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Al Shabaab Terrorist Actions Deepening in Kenya and the Region!

Interesting Article: "Top Kenyan Islamist, Al Shabaab recruiter assassinated in Mombasa" by Jim Kouri, Examiner, Mombasa

An interesting article mentioned that A well-known Kenyan Islamist, who supported Somalia's deadly terrorist group Al Shabaab and advocated killing Christians, was shot and killed in the city of Mombasa on Tuesday, according to Theresa Belgrave, a former police intelligence analyst specializing in Muslim terrorism. The 61-year-old radical Muslim leader Abubakar Shariff, a/k/a Makaburi, was met by a hail of bullets as he left a court building where he was attending a hearing with a still unidentified man. According to reports, a car approached the two men waiting for their transportation and they were gunned down by at least two men using automatic weapons. In September 2013, an Al Shabaab attack on the largest shopping mall in Nairobi left 67 people was dead and scores were wounded, according to an Examiner report. The following December, as reported by Examiner, a terrorist attack on a city bus in Nairobi, Kenya killed five passengers. The terrorists used a grenade in the incident and the perpetrators were identified as members of Somalia's Al Shabaab. Kenya is currently in the midst of attempting to curtail Al Shabaab recruitment within its Muslim community.

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I have written extensively about Al-Shabaab in past articles, therefore, I would like to speak more about the deteriorating situation in Kenya and ways to gather and reduce Al-Shabaab influence in trying to destabilize a modern nation and create ethnic and religious riots.

Kenya’s handling of the war on terror and, broadly, its fight against al-Shabaab provide clues for a better understanding of the recent escalation of violence in Kenya.

For al-Shabaab, just like al-Qaeda, there is logic to targeting places of worship (which seems to be their newest tactic). They intend to drive a wage between faiths and ignite a conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims. Al Qaeda did it in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Egypt and Mali. Very recently, at least six people have been killed in three almost simultaneous explosions in part of the Kenyan capital Nairobi that is popular with Somalis (in the neighborhood of Eastleigh – known as ‘Little Mogadishu').

Kenya and Somalia share a common security problem but currently the 2 countries are working at cross-purposes. But they have mutual economic and security interests which should be mutually reinforcing to the benefit of each. Kenya-Somalia cooperation should be guided by a common post-al-Shabaab vision. The group’s capacity has been significantly degraded, but they are not yet done. A combination of African troops under AMISOM and the Somali National Army has pushed the group from most of their territories. This combined momentum against the group could potentially turn the tide and presents an opportunity for peace and stability in Somalia. But al-Shabaab remains very diffuse and it has cells and sympathizers in both Kenya and Somalia.

As a franchise organization, their core strategy revolves around hit-and-run tactics – a modern guerilla form of war. In this way, they are now far more lethal and still capable of launching sophisticated attacks within the region. Facing a domestic backlash, al-Shabaab has retreated into the people and has attempted to infiltrate the porous border between Kenya and Somalia. As result, al-Shabaab is now focused on the near-enemy – evidenced by the worsening security situation in Nairobi.

Since the Kenyan army's military incursion into neighboring Somalia in 2011, there has been an upsurge in gun and grenade attacks on churches, bus stations, police posts and against military installations in Kenya. The recent grenade attack in Eastleigh, Nairobi appears to be the latest in a pattern of incidents that has left at least 38 people dead and over 100 injured in the past year. Many of these attacks remain unsolved, but statements made by al-Shabaab leaders indicate that these may be retaliation against the presence of Kenyan troops in Somalia.

Internationally Kenya is regarded as a strategically important partner, situated at the frontline against fragility and violence in the Horn of Africa. The country has developed a reputation as a dependable participant in the international community's humanitarian efforts in neighboring Somalia. Recent security gains in Mogadishu have resulted in a number of diplomatic missions and aid agency representatives relocating to Somalia, but Kenya's capital remains the chief base for humanitarian missions working in the region. In 2012, Kenya hosted the fourth largest population of refugees in the world. Its support of over half a million people who have fled violence and oppression in the Horn and East Africa was commended by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Somalia is in a rough spot, though recently Somalia’s government is celebrating the capture of a string of towns from Al Shabaab rebels, but the Islamists say they will retaliate and warn the “war is far from over”. The offensive by African Union forces backing Somali government troops began last month, with Al Shabaab fighters largely fleeing in advance, escaping unscathed to strike back in guerrilla attacks. A UN-mandated AU force, known as Amisom, has been battling Al Shabaab militants in Somalia since 2007, but in early March troops in tanks and armored vehicles began a fresh push, boosted by recent Ethiopian reinforcements. The gunmen have largely fled ahead of the assaults, only to later stage guerrilla attacks, with AU forces especially vulnerable without helicopter air support and supply lines stretched. AU troops are pushing hard to seize towns ahead of heavy rains expected later in April, but security sources say they still have far to go.

Al Shabaab-held territory has been cut, but vast areas remain under their control, including over 200 kilometers of coastline in Somalia’s far south, including the port of Barawe, a key target of AU troops.

The UN envoy to Somalia, Nicholas Kay, said in a recent interview that Al Shabaab fighters “have become more active” as military assaults drive them from key bases, prompting them to stage attacks in Mogadishu, as well as other countries in the region such as Uganda and Kenya.
In Qoryooley, a southern town seized last month from Al Shabaab, residents say the Islamists remain just on its outskirts. “They carry out attacks almost every night and day, we hear explosions and gunshots,” resident Hussain Muktar said.

