NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 7 – It has become evident that terrorist organisations in the world have changed tact and are now interested with ‘A’ students in their recruitment drive, even as the war on terror becomes sophisticated.
Several incidents confirm that terror groups – the Al Shabaab militia included – have been using university students to plan and execute their atrocities, against people who don’t subscribe to their ideologies.
It is a fact police, lecturers and security experts admit, which they caution that it can easily get out of hand if not adequately addressed.
The terrorists’ narrative, according to security experts, becomes appealing to the students who are enticed into graduating to a better life, a lie they come to know of, sometime when it’s too late.
– Case studies –
On February 18, anti-terrorism police arrested a University of Nairobi student while on his way to Libya, to join the IS terror network.
The first year biochemistry student had used his school fees to buy an air ticket to the North African country after he was lured by a terrorist organisation and told his starting salary would be $2,000 (Sh200,000).
The student was to be employed as a phlebotomist and would have had a pay rise of $10,000 (Sh1 million) after sometime.
On April 5, 2015, the world came to yet another shocking reality, after it emerged that among one of the four slain Garissa University College terrorists, Abdirahim Abdullahi was a lawyer by profession.
The slain terrorist is one of the four men who stormed the university and participated in the execution of 148 people, mainly students before three of them were shot dead by police.
The fourth blew himself up.
Investigators traced records to a secondary school he studied at known as WAMY High School and established that he obtained an A- when he sat for his Kenya Certificate of Secondary School Examinations exam in 2007.
Still in 2015, two Kenyan ladies went missing and reportedly joined IS in Syria.
Childhood friends Salwa Abdalla and Twafiqa Dahir in their 20s disappeared from Nairobi’s south C area.
One of them had already joined university while the other one was to join at a later stage. They were all described as calm.
All those are cases of brilliant brains being brainwashed into joining terror organisations.
– Terror groups tool of recruitment –
Youth’s Internet usage thrives on the ability to be involved with online content and communicate their opinions with the creators as well as with each other.
Terror groups are increasingly using the platform in a bid to indoctrinate youth with radical messages.
Although the full extent of their success cannot yet be measured, the Internet increasingly risks becoming a tool for recruitment and radicalization of young people according to security experts.
– Security and education stakeholders view –
Capital FM News went out on a mission to identify contributing factors to the worrying trend in the country and the Globe.
Simiyu Werunga, a security expert based in Nairobi says just like say a corporate organisation, terror groups want “smart brains.”
“They are targeting ‘A’ students because they are quick to disseminate what they want to hear and because they are ‘leaders’ in their classes,” he pointed out.
“It means they can easily influence other students.”
Terror groups, Werunga says want people “who grasps issues quickly so that they utilise them. They also want them to provide leadership in what they are looking for. Terrorism is a trending issue.”
It is a problem that needs an all round approach from security apparatus, teachers and parents, since most recruiting of students happens on social media platforms according to Werunga.
Education Cabinet Fred Matiang’i, who is aware of the new trend, has urged schools, colleges and universities to set up intelligence units to support the government in preventing radicalisation among students.
“Security or insecurity thereof is one of the crises of globalization and digitalization,” the CS says.
He says the continued uptake of technology, which is more at institutions of higher learning, has created a fertile ground for the recruitment of students into terror organisations.
Education is an ‘ingredient’ being used by terrorists to advance their evil agenda, is the same tool that will help in getting rid of the menace, Matiang’i says.
“Education will address the things that propel insecurity such as poverty, inequality, insecurity and radicalisation,” he says. “Education determines a country’s cohesion as it is seen as an impetus to equality, by providing opportunities for all.”
The government has since formed an Inter-University Safety and Security Committee, which will ensure students, staff and employers are safe.
The committee is tasked to among other detect new security threats in schools and measures to prevent radicalisation.
Part of the wider plan according to the CS is to integrate security studies into the curriculum; a move he says will “empower the mind of a student. Red flags should be detected early to ensure it is under control.”
“In Garissa University College attack, we sadly learnt that one of our brilliant law students was at the centre of planning the attack. This shows that radicalisation is not only for uneducated and poorly educated, but even the brilliant academics students are gullible to radical ideas and hence, mindset education.”
With the change of tact, Matiang’i says security is no longer a military function, “but it is closely linked with human capital which is only as strong as the country education system.”
Already, KCA University has since launched a Centre for Security Studies and Diplomacy, that will offer disciplines in counter terrorism, law enforcement, guard force management and diplomacy among others.
“The courses will match international standards and target security trends like terrorism. Other white collar crimes like cyber-crime will also be addressed,” the Education CS says.
Similar centres are set to be launched in all institutions of higher learning, in a bid to ‘arm’ a student mentally, against enticement of terror groups.
Education stakeholders are advised to work with student bodies, in creating awareness to students who maybe prone to joining terror groups.
“Students have all the time to access social media sites, some of which may influence them into joining these groups,” Prof Ddembe Williams, the Dean of the Faculty of Computing and Information Management and Director of Systems Modelling and Data Analytics Research Lab (D-Lab) at KCA University says.
He says the students must be assured of a better future after studies, since unemployment is also a major factor contributing to insecurity.
Kenya is also set to adopt new laws that will curb Cybercrimes in the country, a move that may also protect all the soft targets of terror organisations.
The Computer and Cybercrimes Bill 2016 is in its final stage and if enacted to law, will ensure crimes committed against say Kenyans or a local institution by an outsider are brought to book under a well stipulated international co-operation procedure.
It means Kenya will be in a position to obtain cross-border computer and cyber crime assistance in areas of evidence collection and expeditious preservation and collection of data.