Criminal gangs continue to provide jihadist’s with recruits. Strategic Intelligence (S.I) has been monitoring 4 criminal gangs with presence on high dimension communication networks (HDCN). Up to 13% of the members gradually changed their views on crime and instead, focused on radical Islam views and eventually became radical. Somalia-based Harakat al Shabaab al Mujahideen has a long-standing rapport with these criminal gangs, especially from neighboring Kenya and Tanzania. While terror groups across the board have recruited from the same pool of vulnerable, poor and impressionable youths, the tides have changed to include recruiting members with criminal backgrounds ready and willing to re-frame their violent tendencies and mask them behind a justifiable cause.
Previously, Al Shabaab would recruit mainly youths that were radicalized and felt fundamentally connected to the cause advanced by the Islamist groups but have since drifted to include individuals that were willing and ready especially when financially motivated to commit atrocities for a meagre payday. The relationship between the Al Shabaab and criminal gangs especially in Kenyan coast is that of symbiotic nature where the Al Shabaab gets the muscle while the gangs get weapons and peanuts in financial compensation to facilitate their expansion.
Datasets drawn from the East and Horn of Africa region shows that al Shabaab terror group used Kenyan prisons and armed gangs both in Nairobi and Mombasa as lush recruitment grounds for their operations both in Somalia and the larger East African region. Investigative reports from some of the major Jails and remands in Kenya revealed an elaborate ring of Al Shabaab recruiters strategically placed in local jails and remands to identify, lure, radicalize and recruit criminals. Intelligence reveal that poor criminals who are vulnerable make for very good Al Shabaab militants as they feel indebted to the group for being bailed out of prison.
Mombasa criminal gangs
Moreover, a worrisome trend was observed between 2015 and 2017 along the Kenyan coast when Kisauni-based youths from Wakalia Kwanza and Wakali Wao gangs were arrested for their atrocious activities by the terror organization. The youths, aged between 16-21confessed that they joined the criminal gangs and had been terrorizing residents by stabbing them to death, rob them in order to get favors of joining the terror group, which would offer them a chance to travel to Somalia. Whereas the revelations were not shocking, it exposed the deep-rooted connection between, poverty, economic indisposition, crime, and terrorism. SI analysts discovered that the al Shabaab terror organization has been sourcing its manpower from local armed gangs like Watalia, Wajuku wa Bibi, Young Turks University, Thug life, Bokoharam, Gaza Chafu za Docks among others.
Al Shabaab’s Amniyat (the intelligence wing) uses criminal gangs for surveillance and intelligence gathering on potential targets offering the terrorists an advantage in ambushes. Gang members are also used as spies especially on security officers usually in elaborate schemes that involve creating havoc, apprehension to enable scouting. In Tanzania, Mtwara, Tanga, Arusha, and Zanzibar are areas where Al-Shabaab has continued to harvest jihadists from criminal gangs.
Motivations for alignment
- Criminals are adequately motivated by the financial gain of any operation and as such despite al Shabaab being recently broke, they have managed to lure crooks with the promise of greener pastures, bail money as well as financial independence and freedom.
- Poverty, especially among street gangs, is quite rampant and a predominant impetus to join the life of terrorism and as such a phony promise for escaping the deplorable living situations actively plunges them to Al Shabaab.
- The hero complex of the millennials who are the majorly lured by potentially being assured of leadership positions within Al Shabaab’s ranks is a strong yet effective way to bait the youth. The ostensible leadership packs that come with being in command of a group, is packaged as a rise in rank and power not present in being a member of a street gang.
- Majority of criminals are single-mindedly driven by an injustice or need for revenge and as such, they find solace in well-package agenda justifiable by religion or misguided morals, agendas, and
Distinctly, there is a logical and prevailing link between terrorists and criminal gangs, not just in East Africa but across the globe with the former actively outsourcing manpower and other resources from the latter. As aforementioned, the Al Shabaab exploit criminals either to do their bidding, perform atrocities as well as source believers and foot soldiers in their jihad a trend apparent along the Kenya coastal area.