Kenya confronts evolving challenges in the battle against radicalization
By Kamau Muthoni
Sunday August 20, 2023
Photographs of individuals suspected to be members of the Al-Shabaab terrorist group have been released by the US government, which announced a reward for anyone providing information leading to their arrest. The announcement was made by US officials in Nairobi and Somalia on November 14, 2022. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]
The proximity of Kenya to Somalia and the previous involvement of the Kenya Defence Forces in Operation Linda Nchi (Protect the Country) in 2011 are cited as contributing factors to the attacks from Al-Shabaab in Kenya.
Over time, the 681-kilometre border between Kenya and Somalia has been exploited by recruits to infiltrate Kenya, a country that has experienced three decades of war in Somalia.
The coastal regions, parts of Nairobi, and the northern frontier district have been identified as hotspots for recruitment.
However, a new trend is emerging as more individuals from East Africa seek to export their involvement in jihadism not only to Al-Shabaab but also to the Islamic State (ISIS) or Daesh, which has affiliated terror groups in Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Mozambique.
Tanzania is now attracting attention as a safe haven for jihadists, as recent arrests have indicated.
One of the arrested individuals, Zuena Machabe, age 34, has been accused of being a key player in the recruitment and facilitation of individuals to Somalia. She was apprehended in Tuduma, a town near the Tanzania-Zambia border, while attempting to cross into Zambia illegally along with her three children.
According to authorities, Machabe was radicalised during her employment as a banker in Kenya. In 2021, she recruited her husband, Ibrahim Ramadhan, and facilitated his travel to Somalia. When questioned about his whereabouts after his departure, she attempted to deceive authorities by recording a video falsely claiming that Ramadhan had been taken by the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU) as a tactic to mislead investigators.
Machabe then planned to cross over to Somalia with her three children and consequently resigned from her banking job. She evaded authorities and instead fled to Tanzania, where she continued her involvement in terrorism-related activities.
Authorities have compared Machabe to Samantha Lewthwaite, also known as the “White Widow,” and noted that her financial knowledge made her an attractive asset to terrorists.
While in Tanzania, Machabe associated with other suspected terrorists, including Ali Omar Bwanaadi, who fled Kenya in 2019 after authorities began searching for him in connection with the murder of a chief in Lamu. Subsequently, Ali’s two brothers, Ayub Bwanaadi and Mohammed Bwanaadi, as well as their friend Kassim Ahmed, joined him in Tanzania.
Ayub, Mohammed, and Kassim were all apprehended by police on April 7 while onboard a bus headed to Moyale in Isiolo County.
This arrest is believed to have triggered Machabe’s decision to find a way out of Tanzania.
The three men are implicated in the murders of a police officer in Lamu, as well as a chief and a sub-chief. They have been charged with three counts of murder and membership in a terrorist organization.
During the investigation, they disclosed that they had been facilitated by ISIS to travel from Tanzania to Ethiopia, where they planned to obtain new identification documents for easier entry into Puntland, Somalia, to join other fighters.
They arrived at the Kenya-Tanzania border using motorcycles before boarding a bus in Lungalunga, which was heading to Mombasa. In Mombasa, they were met by Abdullahi Lali Shosi in Mwembe Tayari, who then transported them in a waiting vehicle to Nairobi.
Upon arrival in the capital, they were received by an individual who is currently sought by the police, and were subsequently housed in Eastleigh estate for several days.
During their stay, they received training in counterintelligence and personal security. They were also provided with new SIM cards to avoid detection by authorities.
The individual had arranged their travel to Ethiopia, where they were to meet another ISIS handler who would assist them in obtaining new identity documents before proceeding to Puntland. However, their plans were foiled when they were intercepted and arrested.
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Police assert that Shosi is a key contact for ISIS in the country and plays a significant role in coordinating their activities. After Kassim and the Bwanaadi brothers were arrested in Isiolo, Shosi attempted to bribe the arresting officers with 50,000 Kenyan Shillings, which he had promised to transfer via mobile money in exchange for their release.
Shosi has since been charged with membership in a terrorist group, possession of terrorist material, and collecting information.
Court proceedings revealed that on January 9, 2014, Kassim and the two brothers were arrested while attempting to leave Kenya for Somalia.
Kassim was arrested again in 2016, along with Ali Omar Bwanaadi, as they attempted to cross the Kenya-Uganda border on their way to Libya to join ISIS.
Tanzanian authorities also arrested Shida Jacob Msanzu on April 3, who was later handed over to the ATPU on April 10. Investigators discovered that Msanzu was attempting to cross over to Uganda with the intention of traveling to the Democratic Republic of Congo to join ISIS.
Authorities argue that Uganda serves as a convenient crossing point, given that the border between Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo runs through Lake Tanganyika.
Msanzu had initially crossed over to Tanzania on December 29, 2022, after being released in Malindi due to insufficient evidence on December 16 of the same year.
Msanzu had faced charges of radicalisation, possession of items related to terrorism, gathering information for Al-Shabaab, and membership in a terrorist group.
Another Kenyan, Abdirazak Muktar Garad, was apprehended in Congo in January 2023. He stands accused of orchestrating an attack on a church in North Kivu near the Uganda border, resulting in the death of 10 individuals and injuring at least 39 others. Garad, a 29-year-old from Wajir County, is a member of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a terrorist group operating from Uganda that has pledged allegiance to ISIS.
His arrest comes a year after the capture of Salim Rashid Mohamed, also known as Chotara, in Congo in January 2022. Mohamed was fighting for the ADF, which also operates in Congo.
Citizens apprehended Mohamed and handed him over to authorities after a video surfaced of him butchering a Congolese soldier.
Mohamed faces criminal charges in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Kenyan authorities are expected to pursue his extradition after he completes his sentence. It is believed that he fled the country for Congo via the border with Uganda in mid-2019 after being released on a bond of 1.5 million Kenyan Shillings in a case related to possessing terrorist materials.
Before his arrest, investigators familiar with the case claim that he spent a brief period in Mozambique, fighting for ISIS.
In early 2017, Mohamed was detained in Turkey while attempting to cross into Syria. At the time, he was a student at Istanbul Kultur University. He was subsequently deported, and a red alert was issued against him by Turkey.
Within a span of three weeks in July, Kenyan authorities arrested eleven individuals who were heading to Somalia to join ISIS. On July 12, police apprehended two Tanzanians, Sadam Jafari Kitia, 30, and Abdirahman Shaffi Mkwatili, 25, in Moyale, Marsabit County, after they had lost their way to Somalia.
According to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI), the two individuals were found in possession of a notebook containing Swahili notes, which they were using as a guide to Somalia.
Their arrest occurred after Abdul Saif Salimu, Zuberi Ngare Mtondoo, and Seif Abdalla Juma, also from Tanzania, were arrested in Garissa after losing their way to Somalia.
On July 21, police reservists in Garissa County arrested six foreigners who were attempting to find their way to Somalia after receiving a tip-off from members of the public.
During interrogations, the six suspects admitted that they were en route to joining Al-Shabaab after being recruited and facilitated by intermediaries in Uganda and Tanzania.
Five of the suspects are Tanzanians: Muhamed Jahad Farah, Saad Suleiman Saleh, Nadrik Mbwana Salum, Abdul Kadir Salum Seif, and Ali Issa Ali. The sixth suspect, Hassan Tourabih Kintosa, is from Uganda.