Garissa — The al-Shabaab-affiliated Muslim Youth Centre (MYC) in Kenya is trying to propel itself into relevancy and elevate its status in the region by spreading inaccuracies and false claims, security officials and analysts say.
In a press statement released December 26th titled "Inciting and Inspiring Jihad: MYC in 2012", the group speaks as if it represents all radicals in the region and boasts about its supposed successes.
"As we move closer to the end of an exciting year, MYC in Kenya, Tanzania and Somalia takes this opportunity to remind the Ummah [Muslim community] in East Africa and in particular, the Mujahideen in Kenya of our great triumphs over the Kuffar [non-believers] in 2012," MYC said.
The Nairobi-based group, however, does not have operations in Tanzania or Somalia.
The group alleges to have been responsible for sending "hard-hitting lethal messages...to the Kuffar on a near weekly basis" for 11 months.
"Time and time again, MYC lions and cubs have confronted the Kuffar humiliation both steadfastly and courageously on the battlefield in Kenya and where ordained by Allah, even sacrificed their young lives in defence of our precious religion," MYC said.
MYC claims credit for al-Shabaab actions
Although the UN Monitoring Group on Eritrea and Somalia identified MYC as the recruiting, fundraising and training arm of al-Shabaab in Kenya, speaking as though al-Shabaab leaders and fighters fall under the MYC is a far-fetched claim, analysts said.
MYC alludes to have been in charge of or responsible for various terror attacks that have occurred in Kenya or Somalia throughout 2012, but Kenyan police have not yet linked MYC to any incidents so far, according to retired Kenya Defence Force Major Bashir Hajji Abdullahi.
Abdullahi said the group speaks of al-Shabaab as if the two were one and the same in order to claim credit for the Somali terror group's actions.
Insha'Allah, with the support of our Mujahideen brothers in Somalia, Yemen, Nigeria and now Mali, our crusade as part of AQEA [al-Qaeda in East Africa] will continue to incite more lions and offer further inspiration to the cubs that have defined MYC's 'boom' year in 2012," the MYC statement said.
Kenya's North Eastern Provincial Commissioner James ole Seriani said MYC has no ideology of its own and is only known to be a recruiting arm for al-Shabaab.
During its "year of success", MYC actually failed in its recruiting efforts as many Kenyan youths it had allegedly enlisted for al-Shabaab decided to return home and rebuild normal lives, he said. "While it recruited hundreds of youths to join the war in Somalia, dozens of them dropped out after realising the money they were promised was cut short," Seriani told Sabahi.
MYC lacks leadership, inflates importance
The MYC started as community-based organisation in 2008 and is led by a Kenyan named Ahmad Iman Ali, also known as Abdul Fatah of Kismayo. In January 2012, al-Shabaab elevated Ali to supreme emir in Kenya due to his recruitment efforts for the Somali militants.
Ali's last known whereabouts were in Somalia in 2009, according to the UN report. Yet despite Ali's mission to fight alongside al-Shabaab's foot soldiers in Somalia, there have been no known efforts by al-Shabaab leadership to elevate him within its ranks there.
Other foreign fighters, on the other hand, have been able to achieve an elevated status within al-Shabaab and in some cases even appear at public events with its leadership. These have included Comoros Islands native Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, al-Qaeda's leader in East Africa who was killed in June 2011 at a security checkpoint in Mogadishu, and American-born jihadist Omar Hammami, also known as Abu Mansoor al-Amriki, who joined al-Shabaab in the battlefield.
In the press statement, MYC mentions "the many martyrs that MYC has produced on the battlefield". However, several of the men mentioned -- Sheikh Aboud Rogo, Sheikh Samir Khan, Mohamed Kassim and Amir Musa Osodov -- were not actually MYC leaders or students, but were instead associated with al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab or other groups, Major Abdullahi said.
"Those who have been arrested and prosecuted for [terror] related crimes like Abdimajid Yasin Mohamed, alias Hussein, who was [sentenced to prison] for 59 years, and Elgiva Bwire Oliacha, who was sentenced to life in prison, owed allegiance to al-Shabaab and not MYC," he said.
David Ochami, a journalist in Mombasa who monitors the activities of militant groups in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa, said MYC portrays itself as speaking for all radical movements in the region, yet the group does not have popular or well-known leaders. Therefore, it resorts to social media to issue threats and achieve visibility.
In a photograph posted on MYC's Twitter account December 26th titled "MYC 2012 Hall of Fame", Mohammed and Bwire are among individuals who the group says "defined MYC in 2012".
Simiyu Werunga, a Nairobi-based security consultant, said despite MYC's lack of activity in 2012, its desire for publicity warrants security forces' attention.
"While they have not done anything of note, they should not be dismissed," Werunga told Sabahi. "It is during national events that criminal groups want to be recognised. The political campaigns and the upcoming general elections offer that opportunity for groups like MYC."