18 May 2015

How al-Shabaab is dividing communities in northern Kenya

Africa Correspondent

Al-Shabaab militants killed 148 non-Muslim students in the northern Kenyan town of Garissa last month. Jamal Osman finds that a growing number of Christian residents are now fleeing the community.

Students came under attack early in the morning as they slept. Four al-Shabaab gunmen stormed the university compound, separated Muslims from non-Muslims and shot dead 148 people in cold blood, writes Channel 4 News Africa Reporter Jamal Osman.

Al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda branch in east Africa, was unapologetic about targetting students. Sheikh Ali Dhere, the group’s spokesman, told Channel 4 News: “They were Christians who would be future military generals, police commanders, administrators and members of parliament.”

Al-Shabaab militant

In the past, al-Shabaab demanded that Kenyan forces who invaded Somalia three years ago leave the country. That has now changed. The group wants Christian Kenyans to leave Garissa and other Muslim areas. They say it is rightfully their land.

The al-Shabaab spokesman said: “We are saying they have to leave the whole Muslim land. We won’t give up an inch of the Muslim land. And the kiling will continue untill they go back to Christian land.”

Read more: Al-Shabaab breeding fear among Kenya's Christians

Class of 2013

That message appeals to some, especially young Muslim men. It’s thought the militants who carried out the Garissa University attack were Kenyan nationals. I have also been told that the gunmen were at a training camp in Somalia that I filmed. They were members of the al-Shabaab class of 2013.

The alleged mastermind of the massacre is Dulyadeyn – and he is from Garissa. There’s a £150,000 bounty on his head.

Dulyadeyn was the headmaster of a local madrassa before joining al-Shabaab. We managed to talk to one of his former students, who didn’t want to be identified.

“During his teaching at the madrassa, I haven’t heard him talking about it,” said the fromer student. “But in mosques, he used to talk about the jihad subject.”

Dulyadeyn, a Kenyan citizen, desperately trying to destroy Kenya. Homegrown militants are the nightmares of every nation. And Al-Shabaab is determined to cause havoc on Kenyan soil – havoc that has led to fear and anguish. Removing this will be difficult.

Al-Shabaab militants

Divided city

In Garissa politicians would like to show a united front, but it’s a divided city. One side of the river is a predominantly Muslim area. The other is a safe heaven for Christians. And the latest attack by al-Shabaab is likely to drive this community apart.

That’s already happenning. Muslims feel they are persecuted by the Kenyan forces. And Christians no longer feel safe in this region – where they are the minority. So they are fleeing in big numbers.

Rose is one of those Christians. She came to Garissa seeking a better life and found a job as a hotel receptionist. Since the al-Shabaab attack, she has been desperate to leave.

“I’ll never come back; they hate us,” Rose told me as she waited at a bus station.

Read more: Garissa attack - al-Shabaab says Kenyans should leave

Happy to be home

Rose was suspicious about people around her, and the journey through Kenyan countryside was tense. She made it to Nairobi. The following day I met her again.

She’s happy to be home: “I’m now relaxed, the tension is gone.” And she’s chosen to make a statement – by wearing a Kenyan rugby shirt.

Rose may now be relaxed but the Kenyan government cannot afford to be. Al Shabaab has vowed to continue its brutal project to its bitter. conclusion. Those in power in Kenya will need a better strategy if they are to avoid a messy war that risks tearing this country apart.