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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Shabaab Recruiting Mercenaries in Grissa

Two hundred kilometres of desert scrubland populated by nomads herding camels and goats lie between Garissa and Kenya’s border with Somalia.

Around the corrugated-iron shelter where women sell milk each morning from yellow plastic drums, conversation focuses on the encroachment of warring militia and the recent victories of al-Shabab, an Islamist group accused of links to al-Qaeda.

Although the Kenyan government has sent troops to guard the border, people in this region fear that the rebel group has already infiltrated Kenya and is recruiting vulnerable youngsters.

As ethnic Somalis, there is nothing to distinguish the insurgents from their Kenyan neighbours.

Hassan Sherie, who runs an organisation helping unemployed youth, believes they have a sophisticated network of operatives with links to some Koranic schools in Garissa.

He does not think their fundamentalist ideology will attract young Kenyans but says they use generous sums of money as bait.

Cash incentive

It was the offer of $600 (£374) a month that persuaded Abdullah (not his real name) to join.

He was in a group of 20 young men recruited in 2008 at a mosque in Garissa.

“We were jobless. That’s what encouraged us to join al-Shabab,” he says.

“We were told we were fighting a holy war, a jihad, and if you kill supporters of the government you will go to heaven.”

He and his friends were taken across the border where Arab trainers taught them how to use AK47s and bazookas.

After two months, they were sent to the southern Somali port of Kismayo and ordered to disarm civilians.

Abdullah says al-Shabab was attacking local Somalis rather than infidels and he was frightened by their brutality.

“They were praying and reading the Koran but doing evil things,” he says.

“I witnessed four men having their hands chopped off and people in captivity were very scared.”

The Rest @ On the Defense

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