skip to Main Content

Should I Join al Shabaab?

Anne Speckhard

Should I Join al Shabaab? is the 59th ICSVE counter narrative video and the third one in our Breaking the al Shabaab Brand series. This video features 40-year-old Kenyan, Suzanne, who was interviewed in June 2018, in Mombasa, Kenya, by Anne Speckhard. The video clip was video edited and produced by Zack Baddorf and our ICSVE team.

Suzanne is from a coastal area in Kenya that is considered a hotbed of al Shabaab recruitment. Kenyan authorities  believe that her husband joined al Shabaab and traveled to Somalia to fight but was killed there. Suzanne is an impoverished widow whose cousin had also gone to Somalia to join al Shabaab. In this video clip, Suzanne relates that after she became a widow, her cousin began calling to entice her into traveling to Somalia. He told her that life is good under al Shabaab and that there were many potential husbands in Somalia for her. He also offered to send the money to cover her travel.

As a widow, Suzanne was searching for opportunities to provide for herself and her children financially, but she decided to refuse her cousin’s offers. She claims she learned from the mistakes and bad experiences of others traveling to Somalia. She recounts how when they left their children behind, no one took care of them. She also recalls how  those who traveled to join al Shabaab in Somalia never came back, as most were killed there. Suzanne’s cousin was also killed in Somalia.

Suzanne explains that she knows that some Kenyans who go to Somalia train with al Shabaab and then return back to recruit others, creating larger cells, but these are always on the run—trying to evade the Kenyan police. 

She warns youth in particular to fear al Shabaab and stay away from them. “There is nothing good in Somalia,” she warns.

Discussion Questions: 

What do you feel watching this video?

Do you believe Suzanne was recruited by her cousin in al Shabaab, as she claims?

What do you think of him encouraging her to leave her fatherless children behind to marry another man?

How do you think life would been  if she traveled to Somalia to join al Shabaab?

How do terrorist groups like al-Shabaab exploit family bonds?

What is the purpose for jihadis marrying among the locals? Do you believe that such a strategy serves to further strengthen ties between local communities and jihadis?

If she married a Somali al Shabaab fighter, do you believe she would have been widowed again?

What do you think of al Shabaab recruiting Kenyans to their group?

Timed transcript of Should I Join al Shabaab? video:

0:01    I know that young [Kenyan] men travel to Somalia.

0:08    Then after some time, after they’ve been trained they come back to Kenya.

0:19    When they come back to Kenya, that’s when the problem starts of attacks and all that.

0:34    SUZANNE

Al Shabaab Recruit/Family Member

There’s a cousin of mine who went there [to join al Shabaab in 2002].

0:36    Kenyan police suspect that forty-year-old Suzanne’s husband joined al Shabaab in Somalia, and died there. After his death, Suzanne was heavily recruited to join al Shabaab as well.  

0:51    [My cousin] called to ask whether I got remarried. I told him, ‘No.’

0:55    So the guy told me to cross over to Somalia. ‘You can come here, ’[he said].

0:58    [He said] that I should go because life is good there.

1:01    There are many [potential] husbands. I can get married there.

1:08    He told me that if money is stopping you from coming, then I’ll send the fare for the trip to Somalia once you agree.

1:16    He promised me when I arrive that I’ll live a comfortable life without any problems.

1:21    [He said] I’ll be in a nice house and getting money. Life will be good.

1:26    Divorced and alone with four children to support, Suzanne was looking for ways to survive.

1:33    Suzanne’s community is a hotbed of radicalization.

1:38    [Here,] they are very afraid [of al Shabaab].

1:40    They’re afraid that they kill people.

1:43    I only know one or two people who have come [back from Somalia]. They have weapons.

1:56    They come and and form their own cell [in Kenya] and start recruiting people from their area.

2:03    Then they become a big group.

2:10    These other people that are being recruited are the ones that I know about.

2:26    I know about them because it has reached a point where a particular group of men or youth are always on the run.

2:32    The [Kenyan] police are on their case. Suddenly they disappear.

2:40    You can’t see them anywhere and you always hear that the police are looking for them.

2:47    Despite needing money to support her family, Suzanne decided not to join al Shabaab in Somalia.

2:52    I saw that it would be a problem.

2:54    Because, while many people have gone there, coming back has been an issue. They never come back.

3:01    [My cousin] never came back.

3:03    Suzanne’s cousin died serving al Shabaab in Somalia.

3:06    I don’t advise anyone to cross over to Somalia, because there are problems there.

3:11    Some people have [joined al Shabaab] and left their children [behind in Kenya].

3:15    [Their children] aren’t going to school, because no one takes care of them.

3:19    Their parents who are [in Somalia] have left their children behind [with] problems and all that.

3:23    There’s nothing good in Somalia.

3:28    I cannot advise people to cross over.

3:39    I would also like to tell young people that they should be afraid of al-Shabaab.

 3:43   They should not set their mind on going to join al-Shabaab.

3:45    If you young people don’t join al-Shabaab, I’m very sure this will be the end of al-Shabaab.

3:55    The Truth Behind al Shabaab

3:58    Sponsored by the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism


4:04    See more at

About the authors:

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D., is Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) and serves as an Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine. She has interviewed over 600 terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including in Western Europe, the Balkans, Central Asia, the Former Soviet Union and the Middle East. In the past two years, she and ICSVE staff have been collecting interviews (n=101) with ISIS defectors, returnees and prisoners, studying their trajectories into and out of terrorism, their experiences inside ISIS, as well as developing the Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Project materials from these interviews. She has also been training key stakeholders in law enforcement, intelligence, educators, and other countering violent extremism professionals on the use of counter-narrative messaging materials produced by ICSVE both locally and internationally as well as studying the use of children as violent actors by groups such as ISIS and consulting on how to rehabilitate them. In 2007, she was responsible for designing the psychological and Islamic challenge aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to 20,000 + detainees and 800 juveniles. She is a sought after counterterrorism expert and has consulted to NATO, OSCE, foreign governments and to the U.S. Senate & House, Departments of State, Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, Health & Human Services, CIA and FBI and CNN, BBC, NPR, Fox News, MSNBC, CTV, and in Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, London Times and many other publications. She regularly speaks and publishes on the topics of the psychology of radicalization and terrorism and is the author of several books, including Talking to Terrorists, Bride of ISIS, Undercover Jihadi and ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate. Her publications are found here: and on the ICSVE website Follow @AnneSpeckhard

Back To Top