Ali Salim Gichunge, the leader of the terrorist’s cell that attacked the Dusit Complex in 2019 was highly conscious of his communications, detectives said he never contacted Somalia by phone, preferring to only use Facebook.
At the time, Gichunge’s profile, Gichunge alias Farouk did not fit the profile of a terrorism thus making him an ideal recruit for Al shabaab.
His background pointed to a then emerging generation of terrorists whose background and ethnic origins had no links with Somalia. It also showed that major attacks could be planned locally.
Today, however, the problem has been compounded with Al shabaab’s wide use of social media platforms to further conceal their identity and recruit new members.
Just like Gichunge’s girlfriend’s Violet Kemunto preference for a Facebook account running by the pseudo name Junior Red, terrorists are today using fake identities on social media to advance their agenda in plain sight.
They have handles on every social media platform and are continuously spreading hate and radical teachings to all who care to follow them.
They are also using pseudo or affiliate accounts to share conspiracy theories that evoke sympathy and support to their veiled call for terror to a large extent that governments across the globe are concerned.
Though statistics on al shabaab recruitment are classified in Kenya, concerned agencies’ increased calls for online vigilance and calls for parents to supervise their children’s use of the internet and for adults to exercise caution to avoid getting radicalised is proof that efforts to curb this threat are on high gear.
In 2016, two ISIS suspects Kiguzo Mwangolo Mgutu and Abubakar Jillo Mohammmed were arrested in Kangemi Nairobi and accused of circulating a document online purporting the establishment of Jabha East Africa and declared their allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bake Al-Baghdadi.
Police recovered various Improvised Explosive Devices from their rented house in Kangemi that were to be used in carrying out attacks in Nairobi and Mombasa.
Terrorism recruiters have in the past targeted Kenyan girls aged between 12 and 17 years for recruitment as child brides to al shabaab and ISIS militia in Somalia and Mozambique.
Citizen support Mechanism (CSM), an initiative that supports the implementation of the National Strategy to Counter Violent Extremism notes that terror groups are also using outright propaganda and conspiracy theories thinly veiled as truths as materials for radicalization of potential recruits particularly on the internet.
“Social media has been a great force multiplier in the fast spread of conspiracy theories about many things and has created various online networks of echo chambers on specific topics all the while enabling violent extremists to reach out to a wider and more diverse audience,” CSM notes.
One such conspiracy theory was spread during the height of the Covid 19 pandemic last year calling on Muslims to shun the vaccines on claims that they were weapons to eradicate them and sterilize their women.
Others may take the form of explanations, justifications and ideological instructions in the form of videos, virtual texts, audio files as well as cartoons, music videos and video games developed by terrorists themselves or their sympathizers.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s report on ‘The use of internet for terrorist purposes’ adds that terrorists are using social media to also train, incite plan and execute attacks including cyber-attacks.