“There was no way we could protest. Some of my colleagues who pressed Al-Shabaab leaders to the wall had their heads chopped off,” he said.

Yusuf claimed that he had taken part in more than 10 missions in Burundi but none in Kenya.

“We were told the enemy is anything Amisom, Somali forces, Ethiopian army and any other person believed to be a traitor to Sharia law,” he said.

Their operations were mostly carried out at night and they spent their days in hiding.

“We were prohibited from (using) miraa, (smoking) cigarettes, (taking) alcoholic drinks and (having) sex.”

ESCAPE PLAN

In 2012, he was sent on an operation inside Somalia. While on the mission, which was mainly collecting money from rich Somalis, he and seven others in the group hatched a plan to escape.

“The only way was to kill our team leader, whom we strangled using a wire and buried in the sand,” he said. “We drove the car on top of his grave to conceal (it)”.

Their journey to freedom had begun, but it was not without perils.

“We had little water and food. We killed anyone who (tried to block) our escape and ate raw wild game meat for survival.”

Again, they could only travel by night and had to spend daytime in hiding, mostly by lying down on the sand, although the temperatures could easily reach 40 degrees.

According to him, from the initial group of eight, only he and two others managed to reach Kenya. They killed their other five colleagues or simply left them to die in the fields after they threatened to reveal their plans to Al-Shabaab bosses.

He recounted how the three burned their jihadist outfits after crossing the border and entering Kenya on November 14, 2012.

“We burnt all the clothing and sold the guns that we had to herders in some desert in Mandera at Sh10,000 each,” he said.

RETURN TO NAIROBI

Having walked many kilometres inside Kenyan soil, the escapees found their way to the Dagahaley refugee camp in Dadaab, where they remained for several weeks.

“I think this was where I contracted TB,” Yusuf said of his infection, which has left him weak. Once they felt ready to leave, they hitched a ride in the back of a lorry that took them to Garissa Town, where they boarded a bus to Nairobi.

“We parted ways at Nyamakima dressed in hijabs. I don’t know what happened to my friends because we have not been in touch since then,” he said.

According to him, he lived for a while with a vegetable grocer, who sheltered him. All the time, he pretended to be a woman, always dressed in a hijab.

One day, the grocer sent him to buy fresh supplies and he decided to use the money to pay for his fare back to his Siaya home.

Yusuf claimed he was willing to be integrated back to society on the condition that the government honour the amnesty it promised radicalised youths.

“There are so many Kenyans as young as 12 years who cross the border in Wajir and Mandera into Somalia. These are the ones that sell intelligence to the militants,” he said. “They are trained, and heavily armed. Some are even young women.”

Yusuf claimed he decided to escape from Al-Shabaab because he saw no point in killing fellow Kenyans.

“I want to start a new life because at 47, I cannot look for another job. I expect the government to keep its word on amnesty because some of us did not get here willingly,” he said. “Most of us are willing to leave this thing, but are we safe?”

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