I am sorry! I was duped to join Al Shabaab

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My name is Omar Gitonga Kamau. I am Muslim convert and was born 28 years ago as Timothy Gitonga Kamau in Witeithie area, Kiambu County. My parents relocated to Majengo Nairobi when I was 5 years old.

I joined a local Government primary school in the area in 1995 where I studied and attained 252 marks out of 500 and joined a nearby secondary school. I completed my O-level exams in 2006 and attained a mean aggregate of C+ (Plus).

Though I had attained a university minimum entry grade, my parents were unable to support me join a technical college to pursue a Diploma course in Electrical and Electronic Engineering. Indeed, my dreams were completely shuttered.

I started to hustle in the nearby electronic shops and sometimes would meet some childhood friends and former classmates who were working in town. My former classmates would tease me of my secondary grades that I scored and they would tell me I will work for them because they were successful even though they failed in the national exams. They would often say;

Buda! Sisi tulidunda exam. Wewe ulipass na uko hapa ukituomba works? Chukua bucket uoshe hapa nje. Hatutaki ma-chopi hapa!  

The irony was too much handle. I became so stressed and swore I would do anything to make ends meet. As fate would have it, one day, I met a Muslim guy named Abdiaziz Mohamed Mohamud better known as Aziz who was working in Masjid Riyadha Mosque in Majengo. Aziz was a friendly and generous person offered to help me get a job on condition that I converted to Islam. I did not agree to his offer immediately so I asked him for more time to think about it.

I actually took a week to ponder on the offer from Aziz. I did not involve my parents or any of my relatives in making the decision. I convinced myself that if converting to Islam was the only way out of my problems, so be it. One evening, I approached Aziz and told him I was ready to be a Muslim convert. He gladly embraced me and thanked me for the wise choice. He said “Kaka, wewe ni simba, kazi ushapata”, loosely translated as “Brother, you are a lion. You have got the job.”

My journey to becoming a Muslim convert started the following morning when Aziz invited me to his house which was a stone throw away from the Mosque. In the house, I met two other lads who were introduced to me by Aziz. He told us to feel free with each other and promised that he would take us to the mosque that afternoon to which we obliged.

The three of us had great time mingling until noon when our host Aziz told us to be ready. When the time came, Aziz led us to Riyadha Mosque and we were given a warm reception. He (Aziz) instructed us to remain calm and wait for the Sheikh who was going to offer us the job. He told us the Sheikh was to see us after Zuhr prayer which we came to learn that it meant noon prayers.

It was half past noon, when a Sheikh clad in white gown came and met us. He said his name was Sheikh Abdulrahaman Ali. We also introduced ourselves with our Christian names to which the Sheikh told us to stop using them because we were now converts. He gave me the name Omar but said I can retain the other two Kikuyu names hence Omar Gitonga kamau became my official name.

Sheikh Abdurahaman started to teach us on the foundations of Islam such as the five pillars of Islam, the five daily prayers and the basics beliefs of Islam. The Sheikh also instructed us to learn more from the Quran. We did the Islamic lessons for two weeks until when Sheikh Abdulrahaman was convinced that we understood the Quran very well.

It was during one of the lessons when Sheikh Abdulrahaman started to teach us about the importance of Hijra and Jihad. He told us that as Muslims, we should abide by the calling of Allah (Swt) to do Jihad. He said that the horn of Africa country, Somalia, was a good place to participate in Jihad. Sheikh Abdulrahaman told us that his ‘brothers’ in Somalia were ready to offer us a lucrative job where we would earn two thousand dollars ($2000) per month.

The offer of 2000 dollars per month was confusing. I quickly did my calculations and to my surprise, it was a whooping Ksh 200,000 per month. Where on earth would a form four leaver make that amount per month? I mumbled “Mungu ni mkuu” (God is great). I knew the gates of the dream that got shuttered earlier on after clearing secondary school were being re-opened. I didn’t want to wait for long. I wanted to be in Somalia as soon as possible.

Sheikh Abdulrahaman told us that we were going to meet his brothers in Somalia in three days. My friend, Aziz later came and told us we go home. Aziz told us not to tell anyone about the offer from the Sheikh Abdulrahaman and assured us that we were going to enjoy the benefits if we kept everything to ourselves. We promised him that we were going to be tight lipped about the offer. He asked us to meet him after three days in his house.

I went back home and informed my parents that after three days, I would go see a friend who was residing outside Nairobi. Though my parents were hesitant, I had to convince them on the importance of going to meet him. Little did they know that I was a Muslim convert and I was travelling to Somalia.

My journey to Somalia started at dawn. I woke up at 5 a.m and did my morning prayer (Fajr). I bid farewell to my parents early that morning and I went to Aziz’s house. I met my other friends and Aziz instructed us to go meet Sheikh Abdulrahaman. As time went by, I knew in a month, I would be Ksh.200, 000 richer. We met Sheikh Abdulrahaman waiting for us outside the Mosque. The five of us took a cab and went to Eastleigh.

We immediately boarded a bus that was waiting for us heading to Garissa. Sheikh Abdulrahaman had earlier given us Ksh1000 each for lunch. He told us that someone by the name Mohamed Abdi would meet us once we reached Garissa town.

