NAIROBI (Reuters) - Somalia's al Qaeda-linked rebels have extensive funding, recruiting and training networks within neighbouring Kenya, and have also established connections with jihadist groups across the continent, according to a UN report.
A UN Monitoring Group report on Somalia and Eritrea obtained by Reuters said non-Somali Kenyan nationals now constitute the largest and most organised non-Somali entity within the al Shabaab group.
Al Shabaab has been waging an insurgency against the UN-backed government in Somalia since 2007. It controls large parts of southern and central Somalia, as well as chunks of the capital, Mogadishu.
"In the past, al Shabaab's presence in Kenya has been concentrated primarily within the ethnic Somali community. But since 2009, the Group has rapidly expanded its influence and membership to non-Somali Kenyan nationals," the report said.
The UN investigators focused most of their attention on the activities of the Muslim Youth Centre (MYC), commonly known as Pumwani Muslim Youth. It is also investigating two other indigenous Kenyan groups with reported links to al Shabaab.
"Officially, the MYC Constitution defines the group as a 'community based-organisation' that aims to provide youth with religious counselling ... In practice, members of the group openly engage in recruiting for al Shabaab in Kenya and facilitate travel to Somalia for individuals to train and fight for 'jihad' in Somalia," the report said.
Kenya has a large Somali diaspora living in the Eastleigh suburb of the capital Nairobi, along with nearly 400,000 Somalis living in the world's biggest refugee camp in Dadaab in the north of the country.
Reuters reporters have seen al Shabaab fighters in Eastleigh, sometimes returning for medical treatment, and Somali parents living there complain that some mosques actively recruit youths to fight for al Shabaab.
However, the UN report focuses more on non-Somalis in Kenya who are channelling funds to al Shabaab, which is a proscribed terrorist organisation according to Washington.
It said MYC was established in December 2008 and has its roots in the Majengo area of the capital Nairobi, a poor area just east of central business district near Eastleigh.
It said the chairman of MYC was Ahmad Iman Ali, who moved to Somalia in 2009, and that the organisation has developed a strong network of members and sympathisers in Kenyan towns such as Eldoret, Garissa and the port city of Mombasa.
The report said Ahmed Iman now has a fighting force of 200-500 fighters in Somalia, most of whom are Kenyans, including minors, from Majengo.
"Ahmed Iman's success in recruiting fighters and mobilizing funds for the cause, appear to have earned him steady ascendancy within al Shabaab. The Monitoring Group believes that he now intends to conduct large-scale attacks in Kenya, and possibly elsewhere in East Africa," it said.
MYC publishes a weekly newsletter called Al-Misbah for its Kenyan audience, which includes material supporting al Shabaab and al Qaeda. MYC has also organised secret jihad training sessions for young children at a mosque in Kawangware in Nairobi in 2009, the UN report said.
It said a key pillar of Kenyan financial support for al Shabaab is the Pumwani Riyadha Mosque Committee (PRMC) which owns a large section of land in Majengo, including the huge second-hand clothes Gikomba market. The report said rents paid in Gikomba go to MYC.
The UN report also said money donated for mosque reconstruction in Kenya was now being channelled tochanneled al Shabaab.
It said Ahmad Iman issued a directive in March to his Kenyan associates saying: "direct all the money to al Shabaab because it is their right ... He (Ahmad Iman) instructed us to stop the construction and re-direct the money to that side (Somalia)."
The UN also report includes the transcript of a phone conversation in May 2011 between a PRMC member and MYC combatants in Somalia, demonstrating the former's continued funding for al Shabaab fighters.