guardian has confirmed that a further five men went missing in October.

Tanzania faces fewer direct terrorist threats than its East African neighbors, such as Kenya and Mozambique. The country does not border Somalia, where al-Shabaab is based, and does not contribute troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which supports the Somali government’s counter-terrorism operations against the militant group. Yet its proximity to these countries puts it at risk. In 2020, Islamic State insurgents from Mozambique launched two terrorist attacks against Tanzania, with some reports suggesting the group constitutes “the biggest [terror] risk to Tanzania”.

Nonetheless, the complete extent of the risk just isn’t totally recognized as a result of a cover-up tradition within the nation. Violent extremism stays underneath the radar in Tanzania, obscured from the general public by a reluctance by the federal government and safety forces to acknowledge terrorist assaults once they happen, in addition to a degree of censorship of the media and civil society.

In accordance with Lillian Dang, a justice and safety skilled who has labored on violent extremism in Tanzania, communities are sometimes reluctant to acknowledge the chance of extremism of their instant areas. “There is some concern about police security measures against violent extremism, and a general lack of trust between community members and the police,” she says.

Many of the lacking males lived within the Vikokotoni and Mtendeni areas of Zanzibar, that are recognized for his or her political activism. Native media experiences that recruiters are energetic within the Darajani market in Stone City.

A number of the males’s households declined interviews for concern of reprisals in opposition to them or the lacking relative.

Maulidi Mohammed Yusuf’s nephew, Suleiman Mohamed, was one among 5 younger males who disappeared from Mtendeni in October. Yusuf says that inside weeks, Mohamed went from being a fun-loving 25-year-old who would play soccer in his spare time to a withdrawn and solitary determine, selecting to hope alone, expressing concern concerning the island’s morals and making feedback. about combating for the religion. She says that within the days earlier than he left, he would repeatedly inform her, “If I die, I’ll see you in heaven.”

“I think he was brainwashed,” says Yusuf, who nonetheless finds it arduous to consider he would go away the way in which he did. She says one of many moms of the opposite lacking males “rarely leaves the house and has really isolated herself since the boys left”.

Beatus Mentioned Silla, head of planning and analysis on the Tanzanian police drive, says recruiters use non secular or political ideology and monetary incentives to attract younger males into extremist teams. Poverty, unemployment and lack of training are breeding grounds for radicalization and violent extremism within the nation, he says, including that recruiters goal individuals who “feel undermined by the system”.

– That is when they’re most weak, says Silla. “They are motivated by finding a way to survive.”

Silla insists that Tanzania’s group police are serving to to detect incidents of violent extremism early, via neighborhood watch packages, the place intelligence gatherers are built-in into communities.

However Dang says this method might be ineffective as a result of authorities put an excessive amount of concentrate on gathering data quite than constructing dialogue between the group and the police.

Households say they’ve obtained no updates on the standing of their kin and aren’t optimistic police will do rather more. Some are distraught to not see their kin once more. Others stay in hope. “I think Sadiq will come back one day,” says Khamis. “I will wait.”

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