No sooner had we reached Garissa town bus stop than we met Abdi waiting for us. He instantly recognized us since we were the only three people who were not of Somali decent. He jovially received us and immediately directed us to a car parked outside a supermarket. He told us he had bought enough food that would be enough for our journey to the ‘promised’ land.

A few kilometres from the town, a tarmac road came to an end and we ushered in a long and meandering rough road that was craggy and tiresome but Abdi kept telling us that we were hours away from instant riches. I must admit the anticipation in us made the journey interesting.

It took six hours from Garissa town to reach Liboi border town. Abdi told us that he was going to pick our ‘employer’ who was somewhere in the town. He instructed us to remain in the car as he alighted. We chose not to raise any eyebrows and so we remained inside the tinted car.

Abdi took 20 minutes and came back with a smartly dressed middle aged Somali man. He introduced himself as Sheikh Osman Khuno and told us he was our employer. He told us we would be working in Jilib town. Though he did not give many details, he said we were going to evade security check points so that we could reach safely.

We begun our journey from Liboi town and we entered Somalia. We immediately deviated from the main road. The route that we took was so frightening. It was so dust and Sheikh Khuno was very quiet. The only sound we could hear was that of the car. I knew things were not ok but I comforted myself.

Suddenly Sheikh Khuno spoke and told us we were almost Jilib town. That is the only time he talked while we were inside the car. He removed his mobile phone and made a call. He spoke in Somali and none of us understood what he told the receiver on the other end. In less than five minutes, we arrived at Jilib town.

To our surprise, we were received by more than five men all armed and dressed in a strange way. Sheikh Khuno told us that they were his bodyguards. What clicked my mind is that, we were duped and now we are joining the Al Shabaab terrorist group. Sheikh Khuno without hesitation told us that he was an Al Shabaab commander and the job he wanted us to do was to fight the apostate Somali Federal Government and the kuffars by the name AMISOM especially Kenya Defence Forces (KDF). I immediately regretted my decision.

Sheikh Khuno actually handed us over to his bodyguards and they immediately bungled us into old looking house in the middle of the town. They mistreated us a lot by kicking us like soccer balls. They told us we had only two options; to either accept join the fight against the kuffars or they would kill us. The oppression was too much to handle. We had to accept join them in ‘their’ fight.

The four weeks we spent inside the old looking house seemed like four years. We were brutally tortured and forced to learn how to use the different weapons they had at their disposal. They would sometimes make us starve for days. We would only see the beam of light through the holes. At night, we would only hear people talking in low tones.  Although the three of us were in the same house, we rarely talked to each other. We blamed our greed for money to be the sole reason for our predicament.

It was after the fourth week that Sheikh Khuno came and told us that he had planned a raid that evening against the KDF and the three of us were expected to participate. He told us to corporate with other fighters and promised us that we will get Ksh. 100,000 each if we came back with a head of a KDF soldier. He nicknamed us ‘The Three Kenyan Lions’.

Hours before the attack, I wondered how I would face the mighty KDF with the weaponry they had. Even though I did not talk to my two friends, I had to come up with a plan of running away from Al Shabaab.

The raid that night didn’t go as planned. We only conducted a probing attack in one of the KDF defensive position. The KDF alertness and their artillery firepower made us scamper for safety. We were squarely pinned down. We had to pull back.

My plans to run away from Al Shabaab camp were slowly gathering pace. We had conducted more than three raids in a month and what we got was a thorough beating from the AMISOM forces. We, the Al Shabaab fighters were being killed as cockroaches. I was in too much stress. I didn’t want to die a young man.

It was a Saturday morning when I got a chance to run away. We were tasked by Sheikh Khuno to collect firewood. I knew this was my best chance to get away from the evil Al Shabaab. I knew if they detected my plans, they would kill me. As a norm, we used to go in groups of three used in order to defeat detection from locals. That day, I was lucky to be given two fighters who were younger than me. Sheikh Khuno gave me the task of being their commander.

On our way to collecting firewood, I told them to move ahead like 100 meters. I was expected to give them full support in case of attacks behind them. They accepted my plan and I was left behind slowly following them. Little did they know that I was getting away from them. In less than 10 minutes, I was off their radar. I started manoeuvring my way out. I would hide behind the scanty bushes in case I sensed danger.

I walked like 20 kilometres and noticed that I was near a Government security checkpoint. Since I wanted to be exonerated from Al Shabaab, I decided to surrender to them. It was not an easy decision. I was almost shot at the moment I reached the checkpoint. I rose up my hands and one of them grabbed me from behind. They handcuffed me and immediately transferred me to a KDF camp nearby.

I was interrogated by KDF intelligence officers and frankly narrated to them on how I was duped to join Al Shabaab. I also told them about my parents who were residing in Majengo. The KDF officers never mistreated me. They gave me hopes of coming back to Kenya. They made sure I was given enough food to eat and healthy.

After two days, a Kenya Air Force helicopter and airlifted me to Moi Air Base Eastleigh where I was received by my parents and interior security senior officers. I was taken to the Ministry of Interior Security where I was also interrogated and assured of my security. In a nutshell, the ministry officials regarded me as one of the key members in Kenya’s fight against youth radicalisation and terrorism.

I sincerely apologise to my parents and Kenyans at large. I never knew I was being radicalised in Majengo. I will never allow any youth in Kenya to be radicalised. I will always remain a patriotic Kenyan and will always prevent it from Al Shabaab cowards and liars.

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