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Isis and medical students, what is the link?

A surge in the number of students being arrested on suspicion of joining the Islamic State (Isis) has triggered alarm on the group’s recruitment in Kenya.

The Commission of University Education says at least 44 university students have abandoned their studies to join terror groups including Isis in Libya and the Shabaab in Somalia.

Worry is especially growing over the number of students studying medicine who have been detained on suspicion of belonging to terror groups.

On Wednesday, the US government froze the assets of Somali resident Abduqadir Mumin, who it identified as the leader of the Islamic State in East Africa and warned its citizens against conducting any business with him.

“Mumin, a former al-Shabaab recruiter and spokesman, pledged allegiance to Isis, along with around 20 of his followers, in October 2015, and has set up a base in Puntland, Somalia,” said the US State Department.

“Since then, Mumin has expanded his cell of Isis supporters by kidnapping young boys aged 10 to 15, indoctrinating them, and forcing them to take up militant activity,” it said.

Unlike al-Shabaab which recruits directly, Isis increases its membership through the creation of franchises or raiding other terror groups for members.

It is believed Mumin’s cell which calls itself “Jahba East Africa” is behind the massive recruitment for the Islamic State in East Africa.


Al-Shabaab, which is believed to have been weakened significantly due to wrangles among its leadership and a sustained campaign against it by the African Union mission (Amisom), pledges its allegiance to al-Qaeda, a fierce rival to the Islamic State.

Apart from the El-Adde base attack in which dozens of Kenya Defence Forces soldiers were killed after al-Shabaab militants raided their camp in Somalia, the militant group, which has killed hundreds of Kenyans in recent years, has not staged a major attack in Kenya this year.

The number of terror attacks on Kenyan soil dropped to 46 last year, 49 per cent lower than 2014 and the lowest since 2011 according to statistics by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, which is run by the University of Sussex in the UK.

The university says Kenya has had 13 militant attacks carried out within its territory so far since January leading to 34 causalities. Last year saw 94 attacks while 2013 and 2012 had 48 and 52 attacks respectively.

Security experts say while Isis has no reason to attack Kenya, the recruitment drive is a cause for worry.

“We have not reached a level where he have an active Isis threat in Kenya because what we have is people willing to join the terror group or sympathetic to them,” Major (Rtd) Bashir Abdullahi, a security analyst says.

“But if it is about having people who subscribe to their cause within Kenya, that is a cause for worry because we do have them,” he says.

But more worrying is the fact that those being arrested on suspicion of being members of the terror group are in the medical field.

On Monday, two interns at the Malindi Hospital, Mohamed Shukri and Abdulrazak Abdinuur, were arrested by officers from the Anti-Terror Police Unit (ATPU) on suspicion of having links to the group. Both are studying medicine at Saratov State Medical University in Russia courtesy of a scholarship from the Russian government.


Last year, four other medical interns at the same hospital were arrested for allegedly planning to join Isis. The four Maryam Said, Khadija Abdulkadir, Ummul Khayr (all Kenyans) and Sadir Abdalla from Tanzania were presented to court and their cases are ongoing.

In February, ATPU arrested Hassanaen Ahmed, a University of Nairobi biochemistry student as he was leaving the country to travel to Libya reportedly to join Isis.

In May, Gloria Kavaya, a microbiology student at the Kenyatta University was arrested after she disappeared from school, changed her name and embarked on plans to travel to Syria, according to the prosecution.

During the same month, police said they had foiled a large scale biological attack using anthrax. Mohamed Abdi, a medical intern at the Wote Hospital in Makueni and a student at the Kampala International University was among three suspects arrested.

His wife Nuseiba Mohammed whom police identified as an accomplice and student at Kampala International University was arrested a few days later by Ugandan Police as she tried to flee the country together with another Kenyan female student Fatuma Hanshi.

The two were handed over to the Kenyan government for prosecution. Their alleged accomplices in the foiled anthrax attack Ahmed Hish and Farah Dagane, both medical interns at Kitale hospital, have a Sh2 million bounty on them.

“The same network has been facilitating Kenyan youth to secretly leave the country to join terror groups in Libya and Syria,” said police Inspector General Joseph Boinnet.

So what is it that is making practitioners in the medical field get attracted to terror groups?

Read more on: University students hot targets for terror groups