More than 300 Kenyan youths who had sneaked into Somalia to receive military training under al-Shabaab terror group have been rescued and brought back home.
The government, through a multi-agency team working with the civil society, has over the past six months been bringing back the youths, most of whom are aged below 30 years.
The 300 young people from the Coast region had been lured by the Somalia-based militants to undergo training with a view to using them to stage terror attacks in their own country.
Speaking at Frere town in Mombasa, Canon Harun Rashid from the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) said the government had unconditionally accepted back the youths after they opted out of the terror group.
“The government has profiled and is now guiding them so that they don’t to slide back to terror activities. This has been made possible by engaging several civil society organisations (CSOs), which have initiated reform programmes for the benefit of the returnees,” said Canon Rashid.
Return back home
The CSOs involved in the returnees’ reintegration programme include Mombasa Women of Faith Network, Haki Africa and Kecosce. The groups have been working under the Inter Religious Council of Kenya, alongside others.
Mr Rashid said the initiative had reversed a trend where youths would cross over to Somalia almost daily to join al-Shabaab.
“We are doing quite well. We used to see lots of youths being lured to join terror groups in Somalia and many would the cross border almost every day but of late the number has really gone down, courtesy of this initiative,” he said.
Nyali Deputy County Commissioner Harun Kamau said the government would continue persuading young Kenyans who are still being used by terror groups to come back home and surrender.
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“We shall continue to follow up and bring back as many youths as possible from the terror groupings,” said Mr Kamau.
Returnees who spoke to the Nation on condition of anonymity pleaded with the government to help them start income-generating projects.
“We cannot gather here to celebrate our return, then we end up with no jobs and nothing productive to do. This may force some of us to go back. The government should come up with a plan on how to help us earn something for our families,” said one of the returnees.
Women of Faith Network Mombasa Coordinator Shamsa Fadhili said since the reform programme was initiated, criminal activities in the county had drastically gone down.
“At least we can now breathe a sigh of relief. There are no more gangsters around. They used to terrorise locals in the past. Our job now is to protect the youth since they might be targeted by militant groups after they opted out,” said Ms Shamsa.
Involving local communities in gathering intelligence has enabled Kenya’s National Strategy to Counter Violent Extremism to record major gains in the war on terror.
It has also inspired confidence and led youths who had joined terror groups to willingly surrender to the security agents.