With Recruitment Faltering, al-Shabaab Casts Wider Net
Tanzanians Abdirahman Shaffi Mkwatili and Sadam Jafari Kitia were lost in northern Kenya, hundreds of kilometers off course when security agents arrested them on July 12.
They had nearly reached the country’s border, but it was the wrong one. They were in the city of Moyale, which straddles Kenya’s border with Ethiopia.
Their goal was to cross into Somalia and continue trekking to Jilib, a city well known as the headquarters of al-Shabaab. They were to be the newest additions, part of the terror group’s efforts to recruit beyond Somalia and Kenya.
“They lost their direction to Somalia,” police said in a July 14 statement. “They were using a notebook scribbled in Swahili to guide their movement from Tanzania to Jilib.”
It was the third arrest of foreign recruits in a month.
Two weeks prior, officials arrested three Tanzanians in similar fashion on their way to join al-Shabaab.
“Members of the public reported their presence at Karakora area within Garissa county, where they were stranded after getting lost,” police said.
Both groups of recruits had handlers in Tanzania who provided them with travel arrangements and told them to avoid using telecommunications or asking people about the route to avoid raising suspicion.
Officials arrested a Ugandan recruit in Liboi, Kenya, a mere 12 kilometers from the border with Somalia. In all three cases, security agencies credited the community with sharing critical information.
Security officials in Kenya say they’ve seen a decrease in the number of Kenyans joining al-Shabaab, which has forced the group to recruit in neighboring countries.
“We think they are now targeting Tanzanians, Ugandans and others,” a senior security official told Kenyan newspaper The Star. “Kenyans are avoiding joining them and those who do come back say things are thick there.”
Kenya has long been fertile ground for al-Shabaab recruiting, but recently many who were lured to Somalia realized they were being duped with promises of glory, money and family support.
In a propaganda video released in late June, al-Shabaab spokesman Ali Dhere invited individuals who have experienced grievances and injustices to join their ranks.
The video showed a large gathering of newly trained insurgents — who are allegedly from Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania — attending a graduation ceremony in Somalia.
Experts say al-Shabaab’s expanded recruiting territory is both a sign of its frustration in Kenya and a significant risk to East African nations that could be drawn deeper into the fight.
“The ongoing war against terrorism by the security agencies continues to frustrate the recruitment and facilitation of recruits destined to Somalia to join al-Shabaab,” the Kenyan police report said.