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Alex Hitchens on al-Shabaab in Kenya

Have a read of Alex’s excellent piece in Foreign Affairs:

Hassan underwent three months of indoctrination in another nearby jihadist mosque in Majengo before traveling blindfolded by car to Somalia with a group of friends. He recalls hearing the driver negotiating with suspicious Kenyan border guards, who eventually accepted a 50,000-shilling bribe ($590) to wave them through. Once in Somalia, Hassan was quickly put to work raiding local villages. He was forced to maim, kill, and steal, helping both to fund al Shabaab and establish it as a force with which to be reckoned.

“We used to have to wake up very early in the morning and come back very late,” Hassan recounted. “It was horrible, and what they preached was not what they did.” He angrily recalled how he was misled: “They told us they were fighting for our [Muslim] brotherhood, but what they are doing there is killing Muslims, especially if anyone went against their orders.” As Hassan described the tragic fate of one of his good friends, the depth of his trauma was revealed. “My friend refused orders to rape a villager, and he was slaughtered right in front of me,” he explained, his voice beginning to break. “I was so afraid that they would soon do the same to me if I made any mistakes.”

The killing was done on the orders of Ali, who by then had moved to Somalia to take charge of al Shabaab’s Kenyan contingent and whose kindness during his time as a sheikh in Majengo had been one of the factors that convinced Hassan to join in the first place: “He used to give me money for my family. He was a person who never got mad,” Hassan said. He also promised me that if I go to Somalia I will get money to study and for my family.” But the brutal killing of his friend was the final straw, and Hassan escaped with another companion soon after, relying, like many others before him, on the kindness of locals for shelter and transport along the way.