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Kilifi relatives of Kenyan terror suspects caught up in complex war

by Joy Nabukeya KILIFI (Xinhua) -- As Kenya intensifies the war against terrorism, relatives of suspected Al-Shabaab militants are enduring immense stigma, threats and blackmail from combatants on both sides of the battle.

Speaking during a recent forum in the coastal town of Kilifi, the female relatives of terror suspects narrated how they have become unwitting victims of a complex fight between the militants and security forces.

Those who agreed to be interviewed by Xinhua on condition of anonymity revealed an intricate but harrowing account of what they have undergone either as victims of terrorism or target for interrogation by security apparatus.

Fatihiya (not her real name) only learnt about her son’s involvement in the terror group Al-Shabaab when he was injured during one of the raids by African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops based in Somalia.

She had suspected that her son, who had earlier disappeared without notice, might have been recruited by the al-Qaida-linked militant group, but when the news came, Fatihiya was still devastated immensely.

"As a mother, when I was lured to a nondescript place at the mention of the condition of my son, I readily obliged, little did I know that it would be the beginning of this traumatic experience dealing with the members of a dreaded militant group," said Fatihiya.

"I was put in a very difficult position because Al-Shabaab still had my injured son and kept threatening me that if I did not do their bidding they would kill my son.

"In any case, they said, he was useless to them because of the injuries he sustained," she said.

Fatihiya is now deeply entangled in Al-Shabaab messy affairs, though not as a fighter or suicide bomber.

She revealed to Xinhua that she has been running errands for the terror network and occasionally met her son in an undisclosed location to evade surveillance by security forces.

"The Al-Shabaab militants are heartless and use very crude means to get supplies like drugs to their camp.

"It is as if they are aware my son is so dear to me and because of that I would go at whatever length to ensure that he is not killed," said Fatihiya.

"But deep down I know they are just using me and my son as an excuse.

"The mode of transporting drugs-both medicinal and hard drugs is the most painful exercise and even more dangerous because I have to use some routes that are not frequently used to get to Somalia," she added.

She decried the degrading treatment she always undergoes while delivering the consignment of drugs in the Al-Shabaab hideouts.

"It is so dehumanizing," Fatihiya said, adding that she was stripped naked to get the drugs stashed into her private parts for safe delivery.

She disclosed that she had reported the disappearance of her son to Kenyan authorities, though no positive response has been forthcoming.

Likewise, many rights campaigners were yet to honor her request for help and only paraded her before donors only to worsen her vulnerabilit, said Fatihiya.

The heartbroken woman has terminated engagement with security personnel or rights groups and has reconciled with the tragic reality of her son not escaping from the snares of a vicious terrorist network.

A female trauma counselor who spoke to Xinhua on condition of anonymity said female relatives of terror suspects hardly share their traumatic experience to loved ones or friends.

She noted Fatihiya represents a growing rank of women who have been forced by circumstances to cooperate with Al-Shabaab because their husbands, sons or brothers have joined the militant group as combatants.

Such women, the expert said, run a number of errands for the Al-Shabaab including spying and smuggling supplies and weapons into their base in exchange for the lives and wellbeing of their relatives.

"Some of these women have sought help from state security agencies and rights groups but their pleas are yet to be answered.

"Consequently, they have become hopeless, scared and traumatized.

"They literally live at the mercy of the rebel group that watches their every move," said the therapist.

"At the moment there is no legal framework in Kenya to deal with such cases and that is why female relatives of terror suspects dread to come out in the open and share their traumatic experiences," she added.


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