Somalia: Amnesty Project Effective Weapon in War on Terror

Somalia Flag
31 August 2020

True to the saying "east, west, home is best", there is a near-stampede of Kenyan jihadists returning home from Al-Shabaab terrorist cells as never witnessed before.

But why is the Somalia-based terrorist group is dogged by such massive defections, especially by foreigners?

All is not rosy in the al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group. The ideological and class disputes between the foreign fighters and their homegrown colleagues are threatening to tear apart Al-Shabaab. Homegrown fighters claim autochthony to harass their foreign colleagues, especially Kenyans.

Within the Al-Shabaab rank and file, foreign fighters are children of a lesser god. They are slaves who are assigned demeaning roles such as being porters, cooks and laundrymen or laundresses.

In rare cases where foreign fighters are deployed to conduct operations, they are assigned dangerous duties. For instance, Kenyans Ali Salim Gichunge and Mahir Khalid Riziki were suicide bombers in the Dusit attack.

Safe return home

Foreign fighters are not trusted, accused of betraying the utopian cause. Cases of foreign fighters being executed for "spying" for the Kenyan and Somali governments are on the rise. Others face trumped-up charges, such as preparing unpalatable meals, with the predetermined punishment of execution or being held incommunicado indefinitely in secret cells in Jilib, Somalia.

Hassan Yussuf and Mohamed Hassan from Marsabit are anong Kenyans executed publicly in Qunyo Barrow town, Lower Shabelle region of Somalia, over "espionage". Others are drugged and then raped or sodomised in turns.

Such horrendous stories are received back in Kenya with shock. Local media have been awash with stories of women crying for their suffering children in Somalia and praying for their safe return home as they curse recruiters like Ramadhan Hamisi Kufungwa for luring their children into terrorism.

Such discrimination, mistreatment and sacrificing have seen influx of Al-Shabaab returnees, although some keep a low profile. Regions traditionally considered to produce the bulk of Al-Shabaab members, such as Coast, Northeastern and Nairobi have recorded the highest number of returnees.

Renounce terrorism

Most of the returnees say they were motivated to renounce terrorism by the highly successful amnesty programme by the government, which, among others, helps to integrate reformed terrorists into society and reduce their vulnerability to crime.

The amnesty complements other counterterrorism measures like the highly successful multi-agency security operations in Boni Forest that have degraded the Al-Shabaab threat in the country.

The programme is certainly bearing fruit as a soft counterterrorism measure. It is now anchored in the National Strategy to Counter Violent Extremism (NSCVE), which obligates the national and county governments to lead in deradicalising, rehabilitating and reintegrating returnees without retribution.

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