Al Shabaab has etched painful memories in the hearts of Kenyans who have encountered the group.
Those suspected to have any association with the terrorist group are mostly reported to the police and others even killed.
An unnerving revelation, however, sheds light on how young Kenyan women were tricked into joining the militant group against their will.
In Kenya’s Coast region, young Al Shabaab returnees narrated their experiences to K24 TV on how they were forced into being part of the group and the dreadful experiences they underwent.
In 2014, Sifa (not her real name) had just cleared her secondary school education and was desperate for a job. She eventually got an offer and was driven through Garissa and ended up at an Al Shabaab camp, for her first day at work.
“I was looking for a job that would pay me at least Ksh 5,000. However, when we realized that the journey ahead was still long, I became suspicious,” Sifa narrated.
The young woman started her training as soon as she arrived but began planning her escape because her conscience could not allow her to continue anymore.
Sifa wondered for over 10 days in the wilderness before stumbling upon a village in Tana River County where she was taken to a police station for help.
Usna was lured by a marriage proposal that turned sour after her husband to be turned her into a sex slave for the terrorists.
“While there, there’s nothing like condoms. The men there believe that HIV is a livestock disease,” she spoke.
According to Mariam who was taken to Somalia as a house help by her employer also suffered the same fate as Usna. She had to engage in sexual activities with the terrorists or face the knife.
Mariam later escaped, and for over 2 weeks, struggled through a dense forest trying to find her way to freedom.
“I would look for trees whose branches I would comfortably hide in. I would also cover myself with the clothes they gave me to prevent me from falling off trees whenever I dozed off. In the mornings I would feed on dew from leaves of trees,” she recalled.
Mariam who was rescued returned home to find her father had died of a stroke on learning that she had joined the Al Shabaab militia.
Another young girl who had just completed her primary school education saw a job poster and secretly met up with the potential ’employer’ without her parents’ knowledge. She was offered a spiked drink and woke up hours later in a tent in Boni Forest.
Her job was to mainly pack boxes full of explosives and guns then carry them to various vehicles for transportation and sometimes go as far as plant explosives on roads.
On return, these young brides who suffer from trauma and stigma and have accused religious leaders of involvement in radicalization and recruitment of locals into Al Shabaab.
Security agencies also conducted a thorough forensic analysis of the returnees and terror suspects to establish the agenda of their return.