Kidnapped: Inside Al-Shabaab’s Abduction of Women and Young Girls

The Boni Forest is a dense locale that straddles the borderlands of Somalia in its Lamu County. This thick landscape has become an ideal hideout for perhaps one of the most brutal Islamic militant organizations in the world – Al-Shabaab. From their encampments, they plan and launch attacks into Kenya. This area is also used as a pipeline for the abduction and transportation of young girls and women, who are ultimately forced to become wives and sex slaves for Al-Shabaab’s male members.

They tactics used to abduct women and girls are both difficult to detect and even more troublesome to thwart. For their strongholds, Al-Shabaab sends out its “recruiter” to lure women, both young and old, Muslim and non-Muslim into their fold through abduction or deception. Some are taken forcibly and others are convinced with ruses that range from the women’s willingness to join their jihad, to the possibility of work elsewhere. Victims are promises high-paid work in another town or abroad and then kidnapped.

Not all of these women are coerced with the promise of work. Some joined voluntarily to engage in the groups  jihad against the Kenyan government. However, even in these cases, many of these women found that their purpose was not to be recruited as soldiers, but to be forced into marriage or sex slavery. It has been reported that victims, who had willingly joined the group regret their actions.

Al-Shabaab’s  relative success in pulling off such brazen kidnapping and luring operations should be considered  fearsome. As with other organizations of their ilk, Al Shabaab reverts to a common modus operandi for their successful procurement of victims. As with similar groups such as  Boko Haram, ISIS, and Al Qaeda, Al Shabaab seeks out countries like Kenya and Somalia to establish their strongholds. Countries like Kenya and Somalia that have been strangled by poverty, and are often ruled by corrupt or failing governments and have scarce services, jobs, educational opportunities.  They are therefore prime locations for groups like Al-Shabaab to find a ready supply of victims. And in areas where the need, desire, and desperation for betterment grows, so too grows the difficulty for women to resist the lure of higher-paying work or getting paid as a member of Al-Shabaab.

Kenya has been engaged in direct confrontation with Al-Shabaab for at least 6 years. They join several other nations in the fight against Al-Shabaab, as part of the African Union forces and engage in their own operations against the terror organization.

As more is being learned about Al-Shabaab’s reprehensible operations, some even more disturbing revelations about their methods and motives are coming to light. As part of their efforts to abduct or lure women and young girls as wives or sex slaves, their additional purpose seems to include the desire to breed their next generation of fighters. Women who have either escaped or been rescued from the terror group, have been repeatedly raped, forced to enter marriage with Al-Shabaab members and purposefully impregnated.

In many cases, they were informed that their purpose was to breed the next generation of jihadists. In Charlotte Attwood’s article, The Sex Slaves of Al Shabaab, she interviewed women who managed to escape from the terror organization, who made it clear that, “there is an organized programme to breed the next generation of fighters.” The terror group admitted to these women that it is difficult to recruit others from the camps in Somalia, and that “children are easier to indoctrinate.”

Oddly enough, the arabic name Al-Shabaab, literally translates to ‘The Youth.’ It is therefore not beyond reason that Al-Shabaab should strive to create its own next generation of fighters. The Islamic fundamentalist group has been well-known to target young boys and adolescents, and either convert them to Islam through education and proselytizing, or abducting young people from their homes and schools and forcing them to fight with Al-Shabaab. Boys as young as 10 years old have been forced to join the ranks of the group and the Somali government is well-aware of Al-Shabaab’s recruitment targets and techniques, since every year, hundreds of children flee areas where the terror group has assumed control. As of August 2017, the Somali government estimates that at least 100 children have escaped from Al-Shabaab controlled areas to avoid conscription. In addition, the terror group has been known to use children in roles as scouts, informants, spies as well as in combat roles.

To swell their ranks with newer and fresher recruits, the Al-Shabaab leadership seems to feel that preaching Wahhabism or abducting children is not enough. They also need to have women and young girls to accomplish their insidious goal.

Both the Kenyan and Somali governments have struggled to track down both the recruiters and victims that have been kidnapped or lured by the terror organization. One of the difficulties in apprehending suspected recruiters and rescuing captive women is getting these women to come forward and speak openly about their ordeal. Kenya, Somalia, and the African Union Armies vigorous effort to eradicate the group, has made some women feel as though they may be considered former Al-Shabaab members, instead of  victims of the terror group’s atrocities. Some Kenyan officials admit this may be a possibility. More needs to be done to ensure that these women are protected and free to share their ideal in order to aid with freeing other victims and holding Al- Shabaab accountable.

Featured image | Al Shabaab fighters disengage and lay down arms : AMISOM Public Information | flickr

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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