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Kenyan Christians fear former brethren are attacking churches

Some Christians converting to Islam in Kenya have been recruited by Al Shabab, a militant Islamist group with ties to Al Qaeda.

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A year ago, Elgiva Bwire Oliacha, who hails from western Kenya and goes by the alias Mohammed Seif, was sentenced to life in prison after he pleaded guilty to grenade attacks in Nairobi, a plea he had also attempted to revise.

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Mr. Oliacha’s mother later told journalists her son was brought up a strong Roman Catholic. Oliacha had said he converted to Islam in 2005 and travelled to Somalia where he underwent intense Islamic religious teachings and training on explosive and firearms use. He returned in 2011 and carried out attacks after Kenya sent soldiers into Somalia

“If they killed some of our members in Somalia, I had to kill some civilians here. It was tit for tat,” he told investigators.

What draws conversions

Religious scholars are seeking to explain the development, which has shocked the churches and presented a new challenge for security organs.

Godffery Ngumi, a senior lecturer at the Department of Religion and Philosophy at Kenyatta University, says that a recent convert to any religion most often has limited knowledge about their new religion.

“They are easy to recruit into fundamentalism because they want to prove a point. They are also easily misused,” explains Dr. Ngumi, adding that because they leave their earlier religion, they tend to sever ties "by being very unfriendly.”

The new faith may provide answers that recruits find more compelling to difficult questions of identity and acceptance, according the Fred Nyabera, a Nairobi religious expert who is involved in peace building and conflict resolution.

“Having felt discriminated, they now feel recognized and accepted. They are also getting material resources and promises of better life,” says Mr. Nyabera.

Analysts say the problem originates with the chronic poverty that faces many young, well-educated, and talented Kenyans. Emmanuel Kisiangani, a senior researcher with the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Nairobi, says that poor Kenyan youth are being lured into Al Shabab because of the promise of an income.

“In a state of deprivation, people will easily embrace extremism as it is happening in Afghanistan. They are also likely to be easily brainwashed,” he says.

Enabling Kenyan youth to deal with poverty, “uprootedness,” and youth disfranchisement could help keep them from turning to extremism, says Nyabera. He says if Christian churches practiced what they preached a bit more, that would also help.

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