Ahmed (32) joined the islamic terrorist movement al-Shabaab in neighboring Somalia two years ago. His sister Halima has not heard from him since. “Fortunately,” she says in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa. “Al-Shabaab will only make contact if your family member has arrived in heaven.”
Ahmed is one of the hundreds of young people in Kenya who have become radicalized in recent years. Most come from Mombasa, or from the slums of Nairobi. “Al-Shabaab recruits them to carry out terrorist attacks in Somalia and increasingly in Kenya itself,” says social worker Phyllis Muema. Muema, who heads Kecosce, a group in Mombasa trying to dissuade youngsters from their radical ideas, calls it “an explosive situation.”
Mombasa has become a hotbed of extremism. About a quarter of the Kenyan population is Muslim. Most live at the coast and in the northeast of the country, in the region bordering Somalia. When the first major terrorist attack took place in Kenya – in 1998 by Al-Qaeda on the US Embassy in Nairobi – the perpetrators were merely foreigners. Now Kenya is faced with home-grown Muslim extremism. President Kenyatta labelled this terror recently as “a threat to the survival of the nation”.