Kenyan government offers amnesty to al-Shabaab sympathizers
NAIROBI, Kenya—Church leaders in Kenya are opposed to a government proposal to grant a blanket amnesty to youths who have joined the terror group al-Shabaab and now want out.
The church says the government cannot issue an amnesty without involving the terrorists’ victims, noting it is mostly Christians who have borne the brunt of the attacks. But Christians have not been involved in the amnesty process.
Church leaders also say offering a blanket amnesty will send the message that the government is abetting terrorism. They say it is wrong to extend amnesty to avowed killers who have not denounced the terror group.
The Kenyan government recently issued a 10-day amnesty to al-Shabaab returnees, requiring them to surrender to security agencies. According to media reports, hundreds of youth who were trained in Somalia have sneaked back into Kenya and are in hiding in towns along the coast.
The reports indicate a majority of the returnees came back after the U.S. drone strike last month that killed al-Shabaab leader Adnan Garaar, believed to be the mastermind behind the Sept. 21, 2013 Westgate Shopping Mall attack in Nairobi that killed 67 people.
Speaking on a local television station, Nelson Makanda, deputy secretary general of the National Council of Churches of Kenya, said Christian leaders cannot continue to keep silent while their members are suffering at the hands of terrorists. In the last three years, Kenya has suffered 61 terrorist attacks, which mostly targeted Christians, he said. Makanda challenged Muslim leaders to smoke out from their midst those who are radicalizing youth in mosques and madrassas.
But for amnesty to work, it must involve both perpetrators and victims, Makanda said.
“If you seek to give amnesty to offenders and you do not talk to the victims, then you are endangering the lives of the offenders whom you are seeking to give amnesty,” he warned.
But Muslim scholar Sheikh Mohamed Shakul blames the government for failing to counter radicalization earlier. He said Christians are falling into the al-Shabaab trap of creating conflict between the two religions. Al-Shabaab only targets Christians to heighten that conflict, he said, adding that radicalization stems from discrimination and marginalization of the Muslim population, and poverty.
In the wake of the recent attack on Garissa University College, analysts have disputed the role poverty plays in radicalizing Muslim youth. One of the attackers was trained as a lawyer at the University of Nairobi. Makanda also noted three young women from wealthy families were recently arrested while on their way to Somalia to join al-Shabaab.
“The issue of poverty and marginalization appears not to be a strong reason for radicalization,” he said.
Shortly after the attack in Garissa, Muslim leaders and scholars announced they would reveal the names of people suspected of working with and financing al- Shabaab. That infuriated many Kenyans, who say Muslim leaders should have released the names earlier, rather than wait for people to be killed before offering to provide such crucial information.
In response, some church leaders urged the government to close down Dadaab refugee camp, saying it serves as a breeding ground for terrorists. The government has announced it will close the camp in three months and relocate the refugees to Somalia.
The National Council of Churches is opposed to the closing the camp, which is home to thousands of refugees, mostly from Somalia. The refugees are victims of violence and poor governance in their own countries and are not necessarily terrorists, the council said.
“It is not fair to inflict suffering on people who are in distress themselves on account of the anger of Kenyans and the government,” said Rev. Peter Karanja, the council’s secretary general.
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