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In Kenya's capital, Somali immigrant neighborhood is incubator for jihad

Worshipers gathered at Eastleigh's Masjid Sahabi mosque, where clerics preach a moderate message. Imams at other neighborhood mosques, however, have become increasingly radicalized, praising and recruiting supporters for Somalia's al-Shabab militia.
Worshipers gathered at Eastleigh's Masjid Sahabi mosque, where clerics preach a moderate message. Imams at other neighborhood mosques, however, have become increasingly radicalized, praising and recruiting supporters for Somalia's al-Shabab militia. (Sudarsan Raghavan/the Washington Post)

Kenyan police have long harassed Somalis, demanding bribes under threat of arrest or deportation, generating resentment. Since the Kampala attacks, police have rounded up hundreds of people in Eastleigh and other areas, including four Kenyan Muslims who human rights activists say were illegally extradited to Uganda for interrogation.

"The community is suffering," said Abdufatah Ali, an Eastleigh representative on the Nairobi City Council. "The police stop you and take your phone, and say 'You are al-Shabab.' They enter your house and rape you, and say 'You are al-Shabab.' "

Radical preachers are filling the void, playing a key role in recruiting and fundraising for al-Shabab. They operate the largest mosques in the neighborhood, providing ideological leadership and a resource base for militants, according to a U.N. report on Somalia in April.

"They have a very big influence in terms of radicalization," said Nicholas Kamwende, Kenya's anti-terrorism police chief. "Eastleigh provides the best grounds for recruitment."

Influencing young minds

At the Ansaaru primary school, where Awil attends classes, boys and girls study biology, chemistry and geography. In religion class, they are taught that it is every Muslim's duty to "liberate" Jerusalem and its sacred al-Aqsa mosque, Awil and three other students said.

Sometimes, the students said, the teachers show them video clips of jihadists fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia.

"They tell us that al-Shabab hates Western countries like America," said Zakeria Omar, 11, a student. "And that it is all right to cut the throats of every citizen of these countries."

Ali Jama'a, a Koranic teacher at the school, asserted that the teachers do not discuss jihad or al-Shabab. "Those classes may happen in the mosques, but not here," Jama'a said.

Moments later, the imam of al-Hidaya mosque, which U.N. investigators and community leaders describe as among the most radical in Eastleigh, arrived at the school. He was there to teach a class.

He declined to be interviewed by a Washington Post journalist.

Moderate clerics fear what will happen to their community. One well-known imam tells young people not to be enticed by militancy and speaks out against suicide bombings as un-Islamic. "We have a war on our hands to stop our youth from being taken to the battlefield," said the imam, who asked that his name not be published because he had been threatened.


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