In Summary
  • An alarming concern is that the women being radicalised are youths in their marriage age, according to Mr Adan Osman, the director of the De-radicalisation Department at the Mandera county government.
  • A government report released last year said girls are made to view terrorism as a noble cause.
  • “The girls attracted to these groups are generally in the adolescent-young adult category. They tend to have a romantic notion about the lives of the extremists,” the report said.

“Assalam aleykum, how are you? Am now in Syria ... Tell everyone not to look for me am doing very fine.”

Less than 48 hours after Ms Twafiqa Dahir sent that message to her cousin Rahama Abnasir in May last year using the messaging application Telegram, saying she had joined the Islamic State terror group (also known as Isis), the police rubbished these claims.

She had no ID card and, therefore, could not have acquired a passport, they said of the girl who – together with her childhood friend Ms Salwa Abdalla – could have become the first confirmed cases of Kenyans who have joined Isis.

After all, terrorism has always been a mainly male affair, and ISIS was one of Kenya’s least concerns as East Africa is thousands of kilometres away from its hotbed in the Middle East, analysts argued.

But when three suspected female terrorists were shot dead by police as they tried to attack the Mombasa Central Police Station last Sunday, two facts were conspicuous: women and terrorism.

ISIS was the first and still remains the only terror group to have claimed responsibility for the botched Mombasa raid even though Al-Shaabab, which has carried out several large-scale attacks in Kenya in recent years, was initially thought to be responsible.

As details continue to unravel about the three attackers, the scary reality that girls and women are being lured to join terror groups is now a hot topic among various stakeholders.

The major concern is what the future holds for Kenyans, now that there are all indications that women terrorists are “graduating” from simply helping male militants behind the scenes to taking an active role in attacks.

Lifestyle spoke to parents, government administrators, activists, religious leaders and scholars — all of whom said that unless there are changes to the ways that young Muslim women interact with the outside world, Kenyans may not have seen the last of raids executed by women.

An alarming concern is that the women being radicalised are youths in their marriage age, according to Mr Adan Osman, the director of the De-radicalisation Department at the Mandera county government.

A government report released last year said girls are made to view terrorism as a noble cause.

“The girls attracted to these groups are generally in the adolescent-young adult category. They tend to have a romantic notion about the lives of the extremists,” the report said.

In the Mombasa attack, Ms Maimuna Abdirahman Hussein, Ms Ramla Abdirahman Hussein and Ms Tasnim Yakub Abdullahi Farah approached the station posing as ordinary citizens who had come to file a complaint with the police.

Two police officers at the reporting desk then asked one of the women to remove her veil to reveal her face. She reportedly defied the order and jumped over the counter, holding a dagger that she had concealed under her buibui.

A witness, Ms Salma Mohammed, said one officer was stabbed in the neck and chest, prompting his female colleague to flee. The same attacker then doused herself with petrol and set herself on fire. The three women were later shot dead. Investigations continue.

So far, Ms Naema Mohammed Ahmed, Ms Saida Ali Haji and Ms Shukri Ali Haji — who police say are Somali refugees — have been taken to court on suspicion that they housed the leader of the three women, Ms Tasmin Yakub.

The police have also arrested Ms Sagar Rogo, the wife of slain Muslim preacher Aboud Rogo, who is suspected to have been in communication with Ms Yakub.

While investigators try to solve the puzzle of this single incident, the bigger picture is far from pretty.

As reports of young women embracing terrorism emerge, there is also a crop of worried parents.

A common concern among parents is that they are no longer able to keep track of who their children are communicating with — and the fact that terror groups are using the Internet to recruit is scary.

“Our hearts are shaken. Our new reality is constructed by the fact the recruitment process seems to be right in the midst of the circles of our own children. In my case, I am asking myself: how much closer could this get?” asked Ms Amina Ibrahim, a mother whose article in the Sunday Nation last year spoke for many. 

She added: “Mothers of young adults are worried and asking questions whether we actually know our children, who they associate with, listen to, chat with and who is influencing their worldview more than us.”

Ms Farida Rashid, the founder of the Kenya Muslim Women Alliance (Kemwa), a community-based organisation in Mombasa, told Lifestyle that most parents are scared of admitting that their daughters have left home to join terror groups.

“No mother will say their daughter is missing. A woman can report the husband or son but we’ve not witnessed a mother say her daughter has joined a terror group,” said Ms Rashid, adding that she has spoken to more than 1,000 people on various occasions on the dangers of joining terrorism.

“It is a great danger when the girls are going in. It needs us to join hands as women and as a community,” she said.

To stem this, Ms Rashid advised mothers to go to their children’s rooms in their absence “to investigate what they are up to.”

“We should also vet madrassa teachers to know what they teach because Islam preaches peace,” she said.

Mr Abdirahman Hussein, the father of two of the three girls killed last weekend in the Mombasa attack, is reported to have been worried about the material his children were accessing and never encouraged his daughters to venture out unnecessarily.

Close family friends said the girls had been raised under strict conditions, noting that the family had installed Wi-Fi at their home so that the girls would not venture out in search of Internet services.

As a pointer to the concern the father had over his daughters, relatives said he had reported the disappearance of the girls as soon he realised they had gone missing on Sunday morning. Their mother reportedly fainted when she received the news of them being killed at the police station.

“I find it odd that a woman, with the [limited] powers she has, can go up to a station for a raid,” said Ms Rashid. “The country is scared to see such a thing happening in Kenya. We don’t know what can happen next.”

ANOTHER SET OF AGONISING PARENTS

Another set of agonising parents emerged last year when the two girls linked with ISIS disappeared, with suspicion that they had fled to Syria.

Their mothers cut a figure of despair when they spoke to journalists on the whereabouts of their daughters, noting the lack of an identity card as an unresolved puzzle on how they travelled.

The University of Nairobi, where Ms Dahir was studying, said on Friday that she is yet to return to the institution.

A female terrorist whose influence parents should be wary of is British-born Samantha Lewthwaite alias “the White Widow” whose network is suspected to be well within Kenya.

Ms Lewthwaite was added to the Interpol list of wanted persons in 2013, shortly after the terror attack on the Westgate Mall, on suspicion that she has played a part in a number of attacks in Kenya since 2011.

According to the BBC, Ms Lewthwaite’s name was thrust into the limelight in 2005 after her husband Germaine Lindsay blew up a tube train in London where 26 people died. She was quoted wondering how a “naive” man like her husband could have been lured into terrorism.

She would later disappear from the UK and was once tracked to Kenya. She is now believed to be living in Somalia and reports indicate that she could be reaching out to prospective terrorists in Kenya.

Discussing parents’ anxiety in her article, Ms Ibrahim wrote: “It is obvious that terrorism and radicalisation have come too close for comfort, affecting everybody and more so mothers. We hope we can find more avenues to reach out to our youngsters and make them allies to our beliefs and values.”

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