It was a bright sunny Saturday afternoon as Khadija sat in the mid-section of the matatu hurtling down the Thika Superhighway. Although looking out the window as buildings quickly pass by, she was lost in her thoughts as she could not reconcile how her life had moved from a jovial, ambitious lady to one contemplating the quick demise of her presence in this world. Looking at her watch, she knew she had 10 hours left to live and sweat started dripping down her brown face. To understand Khadija’s predicament, we must go back 24 years to a beautiful village in Taita Taveta County.
Khadija Moscow was born and brought up in a small village in Taita Taveta. She attended St. Michael Primary School before proceeding to Visa Oshwall Girls high school, Mombasa. After sitting her K.C.S.E exams, Khadija attained a B grade which earned her a slot in the prestigious Kenyatta University to study Bachelor of Tourism Management.
Family breakups, neglecting children, lack of finances, poverty, and peer pressure are major issues that can trigger one to desperately join criminal and terror gangs.
At the University, Khadija was exposed to new challenges and possibilities. It is during her University studies that her parents split up and she was left under the care of her mother. Life became hard as Khadija was left to fend for herself since the mother could not send money for upkeep. In her third year, things became worse for Khadija, she was diagnosed with diabetes in which she required a lifetime insulin injection. Her mother did not provide any financial or moral support, and this forced Khadija to run away from her home. Things continued becoming harder and finally, Khadija ended up quitting her studies.
One morning after having a series of discussions with a former friend who stays in Isiolo, Khadija boarded a bus and left for Isiolo where she put up with her high school friend Fauzia who owned a restaurant in Isiolo town.
On Saturday, 21 September 2013 Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi was attacked. That day Khadija was glued to the screen and had a lot of thoughts about this. She wanted to know what drove al Shabab militants to carry out such heinous acts. As she researched online, she came across a profile by the name Semenya with whom they became online friends. Little did she know that Semenya was a member of the dreaded Al Shabab militia and was an online recruiter. Meeting several people online was exciting and this made her live a happy life despite the troubles she was going through.
Also, among the new friends was a man who would later change her life forever. Hussein a man twice her age had left Kenya for Somalia with a friend in 2009. The two never met physically but enjoyed the online romance. Hussein would post images of bustling in Somalia and this confirmed everything that the recruiter Semenya had been posting and telling Khadija that in indeed-life was paradise in Somalia. But they were using these tales to groom young women.
Hussein would chat for 12 hours a day with Khadija. He was good, caring and very flattering and this was the first time Khadija had received such kind of attention from a man. Three months elapsed and Khadija asked Hussein about their future. Hussein reassured her lover of what he feels was real and promised to meet each other in Kenya and blow each other up in the face of the enemy-a phrase that Khadija never understood at that time and instead interpreted this to mean blowing each other with love. Khadija was excited by Hussein’s proposal to marry her and she knew she is going to be a wife to a hero as Hussein constantly reminded her that she will be a wife to a jihadi lion. Khadija could not fathom the negative narrative she is being introduced to in the name of love.
Hussein would send a picture of his bomb belt and explain to Khadija how they were important in self-defense if she was to be attacked and how to use it by pulling the pin. By this time, Khadija was working on the security services Radar and was happy with the idea of getting married to a Jihadi warrior. They made plans to meet at Thika where Hussein claimed he had a house as soon as Hussein comes to Kenya.
One day, while on her way to Thika to meet his lover, Khadija was nabbed by the police and her phone confiscated.
After grilling, Khadija was found to be on the process of being recruited to the al Shabab militia to carry out attacks in the country. She was arraigned in court and was sent to a rehab center that helps deradicalize those who’ve been radicalized or in the journey to being radicalized. Through her conversations on phone, Hussein was arraigned in court and arrested for a 5-year imprisonment.
Khadija's story depicts how the internet can serve as a recruitment ground for terror groups. Through online social sites, desperate youth who feel frustrated with life can easily be lured into terrorism. Family breakups, neglecting children, lack of finances, poverty, and peer pressure are major issues that can trigger one to desperately join criminal and terror gangs. These drivers can be overcome by strengthening family institutions, creating better opportunities for the youth and providing counseling.