As security experts maintain their watch over East African football fields because of youth recruitment into terrorism, the figure of Fawaz Ahmed Hamdun has become the object of particular focus.
On September 28, a multi-security agency team smoked the youthful terrorist suspect out of his hideout in Majengo, a low-income majority Muslim settlement in Mombasa. He was detained by police in the coastal city (Daily Nation, October 1).
Before his arrest, security agencies had listed Hamdun as one of Kenya’s most wanted terrorists. He is believed to have played a key role in the planning and execution of Nairobi’s DusitD2 office complex terrorist attack over January 15-16 of this year.
Al-Shabaab, the Somalia-based al-Qaeda affiliate in East Africa, took responsibility for the attack, which killed at least 21 people. The five terrorists who stormed the upmarket complex in the Westlands area were also killed (Tuko News, October 1).
Hamdun is believed to have facilitated the re-entry into Kenya of Mahir Khalid Riziki, the suicide bomber who blew himself up at the entrance of the complex.
Like Hamdun, Riziki had been on the Kenyan police’s list of most wanted terrorist suspects since 2014. His face had been emblazoned on “wanted dead or alive” billboards. The young suicide bomber sneaked out of Kenya in 2014, when he was barely 20, and sneaked back in early in 2019 to participate in the DusitD2 terrorist attack.
Riziki lived in the Majengo area—like Hamdun—and attended prayers at the Masjid Musa Mosque. The two were allegedly influenced by two radical imams at the mosque, Shaykh Aboud Rogo and Shaykh Abubakar Sharif, a.k.a. Makaburi. The two shaykhs, who were shot dead in 2012 and 2014 respectively, were suspected of being ideologues who directed al-Shabaab terrorist cells in Nairobi and Mombasa.
The shaykhs’ followers in the coastal region went underground after their death, later emerging as Jaysh al-Ayman, a Kenyan al-Shabaab cell active in Lamu County’s Boni forest (Standard Digital, January 21).
In the lead up to the security agencies’ raid in 2014, the mosque, at the direction of the two imams, had become a hotbed of extremism. The government also said the mosque had turned into a breeding ground for young terrorists like Hamdun who were being funneled into Somalia (Daily Nation, October 1; Citizen Digital, January 19).
In September, Hamdun was blamed for the disappearance of a youth known as Salim Fariz Hadin who, it is believed, had traveled to Somalia to join the ranks of al-Shabaab. Before Hadin’s disappearance, he was seen walking the streets of Mombasa with Hamdun. His family made reports to human rights organizations and circulated posters of their missing family member on September 29.
Before turning into a lethal terrorist and recruiter, Hamdun was renowned for his exploits as a star footballer in the coastal region. Between 2008 and 2012, as a student at Kikoan Primary school, he helped his team win many football trophies. He then played for Korea FC and lived in old Mombasa town. After becoming famous, he dropped out of school to play football full time.
But a turning point came in 2012, when he went off the grid after moving from Mombasa’s old town to the Majengo slums. It is believed that, while living in Majongo, Hamdun was radicalized at the Masjid Musa Mosque and began recruiting for al-Shabaab.
After that, he recruited for al-Shabaab through the Ramadan Kufungwa terrorist network. The network is named and associated with an al-Shabaab diehard named Ramadan Hamisi Kufungwa (K24news, October 6).
Kufungwa, together with Abdifatah Abubakar Ahmed and the late Ahmed Iman Ali, were in 2015 identified as key al-Shabaab recruiters in Kenya, especially the coastal region of Mombasa. The trio was accused of luring youth into the group using promises of huge cash amounts and non-existent scholarships, police reported in 2015. The three were said to exert immense influence on the coastal youth. (Standard Digital, August 18, 2015).
Hamdun’s arrest followed the killing of three other terrorist suspects, who were planning to carry out an attack in the coastal region. According to the police, seven terrorists had been sent by al-Shabaab to strike the Kenya Ports Authority, Moi International Airport, and the new Standard Gauge Railway terminus. All these sites are in Mombasa and are government installations.
Hamdun’s arrest sheds light on a new crop of terrorists in Kenya and East Africa. While al-Shabaab is seeking to widen its pool of terrorist recruits and attacks in more nations, it is targeting young people. This gives the militant group confidence in the future of its insurgency.
Despite al-Shabaab’s recent focus, increased border surveillance and timely intelligence sharing could disrupt and curtail this new threat.