The al-Shabaab-affiliated Muslim Youth Centre (MYC) is out to create sectarian violence in Kenya, security officials and analysts say.
The MYC, which is also known as Pumwani Muslim Youth, says Kenya is run by non-believers and has called on the Muslim community to revolt against the state.
In a post on its website on January 14th, the group has vowed to carry out “attacks against Kenya’s kuffars [infidels] for our al-Shabaab brothers until the country withdraws its troops from Somalia”.
In 2011, the United Nations Monitoring Group on Eritrea and Somalia cited MYC for recruiting, fundraising, training and supporting a jihadist movement on behalf of al-Shabaab in Kenya.
The MYC was established in 2008 and is led byAhmad Iman Ali, also known as Abdul Fatah of Kismayo, who has been operating in Somalia since 2009, according to the UN report.
Since its inception, the MYC has developed a strong network of members and sympathisers in Kenya, and Ali commands up to 500 Kenyan fighters, many of whom are children, in Somalia.
“Ali’s success in recruiting fighters and mobilising funds for the cause appear to have earned him steady ascendancy within al-Shabaab,” the UN report said. “The group intends to conduct large-scale attacks in Kenya, and possibly elsewhere in East Africa.”
After initial denials, the group confirmed its association with al-Shabaab.
“Ali’s elevation to become the supreme emir of Kenya for al-Shabaab is recognition from our Somali brothers who have fought tirelessly against the unbelievers on the importance of the Kenyan mujahedeen in Somalia,” the group said on its blog and Twitter account.
Since last year’s UN report, the MYC has been very active trying to garner support for al-Shabaab using a two-prong strategy of publishing threatening messages to spread fear among the public and igniting religious strife in Kenya.
In a July 30th Twitter post, the group said, “The kuffar huffs and puffs but lacks staying power we will visit chaos upon you all”.
In an August 3rd Twitter post, the MYC provided reasoning to its call to violence by publishing “Basic questions on jihad answered”.
One question, “What can I expect when I join jihad?”, MYC said, “For the privileged brothers and sisters who join jihad they are given training in everything from the true meaning of Islam to using RPG, AK-47s and other weapons.”
Another question, “Will I be fighting other Muslims?”, the centre attempts to provide religious cover for attacks on civilians: “Any Muslim who supports the kuffar against his Muslim brother cannot call himself a Muslim.”
In response to “Where should I go to join jihad?”, MYC tells its followers, “If you are in Kenya consider a hijra to Somalia.”
Later that same day, the MYC Twitter feed provides a link to a video produced by deceased al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leader Anwar al-Awlaki, in which it states 44 ways followers can support violent jihad.
Garissa District Commissioner Maalim Mohamud said followers of all faiths must guard against people who want to create religious strife.
“It is a tactic the centre appears to have borrowed from Nigeria’s Boko Haram who have created conflict between Muslims and Christians,” Mohamud told Sabahi. “But civilians have been made aware of the tactics and have been asked not to fall to the bait.”
The group is fomenting religious emotions to draw the Muslim community to their heinous intentions, Mohamud said, citing an MYC Twitter post from July 30th that said, “drones kill innocent Muslims while Mujahedeen slaughter the kuffars”.
The militants know their goals can only be achieved in a state of chaos, and after failing to convince the Muslim community that the war on al-Shabaab is a religious war, they are switching gears to focus on the old divide and conquer strategy, he said.
David Ochami, a Mombasa-based journalist who follows militant groups in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa for Kenya’s The Standard, said the group is trying to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim community by creating perceived oppression.
While attempting to use new technologies and social media to spread its views, the MYC has blasted and censored followers on its Twitter account that have questioned or opposed their tactics.
For instance, when a user rejected an MYC tweet on drones killing innocent Muslims, the group responded with a threat: “You are a traitor and we will get you”.
Security officials at all levels have urged the Muslim community in Kenya to ignore the MYC’s calls for sectarian violence, which would threaten the peace and stability Kenya has achieved among its diverse population.
Acting Internal Security Minister Yusuf Haji told Sabahi that despite the MYC’s attempts, it is clear that the war on al-Shabaab is not based on religion, but rather a war against terrorism and extremist ideologies.
“The activities of MYC are a threat even to the Muslim community because they want to wage sectarian war,” Haji said. “How can they claim that the Kenyan government is run by Christians when we know there are countless Muslims in high positions including me?”
Haji said he will do everything possible to wipe out the terrorists in Kenya.
He said the Muslim community should not be hoodwinked into taking responsibility for the crimes of some individuals. “No one will carry out a crime in the name of religion and expect to go scot-free,” he said.
The minister has kicked off a series of town hall meetings to engage the public and ask for their collaboration in security efforts. He held meetings with communities in Garissa and Ijara and has scheduled more in the coming weeks.