Kenya has welcomed the return of 700 citizens who had joined Somalia’s Al-Shabaab militant group that has attacked churches, malls and government institutions, most notably Garissa University College where nearly 150 people — mostly Christian students — were killed last spring.
The returning militants are said to be undergoing rehabilitation before being re-integrated into the community. Some Christian leaders have cautiously welcomed this plan.
“It is the first step, but there has to be a lot calculation when dealing with them,” said Rev. Wilybird Lagho, Mombasa Roman Catholic archdiocesan secretary Lagho. “We need to establish if their loyalty is with the community, the government or the extremists.”
For several years, the extremists have recruited heavily in Kenya and the returning nationals are “just a drop in the ocean”, said the Rev. Wellington Mutiso, head of Baptist churches in Kenya.
“I think there are thousands who have been fighting in Somalia. They must be persuaded to return home, as long as there are clear programs to rehabilitate and monitor returnees over time,” said Mutiso.
Kenya has been targeted by Al-Shabaab largely because of its location. It shares a long border with Somalia. In addition, Kenya is one of the biggest contributors to African Union troops in Somalia.