NAIROBI: At least 40families in Isiolo County have reported their children missing over the last one year, with fears they could have gone to Somalia to join the Al-Shabaab terrorist group.
They are jobless youths aged 18to 22years and considering they are from one county alone, it raises concerns about the extent of Al-Shabaab’s recruitment of young Kenyans.
The reports come on the back of revelations that one of the gunmen who participated in the slaughter of147 at Garissa University College disappeared two years ago only to reappear last Thursday to lead the murderous rampage.
Atleast40parents have reported to police in Isiolo about the disappearance of their children in the last one year.
More worrying are reports that of those missing, at least 30 are students at a local secondary school said to have failed to return last year.
And the figure of the youths reported missing could be much higher, according to authorities.
Monday, some leaders from Mandera, Garissa and Wajir vowed to identify, document and expose members, financiers and sympathisers of Al-Shabaab in their counties and hand the list to the Government for action within a month.
“We will within a week mobilise our constituents, and working with national and county governments, compile and submit details of suspects with Government agencies validating the information to guard against any victimisation,” the leaders said in a statement read out to journalists at the Boma Hotel, by National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale (see other story).
Isiolo County Police Commander Nelson Okionga Monday said “many” Muslim parents had reported disappearance of male youths in the last two years.
Mr Okionga added that his office had compiled the list, which he promised to provide to the media today.
“The compiled list (of those reported missing) is with the District Criminal Investigations Officer (DCIO). Today is a holiday and you can get it tomorrow,” Okionga told The Standard.
And four parents who spoke to The Standard Monday on condition of anonymity due to sensitivity of the matter said their children went missing early last year.
At an estate in Isiolo town, three friends disappeared on the same day early last year and they are yet to communicate with their parents. They cannot be reached on phone.
Aged between 18 and 22 years, they had been unemployed since completing their Standard Eight education.
“My brother is away but we have not heard from the lad for about 15 months. We do not know his whereabouts or if he is dead. The matter has been reported to the police and we have the OB (Occurrence Book) number,” said a relative who asked not to be identified.
One parent works in the private sector, the other is a public officer and the third is unemployed.
The fourth, a taxi driver, said his son, 24, who was a Standard Eight leaver and jobless, disappeared in December 2013.
”He used to disappear for a day or spend the night with his friends, but I got alarmed after he failed to come home for three consecutive days,” said the driver.
He continued: ”I have reported the matter to the olice and I have no idea where he is. I cannot afford to advertise his disappearance anywhere.”
At a leading secondary school in the county, reports indicate that at least 30 students have not reported back to school since 2014.
The principal of the school admitted some had not reported, but said the number was lower and that no student disappeared while in school.
“The students did not report back to school after going for holidays. Their parents are best placed to know their whereabouts and the reason why they have not reported,” he said.
Three parents whose children were studying at the school are among those who reported their disappearance to the police.
A security intelligence source in Isiolo, however, said that one of the students is believed to have travelled to Somalia to join Al-Shabaab after his last phone conversation, was traced to Mandera at noon on January 29.
“He is a youth from Isiolo and the phone was traced to Soko in Mandera, which is just next to Somalia’s Bulahawa town. That one (the student) must have gone to join Al-Shabaab,” said the source.
An officer said most of the students reported missing from the school dropped out because of school fees or family issues.
“Officially, we have now a record of one student who is reported missing from that school,” said the source.
The region is favoured by Al-Shabaab recruiters. Sometime in 2011, a young, female primary school teacher from Marsabit had embarked on recruiting youth in Marsabit to join the Al-Shabaab militia group.
She was trained at Garissa Teachers College, now Garissa University College, where Al-Shabaab killed 148 people, mainly students, last Thursday.
By December the same year, the teacher from Badasa Primary School in Marsabit Central District identified as Habiba Adan, alias Kabale, had taken three women and five men to Somalia to join Al-Shabaab.
The Marsabit Central District Security Committee came to know of her activities in the first week of January 2012. Intelligence sources in Marsabit confirmed that Habiba had earlier travelled to southern Somalia before she came back to recruit the youth from her county.
The source said the teacher recruited her younger sister, a Form Four leaver, and two of her friends — one a student who was set to do her Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education at an academy in Gilgil and the other a Form Three student from a school in Meru.
“The girls travelled through Isiolo, Meru and Maua and joined the teacher in Mandera. They later travelled to Somalia together,” said the source.
Marsabit Central Deputy County Commissioner Kipchumba Rutto had in an earlier interview confirmed the development.
Monday, Mr Rutto said the teacher and the girls are believed to still be in Somalia but the security committee is alert to ensure that they do not recruit more youths for Al-Shabaab.
In 2012, the local intelligence tracked the woman’s movements using her mobile phone that showed she travelled to Isiolo, Mandera and later southern Somalia.
In their investigation, the intelligence officers also intercepted a letter that among others things showed that five young men from Mountain Division in Central Marsabit had travelled to Somalia to join the militia group.
Rutto said the young men were all former students of Marsabit Boys’ Secondary School. According to the intercepted documents, the young men go by the name; ‘The five lion cubs from the Mountain’. The letter was allegedly authored in October, 2011 by a man called Hassan Sora.
Monday, intelligence sources said Sora is serving a 10-year jail term in Ogaden in Ethiopia after he was arrested entering Ethiopia from Somalia. They believe Sora was heading to Marsabit on a recruitment mission.
In Habiba’s house, police found Al-Shabaab documents with coded messages for would be followers. One had a headline reading; ‘Short-cut to Paradise Promised’.