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Last updated: June 2022

This sub-profile refers to persons fearing recruitment by Al-Shabaab by force and against their will.

In the case of Al-Shabaab, recruitment is for a wide range of purposes, such as fighting, providing administrative support, collecting taxes, propelling outreach, intelligence gathering, etc.

This sub-profile also contains information on individuals refusing to provide recruits to Al-Shabaab.

COI summary

[Main COI reference: Targeting, 1]

Recruitment by Al-Shabaab originally took place in urban centres. Since Al-Shabaab lost territory in the urban centres in 2012 and 2015, recruitment has begun in rural areas. It has been reported that Al-Shabaab increased their strength of active fighters, from an estimated 2 000 – 3 000 in 2017 to 5 000 – 7 000 in 2020. Although Al-Shabaab predominantly recruits from territories under its control, there have also been reports of recruitment from government-controlled areas, especially Mogadishu. Recruitment outside Al-Shabaab’s own territory frequently involves aspects of coercion. Forced recruitment has also been reported in areas controlled by the group.

Al-Shabaab tends to recruit in multi-clan locations, building their recruitment strategy on clan conflicts. Up to 40% of rank-and-file members are recruited from Bay and Bakool regions. In Gedo region, high unemployment and poverty facilitate Al-Shabaab’s ability to recruit young men as fighters, heavily recruiting from the Marehan clan, capitalising on the grievances of Marehan sub-clans marginalised by stronger sub-clans [Security 2021, 2.1]. In Hirshabelle, Al-Shabaab exploits grievances against perceived Hawadle dominance by recruiting successfully from the Gaaljeel, Jajele and Baadi Adde clans [Security 2021,]. The Mirifle clan group constitutes the main source of foot soldiers for Al-Shabaab while in Middle Shabelle region, the majority of Al-Shabaab’s foot soldiers were recruited from low-status groups such as the Bantu/Jareer.

Recruitment includes both men and women and takes place among all age groups. The purpose of recruitment is influenced by age, gender, educational background, and prior professions. Al-Shabaab not only recruits fighters but also administrative staff, financiers, logistics personnel, judges, teachers, and health workers. It also relies on supporters and sympathisers. Informants are recruited in areas not under the control of Al-Shabaab. The organisation can rely on a very strong intelligence network in Mogadishu, where informants can be ordinary students, people in office, in the security forces, etc. Some recruits are working part-time for the group, keeping up on their everyday duties like farm or business work.

Multiple sources corroborated that recruitment should be regarded as a continuum of voluntary, induced, and forced process, where recruiters seek out recruits, but potential recruits also look for recruiters. Indoctrination, financial incentive and conscription by force are the recruitment strategies of Al-Shabaab. Forced recruitment is used mainly in situations where the group needs to refill its ranks, for example after suffering major losses in battle or in places where it is in need of a continuous supply of new recruits.

Recruits may join Al-Shabaab for reasons such as personal gain, better economic prospects and grievances against clan discrimination or abuses and corruption of local authorities. The idea of taking revenge for acts of humiliation or crimes has been reported to be a key motive for joining the organisation. Many young men share a religious reason to be recruited as they believe that Al-Shabaab defends Islam against ‘infidels’ and want to support the jihadist goals of the organisation.

Others, such as young unemployed men living in poverty and lacking in prospects, with a limited understanding of Islam, are prone to join Al-Shabaab in exchange for a financial reward. It has also been reported that Al-Shabaab provides a sort of ‘insurance’ to their combatants, promising them to take care of their relatives in the case of the combatant’s death.

People who refused requests of recruitment, including local community members who refused to provide younger members of their families to the organisation, have been threatened and labelled as infidels who reject Islam and the Sharia law and some have been killed to set a warning to others in the community. In other instances, Al-Shabaab relies on elders who, facing the threat of retaliation, attacks, arrests and forced displacement in case of refusal, cannot refuse to deliver dozens or even hundreds of young people from their clan to the organisation.

Women are commonly recruited through marriage, including forced and child marriage. Women are often left without choice due to family and clan pressure. However, some of these women do express strong support for the movement. Al-Shabaab has also used women to propel its recruitment, indoctrination and community outreach efforts. Furthermore, it has also used them for intelligence gathering, taking advantage of the lax security that is applied to them. Some have also been used as suicide bombers. For more information on violence by Al-Shabaab against women and girls, including forced marriage, see sub-profile 2.11.2 Violence by Al-Shabaab under profile 2.11 Women and girls.

Risk analysis

Forced recruitment amounts to persecution. The consequences of refusal of forced recruitment, including for elders or families refusing to provide recruits, could also amount to persecution (e.g. killing).

Not all individuals under this profile would face the level of risk required to establish well-founded fear of persecution. The individual assessment of whether there is a reasonable degree of likelihood for the applicant to face persecution should take into account risk-impacting circumstances, such as: age (young men are at higher risk), visibility of profile, area of origin and the control or influence of Al-Shabaab, clan affiliation, socio-economic situation of the family, etc.

Nexus to a reason for persecution

While the risk of forced recruitment as such may not generally imply a nexus to a reason for persecution, the consequences of refusal could, depending on individual circumstances, substantiate such a nexus to, among other reasons, (imputed) political opinion and/or religion.




See other topics concerning individuals fearing recruitment by Al-Shabaab and deserters from Al-Shabaab: