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Kenya struggles to contain Al-Shabaab threat

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Kenyan police have arrested a suspect in a grenade attack on a restaurant in Mombasa that killed one person on Tuesday. It is the latest in a string of attacks since Kenya launched a military intervention in Somalia.

Kenya has been hit by a series of grenade attacks since it sent tanks and troops into Somalia late last year. The authorities are blaming the Somali Islamist group Al-Shabaab for the violence.

"It is about time that Al Shabaab gives up and takes part in a peace process," tweeted the Kenyan military spokesperson Emmanuel Chirichiri on the social network Twitter in April. A tweet in response was not long in coming. "Al Shabaab encourages and supports all Kenyan Muslims who want to fight a jihad against the Kenyan government,"

Although there is no evidence that the tweet came from Al Shabaab, this conversation shows that Kenya and Al Shabaab are at war, not only online but across the region.

Troops sent in

For years the Kenyan government fought shy of military intervention in Somalia. Since 2006 the Islamist rebels have been growing in strength and their terror attacks, coupled with the pangs of hunger, have forced half a million Somali refugees to seek sanctuary in Kenya. But the government in Nairobi only responded after the rebels were linked to the kidnapping of foreign nationals in the country.

In October 2011, Kenya declared war on al Shabaab and sent troops into Somalia. "The argument was that Kenyan troops in Somalia could push Al Shabaab as far away as possible from the Kenya border, and if possible to eliminate them," says Emmanuel Kisiangani, an analyst at the Institute for Security Studies ( ISS) in Nairobi.
"Today you can say they prevented major terror attacks, but they haven’t managed to stop terrorist activities in the country," he adds.

Hunt for German suspect

By "major attacks" Kisiangani was referring to bombings such as the 1998 U.S. Embassy attack in Nairobi, during which a truck full of explosives killed more than 200 people or the suicide attack on a hotel in Mombasa owned by Israelis, which left more than ten people dead in 2002.

These attacks, says Kisiangani, were directed against the West and not specifically at Kenya. However the attacks of recent months, in which grenades have been detonated in busy places in Nairobi and Mombasa, are being linked to Kenya's intervention in Somalia.

A German national Ahmed Khaled Müller is being sought for questioning by the Kenyan authorities in connection with a church attack in late April which killed two people and injured 15. Müller was detained in Pakistan in 2009 and is believed to have entered Kenya illegally. A spokesperson for the Kenyan police, Charles Owino, has urged to come forward and clarify some of the allegations against him.

Al Shabaab sympathizers in Kenya

Analysts suspect that there are numerous foreign nationals fighting for al Shahbaab in Somalia. Kisiangani believes that the Islamist militant group can draw on sympathizers in Kenya and is even able to recruit supporters among the Somalian refugees.

Total protection against terrorism is hardly possible because of Kenya's porous border with Somalia and an easily accessible coastline. Terrorism cannot be defeated by military means alone, says Kisiangani. He believes the root causes such as poverty and deprivation need to be addressed.

"Groups who feel deprived are easily brainwashed by this radical ideology," he adds.

Author: Adrian Kriesch/al
Editor: Mark Caldwell


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