NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Kenyan police Monday said they are holding four men on suspicion of trying to leave the country to join the Islamic State group in Libya, as authorities worry that the increasing number of citizens joining the extremist organization could be a sign that IS is trying to create a presence in this East African country.
The four men were on a bus bound for the Uganda border when armed policemen stopped it at a roadblock on March 1 and arrested them, police said.
Police were on the lookout for young men and women going to Sudan through Uganda, the route commonly used by the Kenyan recruits going to Libya, said police officials who insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press about the ongoing investigation. The four matched this description, they said.
The four men arrested — Mohamed Kassim, Faraj Swaleh alias Mustafa Kheri, Ali Bwabnadi and Kassim Ahmed alias Abdirahman Saidi — appeared in court in the coastal city of Mombasa Monday. The magistrate granted police the authority to hold the suspects for an additional 30 days to make further investigations before filing charges.
Samuel Ouma, the officer investigating the case, told the court that Kassim, Swaleh and Ahmed are facing separate charges of extremist activities in the coastal town of Lamu where they had been released on bail.
At least 20 Kenyans have gone to join the Islamic State group in Libya and Middle East, according to the officials. Kenya is already struggling to stop recruitment of youths to Somalia's al-Shabab, which is allied to al-Qaida. The Kenya recruits to al-Shabab are estimated to be in their hundreds and have been used to carry out numerous attacks in Kenya after the extremist group vowed in 2011 to avenge the deployment Kenyan troops to Somalia to fight the militants. Both extremist groups are targeting Kenya's Muslims, who make up about 4.3 million of Kenya's 44 million people.
"The rate of radicalization is alarming and needs urgent measures to contain it," former National Counter Terrorism Center Director Isaac Ochieng, said late last year. Martin Kimani, the current director of the center declined to comment.
The number of those recruited by IS from Kenya is likely to grow, say analysts.
"The numbers cited by the Kenyan authorities remain low, although social media monitoring suggests that there is a considerable level of interest in IS among parts of Kenyan society so the figure is likely to grow over time," said Matt Bryden the former head of the United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and a leading expert on jihadi groups. "While Kenya is right to be concerned, youths from dozens of countries have travelled to join IS and there is no indication that Kenya is being especially targeted by the group."
The Kenyan government's capacity to directly counter the Islamic State group's aggressive recruitment campaign is limited but it can do much more to understand and address the factors that nudge some Kenyan youths toward radicalism and violence, said Bryden.
Human rights activists and Muslim leaders have warned that major driving factors encouraging youths to enroll in extremist groups include a feeling of marginalization and alleged government discrimination against Muslims, as well as the government's response to the problem. Government security agencies have been accused of torture and extra-judicial killings of suspected extremists and attacks on Muslim human rights groups.
"The government has allowed the situation to fester," said human rights activist Alamin Kimathi. "It has burned bridges with the Muslim community with the wholesale criminalization of the Muslim community."