How the extremist group al-Shabab looks for recruits

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I am Marco Warman and this is the world co-production of the BBC world service PRI and WGBH Boston. There’s something about the terrorist attack on that shopping mall in Kenya that makes our world seem so small. Maybe it’s the target. A mall like countless others we are so familiar with here in the US. Maybe it’s the fact that of the more than 60 people killed many of them come from countries all over the globe. And then there’s this statement by Kenya’s foreign minister. He said, “Two or three of the attackers were American’s and another British.” That’s what we are going to focus on now. The sway some terror groups seem to have on people living in the US and elsewhere in the west. Veteran BBC filmmaker, Peter Taylor, was in Kenya just days before the attack at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi. He was working on a documentary about British connections to al-Shabab. That’s the Somali based militant group that claimed responsibility. I asked Taylor what went through his mind the moment he heard about the attack.
“I was shocked. We actually left Nairobi a few hours before the actual attack. And had the attack happen before we left I would have obviously stayed on. I was surprised not at the fact that there was an attack but it was an attack that had clearly been planned with considerable sophistication and preparation. Nobody saw it coming. There was no indication that such an attack was at the pipeline. “
I’m assuming that the attackers were and are card carrying members of al-Shabab. I mean you spoke to an al-Shabab recruiter when you were in Kenya. And you spoke with that person about how young men and some women are recreated. What did he tell you about the whole process and what type of recruits are they looking for?
“They’re looking for committed young Muslims. What’s surprising is the age of many of the recruits who go through the pipeline. Many of these are of school age 16, 17. And they are impressionable young, this particular case, Kenyan’s who have nothing. The radical preachers, they are at the root of the radicalization of the pipeline and the recruiting. I also interviewed a couple of young Shabab recruits who went through the pipeline. They found there was not what they’d been expecting. They didn’t fight jihad. They were basically babysitters for the younger recruits and to deter those who were thinking of leaving al-shabab. These two young men or one of them was subject to being forced to witness a public beheading of a young recruit who was trying to escape from al-shabab’s torture.”
And what was the point of forcing them to watch this beheading?
“[unknown] As a warning. What would happen if they tried to leave. And these two young men miraculously managed to leave and went back to Nairobi where they came from but they feared for their lives. I think the point of the illustration is to show how utterly ruthless al-Shabab is or can be. As illustrated by the brutality of the attack on the Westgate shopping center. “
So the pool of possible recruits for Shabab in East Africa and Kenya not just Somali transplants there but Kenyan’s as well? Born and bred?
“The majority of recruits who go to join al-Shabab from Kenya are young Kenyan’s but there are also recruits from United States. I did a documentary which I looked at the exodus of young Somali’s from Minneapolis who were going to join al-Shabab. So whether they come from Minneapolis or America or the UK, the attraction of al-Shabab is an international attraction.
I think a lot of American’s would like to know today, when will al-Shabab be bringing its war to affluent US malls.
“ Well, I think that’s one of the concerns. I know that’s one of the concerns of the FBI. And I did an interview a couple of years ago when I was looking into recruitment from Minnesota I interviewed one of the senior FBI agents involved in this area. And he was seriously worried about what is known in the jargon as Blowback. In other words people go to Somalia to, you know, get trained. And will return undercover to America and carry out terrorist attacks. There, that’s what the concern is. What the Westgate siege illustrates more than anything else is the sophistication and determination of organizations linked to al-Qaeda like al-Shabab.
BBC Documentary filmmaker, Peter Taylor, just back from Nairobi, Kenya where he was making a documentary on the British connections to al-Shabab. Peter, thank you very much.
“OK. Thanks.”