Washington has put multi-million dollar bounties on several top Al Shabaab commanders, including foreign fighters from regional nations, the US and Europe. As their territory shrinks, security sources report some senior Al Shabaab members are fleeing to mountains in northern Somalia’s Puntland region, while some foreign fighters are expected to possibly seek to cross to Yemen, or flee southwards into neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya. But to directly look at Al-Shabaab in Kenya, we must look at how they can go about fighting this movement.

Eastleigh is a perfect example of this. Life has not been the same in Eastleigh since the Kenyan Defense Forces (KDF) invaded war-torn Somalia to hunt down the al Shabaab in 2011. Since then, explosions halt, at times violently, the buying and selling in this market town. So far, the attacks have claimed at least 20 lives, with many more maimed. Nobody is quite sure when or where the terror will strike next, so whatever visitors still come look over their shoulders constantly.

Al-Shabaab and its supporters have been carrying out attacks in Eastleigh and other parts of Kenya. In a recent report, the group warned it may even shift its tactics to target high rise buildings in central Nairobi. The new security threat cannot be fought with the methods used to solve routine street crimes since its perpetrators are not common criminals but religious fanatics.

With the porous Kenya-Somalia border and corrupt Kenyan immigration officials and security personnel, Somali refugees have been flowing freely into Kenya to escape fighting between African Union troops and al Shabaab, and a 2011 famine. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, as of August 2012, Kenya hosted the world’s largest single group of refugees and asylum seekers—more than 630,000 Somalis.

Kenyan authorities need to retrain internal security agents to gather intelligence among Somalis without making them feel intimidated or estranged. The local Somali population needs to be recruited as informers and spies since they are the only ones who can identify al Shabaab elements in their midst. The system of localizing intelligence gathering is bound to be more effective than the indiscriminate large-scale police sweeps.

Besides designing systems to crush terrorist cells inside the country, the government should increase patrols along the Kenya-Somalia border to ensure al Shabaab elements do not cross over. The government also needs to tighten its monitoring systems around Kakuma and Dadaab refugee centers to ensure Somali asylum seekers remain in the camps, while those absorbed into the population are carefully screened. There is no single cure-all for terrorism, but taken together, this set of reforms will curb terror attacks while improving the lives of Somalis in Kenya, who currently face constant harassment from the state.

Last November and December, Eastleigh became a no-go zone for many Nairobians after a series of bomb attacks claimed more than 15 lives and left dozens injured. Among those seriously wounded were a member of parliament for the area—Yusuf Haji, himself a Kenyan Somali—and his bodyguard. These attacks triggered two days of inter-ethnic riots where Kenyans from other communities clashed with Somalis, leaving several people injured.

Little Mogadishu is one of the most important landmarks, not only for Kenyan Somalis but for Somalis everywhere. Thousands of dollars are reportedly transferred daily through an informal but intricate social network called hawala. The Kenyan security apparatus and a host of other governments have singled out this global system as making it easy for terrorists to finance their global operations and engage in other illegal operations like drug trafficking.

Basically hawala works by transferring money through a network of brokers, called hawaladars, who transfer funds without moving them physically. A transaction starts by a customer giving a hawala broker money to transfer to a recipient. When the sender books the transfer, he also gives the broker a special password. The hawaladar calls his counterpart at the destination and tells him the amount of money and password, details that the receiver of the transferred cash must provide before being paid.

This system can be exploited by terrorists and other black market merchants because no documents are involved, which makes tracing those involved almost impossible.

This system can also boost trade in curios, qat, and other goods from the informal sector, but unfair and illegal business practices should be curbed to ensure that unscrupulous Somali business people cannot use the Kenyan economy to sanitize money originating in dark trades like piracy and smuggling in Somalia. Kenya could tap into this multimillion dollar transfer system by registering the hawaladars such that the government profits each transfer. Like the mobile money transfer system called M-Pesa, hawala could be harnessed to contribute legally to the economy while ensuring terror elements don’t use it for their own selfish ends.

After the Kenyans invaded Somalia and brought some semblance of order following the defeat of al-Shabaab, the two countries established a joint task force to begin repatriating refugees. Repatriation, however, has become a thorny issue with many Somali refugees saying they have settled and established businesses in Kenya and do not want to return. Still, repatriating refugees will reduce the congestion in refugee camps and cut the major route the al-Shabaab have been using to enter the country. Most criminal elements from Somalia hide in the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps.

While there, they deal ruthlessly with any who dare report them to the police, which helps explain the abductions and killings in these refugee centers in the last few months. With Somalia’s relative stability, the Kenyan government should halt the entry of refugees and continue to plan the repatriation of those living in Kenya.

For now, Kenyan Somalis remain embedded in a climate of festering hostility. The takeover of the Somalia operation by a joint pan-African force is certainly a step in the right direction since al-Shabaab will no longer have Kenya alone as a target for revenge. They will have to attack Uganda, Burundi, and a host of other countries who have contributed to the African Union’s military mission.
Kenya should consider rewarding Kenyan Somalis who provide vital information leading to the arrest of terror suspects or smugglers. Rewards should range from government scholarships to job placements and citizenship for those who have lived there for more than 10 years.

Though not an absolute remedy to the perpetual threat of terrorism, these measures will create a sense of patriotism and belonging among Somalis living in Kenya.



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