Relatives in shock as ‘jihadi brides’ arraigned in court

Kenya: Three female suspects whose identities were revealed in court by police yesterday have shattered the long-held notion that Kenyans seeking to join Al-Shabaab are generally from poor or disadvantaged backgrounds. The young women from Mombasa are accused of trying to cross into Somalia to marry Al-Shabaab militants. Khadija Abubakar Abdulkadir, Maryam Said Aboud and Ummul Khayr Sadir Abdulla were arrested in El Wak town. The three well-educated women from middle- class families are alleged to have joined Al- Shabaab last September, after being lured by a Syrian female contact through the Internet. Police claim the three hoped to reach Syria and join Islamic State, a terror group so brutal that even Al-Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, disowned it. The suspects were remanded for 20 days to allow police complete investigations. Relatives watched in disbelief yesterday as the State unveiled three women in Mombasa it accuses of trying to cross into Somali to join Al-Shabaab and become ‘jihadi brides’. See also: Kenya arrests 3 women over terrorism links More disturbing to relatives, friends and the security/intelligence community in Coast where two of them are from middle-class families and are all well-educated. According to reports, Khadija Abubakar Abdulkadir, Maryam Said Aboud and Ummul Khayr Sadir Abdulla joined Al-Shabaab in September last year, after linking up with the group on the internet. They were lured to join the militant group in Somalia by a Syrian female contact. They were promised marriage to Islamic fighters in Somalia, eventually ending up as widows of Islamic holy fighters in Syria where they hoped to reach through Turkey after flying from Mogadishu. A State report suggests Umul Khayr, who wore a red shawl in court yesterday, was the mastermind of the recruitment. Their cellphones and two laptop computers were reportedly seized by police during the arrest after they alighted from a bus in El Wak town on Friday from Nairobi. The report also claims Ummul Khayr confessed during interrogation by detectives that she was recruited by an Abdulla Ibl Zubeir through a telephone contact in Somalia.

Yesterday, she told relatives that “somebody was supposed to pick us”, before the group was arrested in El Wak in Mandera county. They were unable to connect with Abdulla, whom Kenyan investigators suspect was in Mandera and the alleged Syrian contact. Intelligence sources indicate Maryam was born in 1990 and was a top student at Burhani Secondary School in Malindi where she scored a grade B in 2008 before proceeding to Kenyatta University. She graduated in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in Commerce. Khadija was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Pharmacy at the Thika campus of Mount Kenya University after scoring a grade B at Tawir Secondary School in Malindi in 2012, according to a report by police and relatives. But Mount Kenya University (MKU) has since denied that Khadija is a student at the university. The university’s head of corporate communication, identified as Dr Bureti, said the student by the name Khadija was not a student at the institution. Following the State’s request, Senior Resident Magistrate Irene Ruguru allowed police to detain the three girls for 20 days to allow for investigations, which detectives say will extend to Zanzibar, Sudan and Somalia. See also: Kenya arrests 3 women over terrorism links Relatives divulged very little about their social lives while the women displayed little emotion in the dock. The Standard established that one of the suspects made frantic efforts to have her mother erase certain numbers from her cellphone while another wanted her room to be cleared of some documents. One suspect maintained police arrested them in a group of six women, a claim The Standard could not establish amid reports some of the women travelling with them could have been undercover agents. It was difficult to ascertain whether the women had displayed any sense of grievance at school or work station although Fatma Said, a sister to Maryam Said, told The Standard she (Maryam) “had complained about low pay at the hospital where she worked and expressed desire to look for a better job”. Ummul Khayr from Zanzibar studies medicine at International University of Africa in Khartoum, according to State documents and Sadir Abdalla Said, who turned up at the Mombasa law courts claiming to be her father. “She was a third-year student of medicine at the International University of Africa in Khartoum,” Sadir Abdalla Said, who alleged he had flown from Oman where he claims to work but a detective indicated the parents of the Zanzibari suspect “are both university lecturers in Sudan”.
Sadir claimed he last met Ummul Khayr in Zanzibar in August, last year, and disclosed the woman visited him in Oman in 2011. Salma Ahmed, Maryam’s mother, said her daughter left their Malindi home on March 22 “after asking for permission to go for an interview in Nairobi.” She did not state what interview she was going for but her sister indicated Maryam was disaffected with her low-paying job in a Malindi hospital. Salma said she spoke with her daughter after she allegedly reached Nairobi the next day but lost contact after her (Maryam’s) phone went off after March 25. Amina Abdulla Aziz, who said she is Khadija’s mother, told The Standard she left their home in Malindi by bus on March 20 allegedly to resume studies at the Thika university campus. Khadija’s sister Fatuma said the family lost contact with her on March 24 after her cellphone went dead.