How extremist groups are using social media to recruit young, bright urbanites

Ummul-Kheir Sadir Abdulla a Tanzanian citizen, Khadija Abubakar Abdulkadir and Maryam Said Aboud both Kenyans are accused of travelling to Somalia to join the Al-Shabaab terror group.
University students, Ummul-Kheir Sadir Abdulla a Tanzanian citizen, Khadija Abubakar Abdulkadir and Maryam Said Aboud both Kenyans are accused of travelling to Somalia to join the Al-Shabaab terror group.

Two days before the Garissa University College attack that has left 147 families grieving, Kenyan security officers captured three female university students at Elwak town on the Kenya-Somali border as they attempted to sneak to Somalia.

Upon interrogation, the three young ladies said they were to meet a contact person who would facilitate their movement in Somali.

“They were to join the Al Shabaab group to become suicide bombers and jihadists,” said Mombasa County Commissioner, Nelson Marwa.

The girls, two Kenyans and one Tanzanian, were later arraigned in court with terrorism charges. According to court documents, the two Kenyans from Malindi were allegedly recruited to join the Al Shabaab terror group through WhatsApp.

Mwenda Njoka, the Ministry of Interior & Coordination of National Government spokesman, said girls are being recruited to be concubines or “Jihadi Brides.”

Njoka revealed how a group of young girls from Marsabit County disappeared mysteriously only to be established later that they had sneaked to Somalia to become JihadiBrides.

A trend is emerging where extremist groups like ISIS, Boko Haram and Al Shabaab are ‘borrowing’ tactics from each other: From recruitment, intelligence gathering, financing to terror acts.

A crackdown by police on mosques and imams suspected of radicalizing youth in the Kenyan coast has forced the Al Shabaab to change tactics. By using social media networks, the extremists can easily contact teenagers as young as 15 years.

In February, UK’s Metropolitan Police released CCTV footage showing three teenage girls boarding a flight to Turkey, and later at a bus stop waiting for transport to the Turkey-Syria border. That was the last time the three school-mates were seen.


British Police revealed an intricate recruitment process that initially use Twitter as point of contact, and later, private messaging platforms.

Prime Minister David Cameron admits the fight against terror goes beyond police presence and border control.

“It needs every school, every university, every college, every community to recognize they have a role to play, we all have a role to play in stopping people from having their minds poisoned by this appalling death cult,” said Cameron.

The globalization of terror has seen young people from as far as Australia, the US and France join ISIS. CNN estimates that up to 2,000 Westerners have gone to Syria to join ISIS.

Kenyan journalist Yassin Juma said one of the Al Shabaab terrorist who was gunned down in the Garissa attack joined Al Shabaab after his wish to travel to Syria failed to materialize because he couldn’t secure a passport.

“However, Abdirahim’s class mate and best friend at Wamy High School named Mohamed “Atom” managed to fly to Turkey and cross over into Syria to join IS. Atom hails from Rhamu, Mandera,” says Juma.

According to sources, Abdirahim was a University of Nairobi Law graduate who was described as “a young promising lawyer” by people who knew him.

South Africa’s RDM reports how a man – allegedly part of al-shabab – tried to convince young people in to Blikkiesdorp, Cape Town, to join the group in Somalia.

But what would make relatively well-off and bright youth leave the comfort of their homes and join the Islamist extremist groups?

Terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank says the terror group appeals to the sense of purpose, identity and religious duty of the young impressionable minds.

“It’s a message frequently posted by ISIS on social media: ‘You have to join. It’s your religious duty,’” says Cruickshank.

Security analysts say the propaganda churned out by groups on social media and backed by high quality videos could be luring the youth to cross borders to a make-believe utopian society.

In almost all cases, family and friends of the culprits admit they knew the young people had joined an Islamist group, after the fact. And probably this is where security agencies should start in curbing the increasing number of young people joining extremist groups.



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